These interviews were done with women who traveled to England for abortions. Abortion is illegal in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. A conservative estimate of 9,000 women from the North and South travel to England every year for abortions. For more info about abortion rights in Ireland, please see the links page. Thanks to these brave women who shared their stories...
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L: Well I was in college, and I was seeing this guy. I was only seeing him about a month or two. And I became pregnant. Now, I had never considered having an abortion. I always thought as an idealistic teenager it wouldnt happen to me. Lots of my friends had got pregnant and gone through school. I came from a small village with a real mix of people from all economic backgrounds. There was a lot of teenage pregnancy in the area actually. Friends of mine who had their babies ended up being in variously difficult situations.
But, I was in college, and I was just getting a sense of what I wanted to do with my life. I was getting a grip on having been told I was a messer or you know somebody who hadnt been academically inclined at all. I was getting a real sense of what I wanted to do. I was making art work, and I was suddenly getting a smell of success, making things that I was really happy with. Now suddenly being pregnant threw that whole kind of future that I had envisaged for myself into disarray. I just didnt know what I was going to do. And the man I was with was not going to be around. He was going to be leaving, going to America in a few months, that was his intention. He obviously didnt really want me to have an abortion.
When I figured out I was pregnant -- I actually knew I think from the first moment I got pregnant in a funny way. So, it was very early when I did the test and went to the family planning clinic with my -- it was like a sauce-pan of urine -- and came back for my result and yeah, I was pregnant. So, I said to the woman at the clinic, Well I dont want to have a baby. And she said, Well I cant do anything for you. I said, Well can you direct me to any agencies or places that can help me? And she said, No, the only thing I am allowed to do legally is to give you the name of a social worker.
I told nobody except my best friend. And I remember distinctly sitting in a restaurant having a cup of coffee and just telling her and she said, Well, you know what youre going to have to do, you cant have a child. Because she knew me very well. And she said, Well, you know, you should have an abortion. Would you consider having an abortion? And I had never considered it and I said, No. And I went home and I thought about it. And I thought: Yeah, this is what I really want to do.
Now there was nowhere that I could information. There were no telephone lines. It was 1984, the year after the abortion referendum, and the context was that everybody had fought around the abortion referendum, and it had been really carried in the area that I was living in, and it had been very vicious and very nasty. There were rumors at the time going around that there were pro-life people on boats and in train stations waiting for single women traveling to England to try and talk to them, to ascertain as to whether they were going for an abortion or not, and try to persuade them out of it. I mean, it was a climate of fear for women who were pro-choice. Id never even considered myself pro-choice. I had been away during the referendum. I hadnt voted, and Im not sure how I wouldve even voted then you know. I was only 19. I had come out of a very Catholic rural background and although a lot of my friends were really pro-choice I wouldnt have been. I was a bit sort of, Oh no the poor baby, kind of idea and hadnt really thought it through as regards the rights of a woman to make decisions around own body and that kind of thing.
Now, also what had happened around that time was Anne Lovett. Anne Lovett was a 15 year old girl who had carried her child to full term in a small village, Granard. The suspicion was that she had had a baby through incest. Although they were continually blaming a boy in the village, it didnt seem like that was the case to people who were in the know. She had carried her child to full term in a school in a small rural village. No one had interfered, no one had said a word, and she left her school, and went out, walked across a field, and gave birth to her baby and under the statue of the Virgin. Now she and her child died, and there was this huge inquiry as to why nobody had done anything about it.
Subsequently there was this run up to the abortion referendum, which was talking about you know women not having the right to kill babies, i.e. have terminations, and yet there was never a thing done for that girl -- and lots of other women who subsequently found themselves pregnant. There was never anything done to allow women to keep those children. And the same politicians who were screaming about being pro-life were the kind of people who got on the radio and gave out about unmarried mothers living off the state, saying they should be forced to give up their children for adoption to nice Catholic families, by the way.
So, what I did in the end was I got a British magazine and in the back pages of Cosmopolitan I found the number of PAS, which is the pregnancy advice group in England. I rang up from a phone box and with lots of change made arrangements. Now, those women were amazing because they put me in touch with an Irish group, or a group of women would have given me support. They wouldve met me off the boat. I decided not to do that because the man that I was with insisted on coming with me. That was a really bad idea and you know in hindsight he was more emotional then I was. He was really a mess. And he ended up being so upset that I had to take care of him throughout the journey. And in London when I was going for my termination, I ended up looking after this guy who was really distressed.
Now, the process was you went for a week. You went and you had a consultation and you told why you wanted to have an abortion and they assessed you and then you came back a few days later and you went for your termination. I was staying in my boyfriends friends house. It was a couple who had a little baby. I didnt know them. They had obviously stuck together because they had a child. Their relationship didnt seem to be in a great state to me. My boyfriend told his friend why I was in England. His friend told his partner, and she tried to persuade me not to have an abortion. So, I just took up my bags and left. I just felt really unsafe.
For me it was a really difficult decision to come to... to a termination because I had been brought up to see my role as a woman was to have children. In a funny way, you know, womens sexuality, as I was brought up, we didnt have one. We werent supposed to want to have sex -- and if you did want to have sex you were really really dirty. That sounds really simplistic and it is more complicated than that, but for me to make a choice to have a termination was one of the first decisions I had ever made that was for me and totally selfish. It might sound awful but actually to be totally selfish at that time was an amazing breakthrough for me in my life. To be able to say: No, I love children, I want to have children sometime in the future and I want to have a lot to do with children but I dont want one right now, and I dont want one growing in my body, and I actually Im saying no.
And yet spiritually or morally I knew it wasnt an easy decision. It wasnt that I was going off reveling in my decision. What happened was it was very complicated. I was in a kind of a climate in Ireland where abortion was a crime, where women were filthy criminals who went to England to have an abortion, and they should be stopped at all cost. And yet I had a huge amount of grief around making that choice. I didnt want to have had to make that choice. I got pregnant. I had been using contraception. The contraception failed. I hadnt been irresponsible. I was a young woman where I had my whole life before me and I dearly fervently wanted that life. I wanted to have as much control over that life as I could. And to be forced into a pregnancy against my wishes because a large group of people in the country that I was living in didnt approve of my choices and my lifestyle, you know what I mean, it was just too much for me. I just decided: No, this is the life I want to try and give myself a chance to have. I dont want to be tied at home with a child, much as I love children, much as I love my friends and familys children, not right now, thank you very much. You know, so, it was very liberating, and it was very important.
But what happened was I had to kind of close down all the thoughts about any kind of grief or any upset or any... you know I didnt want to regret it because I mightnt be able to go through with it. And I knew I had to go through with it. So for years later a whole part of me was closed down around that abortion and around the time, and I was pretty brittle actually, do you know what I mean?
So I went over, and I was Control Queen Number One. You know, I was looking after this guy who was falling apart. I was going and having an abortion. I was making all the arrangements. And then I was also flying in the face of people who were trying to stop me at every turn. Thats what it felt like at the time, right down to this guys friends trying to stop me from doing it. I ended up staying with a gay man who I never met in my life. I never told him, and he wouldve been my best ally really, but I never was able to tell him about it or anyone else around at the time because I was just so frightened that I would be stopped.
So, after the abortion I got up out of that bed, got on a boat, and came back to Ireland and worked the next day. Now, granted, I was only in my 7th or 8th week of pregnancy at the time, but I just, I couldnt stop. I couldnt stop to get upset, I couldnt stop to give myself any comfort or any rest, because I was afraid, you know, of the Catholic Church creeping up behind me to grab me by the throat! So, that went on for a few years. I just didnt discuss it. I split up with this guy a year later or so. And you know it was something that I really didnt discuss until a few years later. I had only told one friend.
So, what was really difficult I think was the subsequent things that happened in Irish society at the time. Because Ill tell you, I was driven. I came back to college and in September the Kerry babies case hit the news. Now what had happened in the Kerry babies case was before I got pregnant at all, this women in Kerry, an unmarried woman who had one child already, who was living with her family in a rural area of Kerry, was made to confess to a crime. And how this happened was a baby, a new-born, full term baby, was found on a beach, washed up, and the Gardaí at the time went on a full scale hunt for the people, for the person who had discarded the baby or whatever. They werent sure if the child had died naturally or had been killed. But they found a woman and her family and whether they made them to confess I dont know. But they confessed in great detail to this woman giving birth, then taking the child, driving out to the top of Slea Head, throwing the child in a sack -- there was great detail about the sack, because the baby was found in a sack, over a cliff -- and going home again. And there was details about you know what the baby was killed with all this kind of stuff. Subsequently the body of the womans child was found on the farm.
Now, this woman was 5 foot and there were 2 full term babies: one was 8 lbs and one was 7 lbs something, huge babies really, not huge but big babies, and of both different blood types. Now the bag that the baby was found in where the first child was found disappeared. There was all sorts of anomalies. But an inquiry was set up to discover how the guards were able to get a confession from the whole family, a similar confession, for something that obviously had not happened.
Now, how they decided to deal with the whole thing was partly that they decided to try and prove that this woman, Joanne Hayes, had had sex with two different men on the same night within hours of each other, had conceived two babies of different blood types. This 5 foot woman had carried both those babies to full term, had killed one and brought it out and dumped it off Slea Head, and buried the other one in the garden! And actually this allowed the guards, the state, the psychiatrist at the time, and loads of other people to drag this womans sexuality -- she had had one relationship with a married man, I mean her situation wasnt great anyway -- to drag her through the courts to try and prove and question her sexuality, to prove that shed had sex with two men in the one night.
Now, this happened, and women were going mad. I mean I was sitting in a college reading the paper everyday in the library and just keeping my mouth shut actually. But I was horrified. There was lots of protests and there was lots of: Oh My God what is going on? But actually this is what happened. This woman was put on trial. And the guards, and the social services, and all the different people who did nothing to help and in fact were instrumental in this bogus confession, were not examined. They got people up there to assess her, a psychiatrist who never spoke to her and saw her from a distance in a court room, to give evidence as to her state of mind and her sanity. You know, this was just incredible.
So, anyway this was the context into which I was coming back to -- from having an abortion in England. There was the abortion referendum, then there was the Kerry Babies case. Then there was also Eileen Flynn, a woman in the midlands who was in a stable relationship with a man who was married. Now he was married because he wasnt allowed to divorce. Divorce was also illegal at this point in time in Ireland, it was a crime to be divorced. You could go to England and have a divorce, but it wasnt actually binding, and you couldnt remarry in the state. And it wasnt recognized if you got married here and then came back after a divorce in England and tried to remarry -- you were not legally entitled to do so. This woman Eileen Flynn, I think was her name, was working in a convent school, second level school, working with teenagers. She was a teacher, a perfectly adequate teacher from what I know. She was dismissed from her post because she fell pregnant with this man who she was living with in a stable relationship because he was married and she was unmarried. She was dismissed. And she sued her employers for wrongful dismissal, naturally. And her dismissal was upheld by the state.
So, that happened around the same time as well. There was those three incidences of women being blamed for their sexuality that the state was trying to legislate for. And I realized that I had been in a way born into... as a young woman in Ireland you know we were being asked to or we were being ordered to not be sexual. And if we were sexual and did have a child, because abortion was illegal and criminalized, this was how they bloody well treated you, when you did have a child outside of their specific married state, you know what I mean? This was just enraging to me and a lot of other women at that time. And really for me, I was just so enraged to be treated in that way, as a supposedly equal citizen of this country, that this is what happened to women. This was the kind of strength that was put to bear on your sexuality if you did dare to be sexual outside of the churchs decreed role for you. Now, Im exaggerating, but actually these were the messages we were getting as far as Im concerned.
MT: Are you up on whats going on with the abortion legislation now? What has happened since the 1983 referendum?
L: Okay, well Ill explain more about the referendum. Before 1983, in Ireland, abortion was already illegal. And there was a lobby group because it was becoming apparent that Irish women were traveling to England to have abortions, and there would be at some point requests for abortion in the state, I think. And for various other reasons the anti-abortion lobby group began this kind of really scare mongering thing which was like: Theyre going to be having abortions here next. So, eventually an amendment was called for to ensure that abortion was criminalized and never to happen and it was put to a vote. Now, this was a vote to say that abortion is illegal in a country that abortion was already illegal in, so it was a very extreme kind of thing to do, and it became a really big sort of emotional experience for the whole country. I mean you had nuns being wheeled out to to lobby people, really really old ancient nuns. I mean the whole Catholic church mobilized. All sorts of right wing groups mobilized. And then what you had happening were the left wing groups getting polarized and various members of society getting polarized into pro or anti abortion stances.
It got passed but actually what happened was it got passed by less of a majority than everybody expected because it brought the issue up and people started to question it -- and in certain areas like Dublin it wasnt just a total 100% vote. It was much more dubious response than I think the Catholic Church had hoped for. But it became a huge event of that year and yes it was passed and abortion was totally criminalized.
So whats happened now in the state is we have this really kind of gray area around abortion. I think its just desperate because women who get pregnant and do not want to have these children are being forced into situations where they have to not only scrape the money together for their termination but they have to pay for travel and accommodation and all the other expenses of leaving the state, traveling on the boat or a plane to Britain, getting an abortion, staying there while it happens, and coming home again. And the loss of earnings and/or the cost of child care for other kids at home and getting somebody to take care of them, all that is really difficult. So, what you have is abortion that is struggled for. And most working class women or economically dependent women, or women who are in abusive relationships, actually cant get access to this kind of this thing. So its really about those who are privileged enough to be able to travel and can afford it or can finally somehow scrape the money together to do it are the ones that actually have access -- and those who dont are the people who probably need it the most. And thats whats really difficult and so unfair about it.
I think also the other thing that happens is that women run out of Ireland, you know, in fear and return silenced, totally silenced. They have no access to counseling, have no where to put their grief. Because I certainly felt myself, I was kind of grief stricken really, do you know what I mean? I didnt want to have to have an abortion, but I made that choice, and I still think its a very kind of double edged choice. Ive never once ever regretted making that decision, but what I have is a big feeling of loss, a big sense of, I lost a baby. Now that seems like a really strange kind of paradox, to be saying I lost a child. I made a choice and decided not to have a baby. But I did feel pregnant. I did know that my body was preparing to have a child. Thats kind of painful. And it sounds, its so strange, but its a loss and I feel that loss still, do you know what I mean?
And yet when I came from the termination there was a sense that I could not give that any space. And it wasnt until about 3 or 4 years later that just huge feelings of grief started bubbling up to the surface. I didnt actually know where they were coming from. They were being sparked off by a situation where somebody close to me was separating from her partner and they were kind of fighting over the child a bit and she was having to give her child away to her partner for weekends -- and her pain around that started kind of being echoed in a big way by me. It was coming up in my body in a way that I just didnt even understand. It became almost like a breakdown -- you know it sounds a bit traumatic but it was a big deal to try and work out why I was so grief stricken and why I was walking down the street bursting into tears.
And it was because I had been so angry at the way I had been treated by this country. I had been so pushed into a corner, really cornered I think to making decisions that were so unsupported and so criminalized and so silenced. My experience was so silenced. And I was so frightened of what would happen if people found out that I had no space to actually deal with it I think. And Ive talked to lots of women who have had the same experience -- and some women who it hasnt affected in that way, but I do think that theres this kind of wealth of grief that comes up around the choice -- and a wealth of regret, you know, not regret for the act but regret for what might have been. Or if youd been in a different situation, wouldnt it have been lovely, you know, if youd been able to do that. Yet also theres that kind of acceptance that you had to make that choice. To make that choice I had to put all that away. I felt like I had no choice but to put it away or I might have had my choices taken away, if that makes any sense.
MT: I was just going to ask if you think some of that might have been prevented if abortion was legal?
L: Well totally, I mean if abortion was legal here... Now Im not saying everybody should start freaking out and calling for free abortion on demand in Ireland -- I know that will never happen. But if I had access to abortion that I was counseled through and had to apply for and that had worked, it would have been a perfectly normal rational kind of experience, like going for a smear test, or making a choice to have a child as opposed to a choice not to have a child. And I think... Oh it would be just so different, you know, how can you even compare the two experiences? Except that I think that you still have regret and you still have concern about whether youre making the right decision. It is a very big decision for every woman. I dont know any woman who has ever made a choice to have an abortion without misgivings, without upset, without deep heart rending searching. No woman gets pregnant and doesnt somewhere in her soul want to keep that child. But actually the economic situation of this culture, the way child care is not provided, the way women are treated when they are pregnant in job situations, the way we dont have proper support for families or single parent families, all that sort of stuff is actually involved in the choices you have to make when you go for a termination. Am I going to be able to rear a child? Am I going to be allowed to rear a child? Am I going to be able to work and keep a home? Who will take care of my child when I work? There is no institutional child care in this country, theres not even tax free allowances for child care. You dont get any money back in taxes. All this kind of stuff informs a woman when she makes a decision to have a termination. But the experience of abortion would be radically different if you just went in and were counseled and counseled after it -- because I do think its a hard thing to do. And its not something any of us welcome. I have never ever met a woman who has ever used abortion as contraception, do you know? That is just not what happens. These stupid people who say that just havent a clue. None of us would walk into an abortion clinic instead of trying to prevent a pregnancy.
MT: Im so glad that youre bringing that up because thats one of the arguments that makes me so mad!
L: I know, I start frothing at the mouth!
MT: I wonder if you could go back for a second, if you wouldnt mind, and detail briefly what happened at the clinic and what the actual experience was like? Since no one talks about it I think it would be good to talk about what actually happens...
L: Yeah, what was really interesting at the clinic was the array of women. I mean there were women from Spain... I think it was quite difficult to get abortions in Spain at the time. I went in there and I was just totally delighted with the amount of respect and kindness that I met in the clinics and in the counseling beforehand. I think a lot of the staff, a lot of the nurses, a lot of the people who manned the wards, were really aware of women whod have to travel out of their own countries. I just really felt that that was something they really appreciated. There was just a lot of gentleness and a lot of kindness being demonstrated. It was just very regular, you know. You got your bed and you got told what was going to happen and it was bit like...
I remember, I mean originally I was trying to go for local anesthetic because I thought that was what I should do. I thought I should be present. I actually was so controlling or so frightened that I wouldnt get there that I didnt want to go out. I did not want to be put out. I did not want to be knocked out. And I remember having this conversation with the doctor who was saying, Youve never had children? And I was going, No. He said, How many sexual partners have you had? And I said, Umm, two. And he said, And you want to be awake while we perform this operation? And I was kind of going, Uh... yeah. Because I was so frightened that it wouldnt happen, do you know what I mean? I wanted to be sure, to be looking at them to make sure they were doing it! But he persuaded me to go out under general anesthetic. Im really glad he did now you know, because it was hard. But at that point I was so kind of morally...there was a part of me as well that wanted to be present, like, I want to see it. This is my choice and I want to be there for it. I was still subliminally kind of afraid that I wasnt going to get what I wanted. That somehow somebody would wheel me out in a trolley and run away with me before I could get my termination!
But I also remember waking up out of a deep sleep. I woke up from under the general anesthetic and I was in this ward on a trolley with about 3 other women, all coming to, and there was one woman shouting. And then this the orderly came up to me and said, Oh youre coming to now? And I said, Why are they all shouting? And he said, Oh it affects some people that way when theyre out of general anesthetic. And Im thinking, Well Im so glad. I was just so glad to be, you know, Is everything done? I was saying, Is it over with? But yeah, I know the experience was a very positive one, and it was a very normal one, you know, it was very normal because I was in flight. It felt like and I was when I arrived and I had to deal with the people who tried to persuade me not to do it so... I felt really like everything was scary. So, when I went into the clinic and everything was really normal and the people were really sane and ordinary and business like about the thing, that was very reassuring.
MT: What was it like traveling, did you take the ferry or...?
L: Yeah, the ferry. I was in a lot of pain. I got up in the morning after the operation, my boyfriend collected me, and we walked to the tube and got the tube into central London. We went for coffee, and I got on the bus in Victoria to go to the boat. And I got on the boat and got off and got another bus from Rosslare to Cork and got home. I went to bed that night and got up the Monday morning for work. I was working a summer job and I had been away for a week so I had to get back to work. So I just took lots of pain killers and looked after myself, you know, and again I was just driven I think to be normal and for nobody to know. I just wanted the waters to close right over that experience. And thats how I proceeded for about 3 years.
MT: How did you make excuses for the time you were gone?
L: I said I was going for a holiday for a week to London. Luckily I had finished college for the summer and finished my assessment exams, whatever, and arranged with work. I just said, Look I just want to go for a break so Ill be back in a week. So, luckily I was in that kind of position. Lots of women wouldnt have been able to do that, you know?
MT: Do you feel like the experience of having to have an abortion under such duress, do you feel like that contributed anyway to your being politically involved around abortion? Did it change the way you felt about womens rights?
L: You know, I was talking about growing up in Ireland before and the kind of messages you get about being a woman. And being a good woman is about being nurturing and loving. And our big aspiration is to be the Virgin Mary, you know, have a baby without having had any sex! And I mean theres lot of jokes about that now and I think weve moved away from it a lot but certainly in the eighties it was still a very big thing. Now, the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of the family was the foundation of the Catholic Church in this century and also the foundation of the state in a way because enshrined in the state is the family as the primary kind of motivating factor. Now, its very complicated because I think the basic economic structure of this country is built on the unpaid labor of women, right, if you want to get really politicized about this, and women in the home have upheld the country for years, their unpaid labor. And if that gets messed with, the patriarchal culture gets threatened.
Even when I was a teenager and becoming sexually active, I was not officially allowed access to contraception. I couldnt buy condoms. I couldnt go on the pill. I had no access to contraception. That is the culture that I grew up out of in the 1960s and 70s. Now, that changed only recently. AIDS and HIV were well up and running before we could buy contraception outside of a chemist -- you know condoms were only in a chemist at the discretion of the individual chemist, a proprietor of the shop. So, in most small towns in Ireland, up to like 6 years ago, you couldnt buy condoms anywhere. And there was a big court case against Virgin Megastores for selling condoms over the counter only about 6 or 7 years ago. They were being directed by the courts not to sell condoms. This was in the age of AIDS and HIV, plus all the STDs that have been going on around for years as well. So, it was this concerted effort to control sexuality and contraception, not to mind talking about abortion and womens fertility. We just had no access to control our own fertility. And I think thats a kind of cornerstone of control in Ireland.
I think one of the things that I experienced was looking at that, just standing back and saying: Hang on a second. I am suppose to be an equal member of this culture and country, I have a voting right, I am suppose to be equal to any man walking this road, yet I am not allowed to control and have power over my fertility and my sexuality. And as a woman born in the mid-sixties, you know, I just felt this was outrageous. I was able to travel wherever. I was supposedly equal and free. And yet here I was being controlled and manipulated by a culture that was trying not to allow me to have any access to my own body really when it came down to it. When I was growing up abortion was all about killing babies, and as I grew up into womanhood, I started realizing that it was a bit more complicated than that, and actually it was about control and power. And if people felt they could control women and their bodies and their fertility, then that made certain people in this country feel safer. And it continually placed women in a subservient and trapped role really.
So around coming to feminism and around experiencing the late teens and early 20s, I started just putting it all together and realizing that actually it was all a big swizz. I wanted control of my destiny and I did not want that very basic part of my life interfered with anymore. I started looking at the institutions that allowed these things to happen, and I started to disassemble the reasons why people wanted to control me, and it was huge. It had a lot to do with me coming out as a lesbian, and it had to do with me kind of just shifting a lot of baggage really. I think a lot of Irish women and a lot of women all over the world have such a hard time claiming a sexuality. We have such a hard time being sexually active. We have such a hard time saying no, we have such a hard time saying yes, you know, its all about supposedly being this passive acceptor of male sexuality. And when youre not, youre criminalized or a bad girl -- either a whore or frigid. I mean, when Im talking about it now Im laughing because its all so basic, Ive kind of been there done that, and I havent talked like this for a long time because its so obvious, I think.
But even right now, today, as weve been talking, a priest got up on an altar over the weekend and felt it within his power to call a woman who is well known in this country whos had a child but who is not married, he called her a common slut on the pulpit in front of a congregation of people on a Sunday. You know, and he felt that he had perfect right to make those kind of comments on her life. And we also have a situation where just this week its come to light that an adoption agency that has been run by a pro-life group had been instrumental in more or less kidnapping children from distressed young women who went to them for help and illegally adopting them. The founder of the organization was found to be illegally taking these children as his own. Thats whats been happening in this country. And so you know, its 1999, here we are, and these two situations are paralleling my experience you know of 15 years ago. Its just outrageous that this is still going on in this way.
S: I would have been brought up in an extremely Catholic family and abortion as an issue from a very young age. I would have been extremely anti-abortion, and I remember once in UCD they were trying to disseminate information about abortion to women, and my boyfriend at the time supported this, and I nearly broke it off with him because I disagreed with him so much. Ironcially, twelve months after that discussion, I had become pregnant by another man. Almost a year to the day, I was having an abortion.
So I was 21, from rural Ireland and became pregnant and didnât know what to do. I thought my family would go insane if they found out that I was pregnant and that I would be shunned by my friends. Even the guy that I became pregnant by, he was saying that nobody would ever go out with me again, and that he couldnât assure me that he would be around to help me raise the child, and that noone would want to go out with me if I was a single woman. And he got all the information for me, because he had gone through it before with another woman.
So he was able to get information for me and we went to England. And I ended up paying for the flight for both of us because I had said to him that if I did have an abortion I probably would be suicidal because I felt so bad about it and that Iâd need his support, so he came with me to England. And, um, before Iâd gone Iâd arranged to stay at a bed and breakfast which the abortion clinic had given me the number of, and they quoted me a price on the phone and they charged me exactly double when I arrived in England. So, I went in and I was as completely naive. There was a special ward for Irish women. I had to go in a day before to have a check-up and I think I was supposed to have counseling, but I definitely didnât get any. They asked me if I wanted to have an abortion, and I remember being checked by a doctor who was asking me about changes in my body, you know if my breasts were sore. I hadnât noticed any changes in my breasts, and she got really annoyed with me and told me that I should have seen changes in my breasts. It was just awful. I felt bad I suppose... a lot of the reason would have been that I was an Irish girl going to England for an abortion.
And I had the abortion and I felt dreadful about it and came home to Ireland, never saw the father of the child again. And a few months later, I... I was told I would bleed for a couple of weeks after the abortion, and maybe it was a month later, I was sitting in the office I was working in and I just felt a really weird sensation. I went to the toilet and started passing massive clots of blood. I rang my mother because my mother had sussed out that I had had an abortion -- and even though she was against it she was very supportive of me and she came and collected me and brought me a doctor who told me that I was actually miscarrying the child, that the abortion hadnât been done properly on me. And in all fairness to him he was really nice to me and put me in the hospital and said that under law he would have to report me to the police because Iâd gone to England to have an abortion, but what he would say was that I just miscarried. So, he brought me in and performed the operation for the miscarriage, the DNC, and I was I in the hospital for a couple of days. And then I rang the abortion clinic because I figured I was still paying back the debt to the bank for the abortion. I thought, ãWell, I deserve my money back!ä And they told me that Iâd have to get a letter from the doctor, knowing full well that the doctor couldnât actually give me a letter, because he was obliged by law to report me for having traveled to England for the abortion. It was pretty horrific, a horrific time.
M: God, thatâs so horrible. How could they not do it?
S: I donât know, I donât know how they managed to not abort the child properly. And I felt bad enough about it. I can actually remember being wheeled in. It was ten-to-two in the afternoon. I mean I felt so guilty about having this abortion that I had, um, Iâd named the child. Then I was wheeled back into a room with all Irish women. Some of them would have been more confident about their decision, and others of them were crying and it was just horrific. Iâve spoken to English women living in Ireland who would have had an abortion and their experience seems to be different to Irish women going over. And the irony is that Irish women are paying more. Um, and I remember actually when I did actually start miscarrying what had been left of the child or embryo or whatever, thinking that this was my punishment, that somehow I was going to lose my womb and this was my punishment from God for having the abortion. It was just, it was horrible. And I remember I was 21 which is supposed to be one of the best years of your life and it was absolutely the most horrific. Because as well as having to pay the debt back to the bank for the year, so I had that memory of that for a year, the whole physical side of having the abortion lasted for months as well and, you know...
M: ...did that experience change your attitude toward abortion in Ireland?
S: Yeah, it completely changed my attitude. I felt so guilty, itâs just unbelievable how guilty I felt, and I remember I told absolutely nobody that I was pregnant. The only person who knew that I was pregnant was the father of the child. And I was out with a friend of mine a couple of months later, and she said, ãYou know, I have a problem, I think I am pregnant, and I know where you stand on abortion, but I really want you to support me because I think Iâm gonna have an abortion.ä So then, ofcourse, I broke down and told her my experience. And my mother eventually just sussed out that Iâd had an abortion. And my sister knew. And everybody seemed to be really upset that I hadnât come to them, but I just felt so ashamed about what I was about to do that...
About six months later, I remember my mother encouraged me to go to counseling. I came to Dublin for counseling so that the counselor wouldnât know who I was or make the association with my family or whatever. And, to be honest, that was a really bad experience as well. But I think that was just the particular counselor. But what I realized after that was that I didnât feel guilty anymore for having the abortion, I actually felt guilty for not feeling guilty -- because for years I had seen that it had been such an evil thing to do. All of a sudden I had had the abortion, and it took me years to realize that I was actually happy that Iâd had it and that it was the right decision. There was massive guilt associated with that as well. Yeah, it that it changed my attitude completely, and I remember when I came back and I just... I went over the weekend and I came back to work, came back from England on Sunday night and went to work on Monday morning. And that week across the road from the office I was working in the pro-life group had posters plastered all over the wall of the bank -- and I had to pass it a few times during the day and it just upset me so much, and .. it just made me see things differently ...
Because what I saw was an awful lot of men giving out leaflets. And recently I remember walking down the street and they were at every single corner. What I saw was an awful lot of young boys giving out information. And you canât really judge them because theyâre too young to know what theyâre doing, but I just, I was really annoyed to think that men could take it on as an issue when in fact it wasnât a male issue. I donât think itâs a male issue at all, to be honest with you. In my situation, if I had had that child it would have been up to me completely. I mean, I had been told by the father of the child that he didnât want the child, that somehow it was my fault that I had gotten pregnant, and it would have been up to me to raise the child completely on my own and to be financially responsible to the child. So, I just think itâs not a male issue, and it did change my attitude to abortion completely.
M: Do you think it should be made available in Ireland or just that there should be better access to information?
S: I think women in Ireland should be able to access it, and I think it should be something that is covered by the Medical Card so that women that canât afford it still have the option. I think itâs absolutely ridiculous that it isnât available in Ireland, because you see statistics every year and itâs 5, 6, 7,000 women traveling to England. And these are women that give Irish addresses. I canât even remember what address I gave, but Iâm sure I didnât give my Irish address, you know, Iâm sure I came up with an England address, so even statistics that are high enough probably arenât revealing of how many women travel to England every year. And then itâs the whole issue of having to travel and having to get on a bus, or get on a plane. And then after going through minor surgery, within a couple of hours, you get back on a plane, or if youâre from a rural area of Ireland, you get back on a plane, then you get the bus, then you get the train. You know, itâs just a massive journey on top of it all.
M: What was that journey like for you?
S: Um, it was... I remember I cried the whole way home on the plane. I do tend to be romantic anyway, but I can actually still visualize pulling out of London and looking at the lights in London and sitting thinking, you know, ãMy child will never see that.ä And, um, I just cried the whole way home, and got on a long train journey once I got home on my own, completely alone, and then felt like I couldnât tell anybody when I got home what Iâd gone through. I was supposed to be in Dublin for a wedding, thatâs why I had taken Friday off work. And Iâd even forgotten by the time I got home that I was supposed to be at a wedding and to comment on the wedding and comment on the dress and comment on the day and my weekend away and it, it was just horrible. It was really isolating and I donât think that it was unique for me, I think that thatâs really common. When women come back they canât tell anybody. You know, thereâs nobody they can discuss it with, which is awful. Because itâs a hard enough thing to have to come to terms with, and I think a lot of people that would be anti-abortion think that itâs a really easy decision to make. That itâs just... itâs just form of contraception -- like, ãOh, whoops, I got pregnant. Iâll go to England and have an abortion.ä But itâs a massive thing. And I mean, I think I was 12-13 weeks pregnant when I had the abortion, so I had 12-13 weeks of grappling with this and not wanting to go but feeling it was my only option. And it was horrific having to deal with all of that on my own. Itâs not an easy decision and I donât think -- there probably are some women that take the decision lightly, but I would say that they are vastly in the minority. You know, I think the majority of women grapple over it and do feel a sense of guilt over it.
And then I think that a lot of the times... youâd wonder as to what sort of life you could have given the child anyways, and what sort of life youâd have had yourself. I mean, my life would have gone completely differently and my options would have been reduced drastically. Itâs just ironic as well that I would have been shunned by my society to an extent for having the baby, and I would have been an outcast. Maybe the guy I was going out with was right, maybe nobody would go out with me again because I came from a rural area and I was having a child, and no man would want to take on another manâs child. On top of that then, I was told I couldnât have contraception, and on top of that I was told that I couldnât have an abortion. Thereâs no logic to that, for starters, for disagreeing with all of those things. And itâs just not practical. Itâs not practical that you canât have contraception, you canât have a child outside of marriage, and you canât have an abortion. It just leaves no option for women, and it just makes every option a difficult option.
M: And itâs always on the woman.
S: And itâs your fault that you became pregnant. Contraception is the womanâs responsibility. And I know a lot of men that have gotten women pregnant and have never seen their child. Fortunately now, women can legally get financial assistance from the man. A lot of the time they have to bring the man to court for that. And these men swagger around with no responsibilities and nobody looks at them badly, whereas the woman that is left raising the child, and a lot of the times under difficult circumstances, is the person that society looks down on and gives the hard time to.
M: Did you have information about contraception when you first started having sex?
S: No, I hadnât a notion about contraception. I really didnât. I didnât want to go on the Pill. I knew I didnât want to go on the Pill because I just didnât know exactly what it did to my body, but I knew it did something to my body. And I just, I didnât feel like there was anybody I could ask about it either. Even though I was told the facts of life at a young age and everything, I was still not sure about what time of the month I could get pregnant. Basically it was whatever the man said. The father was ten years older than I, so I presumed that he knew more about it that I did. Now Iâm shocked that I had unsafe sex with him, but I did, like, I mean, I was completely unaware of a lot of the consequences. He was trying to time my period to see when we could have unsafe sex. And I left him to it. I presumed that he knew more about it than I did, and I suppose as well that that I figured that by questioning it I would be showing my own ignorance. And I didnât want to sort of come across as some country girl who didnât know anything about contraception, which was exactly what I was. So, you know, he was from the city and he was ten years older than me so I believed heâd know.
M: The only part that Iâd like to touch on again is you mentioned there was an Irish-only ward...
S: There was a room that I was put into after having the abortion, it was all Irish girls. Saturdays was the day for this particular clinic that they did Irish abortions. There was a woman in the clinic with me that was slightly older than me, and she had had a friend that had had an abortion, so she sort of knew more about it than I did. But she was saying for her friend as well, that she was put with all Irish women. I found a lot of the staff, I thought they treated me very badly, you know. But there was one particular nurse who was very very nice to me, and she was commenting on my hair, and she tied it back for me. I think she just realized that I was in bits, you know, when I came out. I was crying. I wasnât eating. I think she realized what I was going through and she was very nice to me. She was the one who told me that Saturday was the day they did abortions on Irish women.
M: How did they treat you at the B&B? Were they in the practice of having girls from Ireland? Do you think it was like a racket?
S: Yeah, because I got the number of the clinic, and I rang the clinic and they actually asked me, had I set up accommodations or did I know people that I could stay with in London. I said I didnât, so they said, which I thought was very nice of them, that they knew a bed and breakfast that I could stay at. So I rang this woman and it was 35 pounds a night each, which I thought was horrendously expensive at the time, and then when I got there she actually charged me 70 pounds a night. And she knew that I was coming from Ireland and it was sort of like she was trying to be nice so that maybe I would recommend her place, but at the same time I didnât like the way she treated me. Well I was very upset that she charged me double the amount of money when I arrived there, and I had no options. I mean Iâd never been to London before, I didnât know where to go. And she was saying, ãGirls have come over before from Ireland.ä And she knew that I wasnât allowed to eat anything in the morning, you know, when she was giving my boyfriend his breakfast. So it seems she would have probably put up an awful lot of Irish women, well some Irish women like myself, like she was aware.
As the years went on and as I actually developed an anger around the issues and when the guilt had nearly faded, like I wanted to tell everybody about it that I possibly could because I realized how badly I was treated from loads of different angles. And as years went on then and I felt... because I didnât talk about it for a long time and I didnât feel comfortable talking about it and I still felt an amount of shame and when people would talk about abortion , I sort of would want to interject and give my experience. But then I sort of didnât want to either. When I started talking to other women, like friends of mine, or women who I would have met over the years and I would have told them about it, itâs amazing, it amazed me, how many women I actually knew quite well who had gone through the same experience, you know, slightly different, but had gone to England and thought they probably couldnât tell anybody about it. And I mean, probably couldnât tell me about it because I was so anti-abortion for a long time.
But what I was going to say at the end of the last tape was every single year, because I timed from when the child was going to be born and everything, so every single year at the end of March start of April, itâs something that I just sort of consciously realized this year, was that I go through a bit of a depression. And it wasnât until after this year that I realized, yeah, this time every year, is it to do with the weather or what? I do go through a depression and a realization of, ãWow, if Iâd had a baby, the baby would be seven years.ä And, you know, I do think that when a friend of mine had a baby when I was pregnant, two weeks I had the abortion, and I remember going into the hospital and I felt really weird holding the baby. So, as heâs growing up as well, sometimes when I look at him I think, ãThatâs the size my child would be now if Iâd the baby.ä So I think it always stays with you. I mean, I must admit that Iâm glad where my life is at the moment and I know for a fact if Iâd had the baby I wouldnât be where I am now. And I think that over the years I might have resented the fact of having the baby because of the restrictions it would have put on me at such a young age -- because I still didnât know what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 21, and I still donât really know what I want to be now. But I definitely didnât know then, and my life took a completely different direction in the years that followed that, and I would have missed out on an awful lot. So even though Iâm happy with the decision I made, Iâm suppose Iâm just not happy that I put myself in the position that I had to make the decision.
M: I think itâs so important .. people seem to think that if women are pro-choice then they wouldnât have a hard time with abortion. Itâs a personal and agonizing decision that you have to make on your own. I am so glad you brought that up.
S: The whole issue, like I hate the name "pro-life." It just, it really irritates me because I think I am pro-life in many ways, but to say that people that are against abortion are ãpro-lifeä means that people that have had abortions or are in favor of having the choice are ãanti-lifeä in such ways, in certain ways. That drives me mad, because I just think, I think a lot of the things I do in my life would say that I am pro-life, and not just pro-life for me or for a certain sector of society, you know. A lot of these people would be really racist or something and someone will come to a racist issue and you'll wonder just how ãpro-lifeä they really are. But it's the whole fact that they've kidnapped this term "pro-life" that really annoys me.
A: I had a terrible time when I came back -- emotionally. I was pretty bad for a couple of months. I mean I remained in the house and nobody saw me -- and --but at no stage did I nor do I regret making that decision. I donât. But thatâ s not to say that I didnât have... and also the fact that you were pregnant and that it was terminated and your hormones are all over the place. And I think that I always knew that, and I knew that would pass. But I had a friend who actually went with me to London, and we have never really spoken since. And we haven't even talked about... about any of it. But we certanly arenât really friends anymore.
At that time I think I felt that nobody understood. And to say what I was going through would again not be the party line. I nearly felt that I wasn't allowed to feel a bit depressed. A bit low and a bit weepy. And, "Oh god, what have I done." And every time I looked at one of my weeuns, it was like, "Oh god." But never really regretted the decision that Iâd taken. And I still donât. But again it comes up, and for a few years, and I suppose this would be the post syndrome, you think about when it would be born and stuff. And around Chrsitmas, I think, but now I think, "Jesus, I'd have a five year old, thank god I don't." Then to say that, to me is giving the pro-lifers -- ãwell, there you go, selfish, that was a really selfish thing.ä And I just feel like, I was saying downstairs, Iâm sick of it. I made that decision. I donât regret that decision. And no, I would not like a five year old now. I have five other children. On my own. I would go mad! Maybe I wouldnât, maybe it wouldâve been the loveliest thing thatâs ever happened to me. We'll never now, and I certainly donât regret it. You know, when we talk about the sin of it all. I think, right, when I go up there, I'll just say, "Look, I did it. Judge me on it or don't. I did what I had to do at that time."
Friend: When you found out that you were pregnant, would you have said that you were anti-abortion and that you started changing?
A: No, no. I had started, well I suppose, having been married for so long and having been doing the good catholic thing -- well, hang on, cause I donât really pracice my faith. Well I suppose I did for the childrenâs sake -- doing the good housewife thing and the good mother thing and then coming out of that marriage and realizing that everything changes and you donât know. And going back to unversity just turned nearly every value that I had on its head. And then when I found out that I was pregnant, I was just really glad that I had the support around me that allowed me ... I mean Goretti just went down there and got the tickets to London on her Visa -- I really -- had I not have known her, I just think, ãJesus, what would I have done?ä We had a fundraiser for the rest of the money. So I had a really good support around me that just went straight on the action. So I didnât have to deal with being pregnant for too long. And I know other women donât have that -- and my heart really really goes out to them.
And when I came back, I came back on a Friday, and my youngest child was making first communion on the Saturday, and I was really high. All I could think of was, ãThank god Iâm not pregnant. This is the last. Thank god.ä And then about a week after that, then all the hormones kicked in, and then thatâs when all the low came, but I was really really relieved that it was all over.
M: So you wouldnât say that going through the abortion changed your position on whether or not abortion should be legal?
A: I think maybe it made me think ãAye, it has to be made legal, to prevent women from having stress on top of stress.ä I mean itâs stressful enough thinking you have to have an abortion, and then not having the practial wherewithall to do that. I mean the money and looking after -- I mean my friend looked after the two youngest children and the three older ones were able to stay on their own. And for women who havenât the freedom to discuss that and to have the network around them I think it must be awful. Where if it was extended here, then it would be easier to get away for a day than having to travel to London.
MT: What about, I know in the States, that after you have a procedure, you go back for counseling and after care, they check up on you, physcially and emotionally. And Iâd imagine that, if you have to travel to England to get the procedure, you donât get that aftercare stuff. And Iâd imagine that might help women that are dealing with the stress that comes later. Do you think it would be beneficial?
A: Well I suppose, if you have complications after it, aye. I mean I was fortunate, I had the abortion and I took my period, and everything just panned out normal. So I didnât really have any physcial complications. But aye, that would definielty be another reason why it should be available here.
Friend: It would also allow women the space to talk about it. Women here find it very difficult to talk about it. Whereas, if you had, maybe 6 weeks later, a GP or someone to talk with, or a physical check up as well, then at least you could talk about it then -- at least it gives you an opportunity to talk about it in a safe environment. Whereas for us women, when you come back, itâs never talked about again. You know, theyâve found the money somewhere, theyâve gone off in silence, theyâve come back in silence, and they can never talk about it again. And the stress of that, being outside of your society... of course itâs emotional. Itâs gonna have emotional stress and strain.
M: You said that you did have a friend go with you.
A: The thing is, that was a real bonus to me at the time, because I assumed I would be on my own. But I was really really glad that Sharon was with me. The clinic was the worst bit. The clinic I thought were horrible, I really did, and the nurses were horrible, and they dealt with it very matter of fact. ãYouâre in for an abortion. Stop crying. Do you want it or do you not? Now be quiet.ä And I was like, ãOh, God.ä And Sharon wasnât alowed to stay with me. It was like a prison door being shut. And Sharon and I just looked at one another -- because I assumed and she assumed that we would be able to stay with one another until whatever time -- until it was time for the abortion. ãRight, out now, youâre on.ä And then I thought, ãOh godä and I started to cry. And the nurse just, I mean, thatâs what she said, ãDo you want this abortion or do you not?ä And I says, ãAye.ä And she said, more or less, ãShut up. Whatâre you crying about?ä And it was--it was horrble. And all I could think about was the money that I had paid, you know, ãDonât talk to me like that, I paid money to be here. Donât treat me like this.ä So it was the nurses, it wasnât the doctors. The doctors were nice. And the certain token counseling that you get before -- and it is token -- I just mentioned that I had five children, and they were like, ãThatâs grand, you donât need an excuse. Thatâs excuse enough.ä And the actual doctor who carried out the termination, and the anesthetist, they were lovely, they were really really nice. But the nurses were horrible. Horrible.
M: I didnât realize that -- since theyâre free for women in Britain, I thought they were free for women here--
Friend: Actually very few abortions are carried out on the National Health Service. Most of them are carried out in private clinics. So even women in England have to pay.
M: And how did you get there -- did you take the plane or the boat?
A: Having Sharon there with me -- it was like it was like a trip -- until having that door close. And then Sharon came for me the next morning. They have you up at 6, just normal hospital procedure. Sharon came around at 8. And it was a beautiful day. And we bought a bottle of wine and a whole load of strawberries and went to Hyde Park. And it was almost surreal -- it was. And then we were staying in a friend of Sharonâs and then we went to stay with her sister. And that was really nice because they were really supportive. They were all sort of, ãAre you ok? What can we do for you? You poor thing.ä And I enjoyed that, that pampering. And then you get desperate pains in your stomach and then you realize. But I think that was how I was coping, ãOK, itâs finished now, just get on with it.ä Cause I had to get back for my childrenâs first communion in the morning. So it was really fine, really fine, but that was nice, sitting in Hyde Park with a bottle of wine and strawberries. Jesus Christ.
We had a disco, and it was clear why it was being run, but I thought, ãEverybody knows itâs for me going to London.ä
Friend: They didnât.
A: Friends of ours played at it free of charge.
M: So I take it you didnât have the support of your partner.
A: Please! Well he wasnât a partner, right? He was my first boyfriend since Iâd got out of my marriage. So it was my first sort of ... I donât know what that was actually. But anyway. The strange thing about that was, he had two chldren, and I assumed that he was gonna be supportive, and it was only about a year ago I actually told him. Now I canât look at him, because I think, ãYou bastard. You had two children. You didnât want this child anymore than I did.ä But it was like, ãWell itâs your problem, thatâs grand, you deal with it then.ä
MT: So he wasnât supportive of you taking care of it?
A: No financial support. No emotional support. He was a complete -- and I really liked him, I was mad about him actually and then it was complete Jekyll and Hyde.
M: And would you ever consider telling any of your kids?
A: No, no. I couldnât see any reason why I would have to or why I should. No. I mean my eldest daughterâs 25. And over the past couple of years she has reviewed her thinking around abortion. She had been very anti-abortion. Then several of her freinds got pregnant -- so just the practical things changed her mind about being pro-choice. But no, I would never have the inclination -- never, no.
M: What would you think if you didnât know women in this organization? What would be the plight of someone who didnât know someone? Would they be able to access information or would they go ahead and have children?
A: I would say most of them probably would go ahead and -- or do something really silly like try and terminate themselves. Which happens.
M: I was a little confused by your saying you stayed in the hospital -- because in the States itâs an outpatient procedure. So maybe you could just describe what happened when you got to the clinic, the steps along the way...
A: It was just an overnight stay -- less than 24 hours -- in a clinc. It was nicer than a hospital. The actual clinic was lovely -- and very relaxed atmosphere. We checked in in the evening. This was awful actually. They scanned me -- and you saw the scan. And I was like, ãDonât look, donât look, donât look.ä Thatâs really bad. I was laying on a couch there and the monitor was sort of diagonally away from me on the bed. I wasnât expecting that. I think theyâre a bit desensitized. It just seemed that was definitely not ... now I was about 8 or 9 weeks pregant. Thatâs how quick it was. I actually knew the night I conceived -- because weâd gone to Dublin for a weekend. And I knew. So I could trace it myself. So then you go in for this token counseling, and sheâs the one who says yay or nay, but itâs only token.
I came back the next day and checked in. The appointment was in the morning. And I couldnât eat in the morning. And the termination was carried out mid-afternoon. That was was the worst -- but that was the nurses. And then, to be totally honest, because she was a colored nurse, I found myelf being really racist towards her. For being so unsympathetic. I thought, ãYou donât care.ä And I didnât need that, more guilt about questioning her. But then the procedure was carried out and the anesthetist and the doctor were lovely. They joked and--
M: And it was a local anasthetic? Or did they actually put you under?
A: Now they did that then too -- I think in 5 years thatâs changed. So that was ok. Did Sharon come up to visit or did she just phone? I think she just phoned, but then it gave me the opportunity to talk to other women. That was quite sad actually. We had the termination on the same day -- and that was really sad. And made me even more grateful that Iâd had that network around me. Cause there was one wee girl there, and she was 22 weeks pregnant, and her boyfirend was, ãDo you want it or do you not? Do you want it or do you not? Do you want it or do you not?ä And he insisted that she have a terminattion. And then again, my moral -- I thought, ãJesus, 22 weeks, 22 weeks, thatâs too late.ä I would have a point of 12 weeks -- and for me after 12 weeks it becomes difficult. But I wouldnât judge and I wouldnât express that -- because I donât know. Because If I hadnât had the network around me that I had, I mightâve been glad to go at 15 weeks or 16 weeks. But that was, that was difficult. And I often wonder what happened happened to her -- because she was really very distressed after the abortion. And he came in with flowers and I thought, ãBastard! You Bastard!ä So there was all that. There was a common room where everyone was smoking and chatting. And he came in bearing flowers. And what happened in that common room, it helped me come to terms with my own termination, after. Because I kept thinking of her. Being so far on. Because at that stage theyâre moving and kicking and all I could keep thinking about was her scan, did she see her scan? God I hope not. And that was it. And then Sharon came and we went off to the park and we got our wine and our strawberries and, what the hay you know.
Friend: You also, you had to be away three days.
A: What did I tell them? Sharon was going to a conference in London and she was allowed to bring a guest free of charge. And I was it. And that was completely acceptable. And another friend was looking after the 2 children. My others then were like 18 and 20 and were able to be at home on their own. And they were like, ãThatâs fine, as long as we donât have to look after the two younger children, thatâs grand. Will you be back in time for Davinâs first communion?ä ãAye.ä
M: I think we've covered most of the...all aspects of the story... not necessarily from start to finish but we've hit them all along the way. But I think the one thing you've talked about in the beginning that I just wanted to go back to was when you first found out you were pregnant. You said that you knew, sort of, on your own, before you even had the test. What kind of decision making process did you go through or did you just think "I've got to get an abortion" right away?
A: Aye, aye, aye.
M: So there was no...
A: There was no question of alternative solutions. No. And, also, I was thinking, "God my children will go mad if I have a baby -- in this house!" I have problems enough with them...you know, looking after the weeuns, but this, I thought "No, I've one decision and one decision only,ä and that was the decision I made. And I don't regret it. I don't regret it. And there's this whole area too: Being selfish... and being.. aye...if I was then so I was... At that stage, I was entitled to be selfish. I'd given my whole life to child rearing and I had gone back to University and I was, for the first time since I was 18, actually doing something for me. And if that was a selfish act, then that's on that level. So be it. The other thing was, I didn't want to bring up another child on me own. I knew how hard it is. I had five ?- now, I would have had six. I just did not want to do it on my own. Now, had I have had the support of my partner at that time... I don't know. If he had a went all gooey and, "Aw baby...ä But his coldness and his detachment... I just thought, ãNo, I'm going to be on my own with this baby.ä It made that decision easier. If he'd had a wanted it and been romantic maybe I would have thought "hmm..." But I was glad then after the event that he decided to be... And, of course he was thinking of his parents, too. He was thinking "Jesus, me motherâd go mad.ä
I just saw my life stretched out to me being 60 before I was able to go out to the pub without a babysitter. I'm 45 and No, no, I've been doing this too long now.
M: So how old were you when you had the termination?
M: And how old were your kids at the time -- the ones that you had?
A: 20, 18, 16, 10 and 8.
M: So it would have been like a whole nother generation of childrearing.
A: And I already had, you know, I had 3 and there was a 6 year gap and then I had 2. And I often think I should have all five of them just all at one go. Cause now I have 3 teenagers again... so no, no. So that's it.
M: Why are you not in contact any more with your friend who went with you to England?
A: Well that has become more complicated...at the time I think she took it personally... that I had withdrawn a bit. But I'm only assuming. I don't know because we've never really talked about it.
M: Couldn't she handle it -- the fact that you had the abortion?
A: No, it wasn't that. It definitely wasn't that. No. Cause she was very supportive, very supportive.
M: Was it because you were, when you came back, you were emotionally withdrawn because you were going through some depression?
M: And, maybe she didn't understand exactly why..
A: Well I assumed that nobody would understand. I assumed that because I was sort of on the pro-choice side that I wasn't allowed to be emotional. This was the party line.... and here was me cryin and weepin and I thought, ãAw, I'm lettin them down. I'm going over and doing all the things the pro-liferes say will happen.ä So there was a whole lot of things goin on. There was a whole lot of things. Cause we've never talked about it, I'm only assuming. But then, all these things happened in her life. And she was pregnant, and I found that difficult.
Friend: It is actually a terrible indictment of us.
A: No, I don't mean it to be.
Friend: That you would feel, that anyone would feel, that they have to be politically pure about things. For most of the people who are involved in the group, they come out of different directions. Some women have come because they've had abortions themselves, and they'd like to change things for women. Some come at it because they have a political perspective that takes them in that direction. Some people have come at it because they've had friends who've been in crisis situations and they wanted to help them and be trained for being a counselor. A lot of us would have campaigned on other things. So, for all the emotional stuff, to try and wade through all of that as well the campaigning, and the practical things that you you need to know in order to try and challenge something. And we are clearly not experts in all of it, so things happen like that where people get the wrong impression about things or thereâs misunderstnaidngs and contradictions. And maybe you don't have time or haven't given the attention to a woman's emotional needs. I think that to some degree that was always the case with this issue in this country: there was always a tension there between whether you campaigned or whether you supported women. The issue of fundrasising illustrates that very clearly.
MT: I really appreciate that you're willing to share all this because I think there are so many women out there who can really benefit from hearing what other women go through.
A: It's the silence that's the worst part of it...that's the worst.
MT: Yeah. That's what everyone I've interviewed has said. Even if they had heard one of two women talking about the experience, it would have made their experience so much different...that other women did it and they survived. And they are fine..and they don't regret it...maybe they were emotional. I'm so interested in that because I feel like that's never expressed: The fact that you could, on the one hand, totally not regret it... never have any doubts about that...but also be really emotional about it. You know, somehow it's
like you have to be one or the other
A: Aye, aye.