I am almost 70 years old. I got married when I was 19 and thirty five years ago I had four children aged 13, 14, 15 and 16. They were all in secondary school and working hard to get good exam results when I awoke one morning with an excruciating pain in my back. I went straight to my GP who sent me for an X-ray immediately.

The X-ray showed that my contraceptive coil had slipped out of position and my doctor told me if it was not in the correct position then it was not doing its job. He did a pregnancy test and confirmed I was pregnant. I was devastated and could not stop crying. He gave me an appointment to come back in a few days.

I found myself walking around knowing I was pregnant with a coil inside my womb. Best medical practice would have been to remove this coil as soon as possible to prevent serious complications and risks of infection to me. However, to remove the coil could have caused a miscarriage so this left me stranded in need of medical care which I could not access within my own country.

I was terrified that if this pregnancy continued I was going to die and leave my four children growing up without a mother.

I went back and told him I had decided to go to England to have an abortion. He unlocked a cabinet and took out a brochure which he gave me and said “if you are going to have an abortion I need to know that you do it safely.” I will never forget his kindness and caring for me without any judgement.

I had to do this alone; I didn’t tell my husband as I knew he’d never agree. I told him I was going on a ‘shopping trip’ and to see a show in London with some friends.

The only theatre I was in was the operating theatre and the only thing I bought while I was there was a tubal ligation to ensure this would never happen to me again. Why should I have had to make that trip all alone and live through all the lies for the rest of my life?

I had my four children all very close in age and I had spent years caring for them. I loved them all dearly, and still do, but I had never had any time for myself having been married at 19 years old. Now I had a chance to go to college and I was using contraception which let me down. I am a grandmother now and I never want any of my children or grandchildren to have to face such a lonely, heart-breaking journey as I had to face all those years ago. But you know, I look back and can see how brave and courageous I was to face and sort this on my own. I try not to judge myself when I hear people label me as a criminal and a murderer, I am not these things and never will be.

I would say to every Irish woman who like me had to make that tough lonely journey, Mná na hÉireann, be proud and may we soon not have to run away from our homes and country to seek the care and support we need.

Passport and boarding pass

Artist: Aimee Gallagher.


Audio: Nathalie Clément

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