Karen’s Story

I was 18 years old;  a Catholic schoolgirl who had been brought up with very little knowledge of contraception unable to ensure that I protected myself fully the first time I had sex with my boyfriend.  Naively enough I thought that this guy was a special one, and with a bit of peer pressure from him and a few encouraging words, I gave in and had sex. 

A few weeks later I woke in the middle of the night feeling sick and vomited everywhere.  Thinking I had a bug I paid little attention, until a few days later when I realised that my period had not arrived.  I spoke to a few friends and decided to take a pregnancy test. It took seconds for the positive result to appear and the complete and utter panic to surface.  What the hell was I going to do? I was 18, in my last year of school, now broken up with the said boyfriend and to top it all off how was I going to tell my parents that I was pregnant?  I knew straight away that I did not want to be pregnant. I was but a child myself, I could barely look after myself never mind take responsibility for someone else.  I was not ready for this.

Initially abortion never even entered my mind.  Not because I was against it, but because I didn’t for one second even think it would be an option for a Catholic teenager.  That was until a very lovely HR manager in the part time job I held said to me that there were other options and provided me with details I so desperately needed.

Telling My Parents

I remember the heartache in both my parents faces when I told them.  The sorrow at the life they had thought out for me that would now be nothing more than another young girl who ended up pregnant. I held my breath and blurted out to them that there were other options and waited for either of them to turn around and slap me.  This didn’t happen, in fact quite the opposite. Both of them were fully supportive of me and together the three of us set about planning my trip to England.

I can’t remember how many weeks I was, probably between 6-8 weeks, when I travelled to Liverpool with two friends.  My mother could not travel with me out of fear her mother would question why we were suddenly leaving for England. Back to the old “Catholic Guilt,” this would have been a complete drama had my grandmother have found out, although looking back now I’m not sure her reaction would have been just as drastic.

The Journey to Liverpool

My parents left me at the airport, kissed me goodbye and off I went.  When I arrived in Liverpool I stayed in a local B&B that had been organised by the family planning clinic in Ireland. I gathered from the host’s tone I was only another number in the line of girls traveling from Ireland daily.

Next morning I went to the hospital and was admitted to a ward with a group of girls. The girl next to me was also from Ireland and this was her third time in the clinic.  She didn’t seem that bothered while I ironically held a pair of rosary beads and prayed everything would turn out okay. I remember crying for my mum and longing for her to be by my side as they took me down for the procedure.  I woke up a few hours later and was discharged that same day.

A Sense of Relief

The sense of relief I felt back then was huge.  I never looked back and there wasn’t any sense of regret. Life went back to normal and we never spoke about it again in our home.  I suppose then I was young and only concern was being able to get back to hanging out and going to school.

I am now 35, married with two children and a very loving husband who provides for me in ways I could never have imagined.  We have a wonderful life and I have carved out a fantastic career for myself. Had I not have made that decision back then I wouldn’t have the life I have today or the people in my life.  However in recent years especially with the spotlight on abortion in both the North and South of Ireland I have suffered a mix bag of emotions because of the horrible things that “pro-life” groups say and do.  I have even gone so far as to have feelings of guilt as to whether I was selfish and self centered. However as my very supportive husband would say had the church not interfered so much in our reproductive rights young people would have been better educated.  

The church or government holds no place in the decision women make over their bodies and that is why I am an advocate for a repeal of the 8th Amendment so other girls and women, including my own daughter, will not have to face the stigma that is attached to abortion should they require it.  

I will be forever grateful to my parents for supporting me in this decision, and to my husband who has supported me since the day we met.  I look forward to the day women in Ireland can access the same care as other countries and hopefully it will be very soon. 

Artist: Corina Fitzgibbon

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