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Archive for December 16th, 2010

The ECHR judgement that Anthea McTiernan wrote about so eloquently yesterday has highlighted the journeys made every year by Irish women seeking abortions in the UK. Here one of those women, Molly McCarthy, tells her story.

It’s with great joy I hear of the ECHR finding that the courts were not the appropriate place to determine the course of a woman’s life. I’m sure as I type various groups are scrambling to decry the imposition of Europe in our ‘private’ Irish affairs, for abortion is something we cant talk about, for fear of judgment, judgment of those who never had to look at that option.

I made friends with a neigbour in an apartment complex when both our children were very young, at some stage she fell pregnant by her partner and decided that she couldn’t cope with another kid. She made the decision to terminate the pregnancy and to my current shame I let the friendship drift, I couldn’t reconcile the act with my supposed morals.

Less than 12 months later I was pregnant from a one night stand, she had moved away and I had to take stock and decided that two  children under four on my own would not only destroy me, it would hurt my child, my family and any prospects I had of rebuilding my life to provide for my son.

I had been pregnant already in less than perfect circumstances. I had intended to give the baby up for adoption, the guilt at the prospect of not being able to provide everything for my child was so great I was willing to part with him. As time progressed I felt different, I had to come clean and tell my parents, albeit at 8 months the shock of revelation is still a sore point to this day. His father was a lovely guy that slept on the floor of the hospital for 3 days as we couldn’t afford anything else, hardly the luxurious welcome I wanted for a new baby, but we survived. I nursed him and held him and was more in love with this child than I thought possible. I still am. His dad died suddenly when he was 18 months old, I fell apart, the boy was the only source of happiness, my rock, I lived for him, for I did not feel like I was worth living for any more.

Deciding to have an abortion less than a year after my partner’s death was the only logical step, I could not mentally, financially or physically take the strain of another baby. My G.P. counseled me against it, would not support my decision or help me get information. My stubborn streak kicked in and all of my Catholic school brainwashing was abandoned. Because an abortion is a personal decision, it’s something you can only truly understand and know about if you are in that situation. I’m not a ‘hard’ person, I don’t hate life, I love it, but I needed to look after MY life there and then.

Less than a week later I dropped the boy at a friend’s house, drove to Dublin, got a flight to Liverpool and had a procedure. I was 9 weeks pregnant that morning, that night I returned home happy. Happy seems an odd word to use here, but I was, walking out of the clinic, staffed by Irish nurses, full of Irish girls in similar situations, I felt that I had started to do things for myself, that I had looked after myself instead of somebody else for the first time in a long time. I do not now nor have I ever regretted what I did that day. I would help and support any woman to do the same.

I begged and borrowed to travel quickly, my sympathies are now firmly aligned with girls who cannot afford such a luxury. I could not imagine the pain of having to continue a pregnancy any longer than necessary for anyone who is sure they can’t continue it, the additive costs of flights, transport, fees as well as accommodation for some people is not within reach. We have abortion in Ireland, we just happen to do it next door. Abortion is something you can only understand when you are faced with a pregnancy and have no other choices, I had been there and bought the t-shirt as far as ‘other options’ go. My abortion is not something I talk about, which seems to be the code amongst women who do not regret it. All one hears is the horror stories, full of regret and pain and morality warnings, I have none of those, I skipped into John Lennon Airport that evening.

Perhaps if everyone could recount their abortion tales we would have a little more balance to the pro/anti choice debates, perhaps a bit more compassion and understanding, and I’d probably have another friend.

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The Irish Times published a number of adoption related stories in recent months, one about how new legislation has affected current domestic adoptions followed by a more personal piece regarding three women who gave their children up for adoption. But it was a letter from one Father Con McGillicuddy which has caused me to brood a little on the subject. Father Con thought it ‘sad’ that women who did not want to be mothers chose abortion when there are – as he put it:

“There are many pro-life agencies such as Cura available to help women with unwanted pregnancies, providing guidance and facilities towards bringing their children to birth; children who could then be adopted by couples who would give them a happy life.”

All of which is laudable, except for one thing. For those women who travelled to the UK it is not just about what to do with a baby at the end of the pregnancy, but that they travel because they do not wish to be pregnant in the first place. They do not wish to be pregnant for 40 weeks, or go through an unwanted labour or deliver a child  and hand it over to strangers.

While I have nothing but sympathy for any woman or man longing yet unable to have a biological child, it is extremely questionable to suggest that women in a crisis pregnancy automatically become incubators for the childless. And while I take no umbrage with the sentiment behind what he wrote and agree that we ought to be supportive of women in crisis pregnancies, I feel we ought to be supportive of ALL of their decisions. I certainly think it is shameful that we as a nation are so eager to stick our heads in the sand while we export our problem to the UK. Five thousand women. Five thousand.

Father Con is right, it is sad commentary, but I doubt we feel that for the same reasons.

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Living overseas, as I did for most of this decade, has all sorts of random benefits.  My favourite? From time to time, you get to experience the kind of thing that seems like it must have been made up for tourists, except that no tourists are within a 15-mile radius. At a trade fair in Anchorage one February (ever want to see the Pacific frozen over? Alaska in February’s a decent bet for that), I became entranced by an old man in a coat made from a bear he’d shot and killed himself. The man wasn’t that entrancing, nor is the fact that he’d shot the bear, per se. It was more that, you know, how often in your life are you ever going to meet a bear hunter, let alone one dressed for the sub-zero temperatures in a little number he’d skinned himself? I couldn’t stop stroking it (the COAT, you filthy people), much to the appalled amusement of my beloved colleague.

Last December, our final one in Dublin I had a similar moment. It didn’t involve culturally-appropriate clothing – no cloaks of finest peat for the Irish – but it was one of those things that had extra significance for happening in Ireland. I discovered that the *true* Irish national anthem is, in fact, this song:

I was in a cheesy club with some of my favourite people on the island. It was the early hours and, as they say here in a gloriously euphemistic manner, there had been drink taken. In other words, the entire place was full of rat-arsed Irishfolk holding each other up as they brought the place down. Right towards the end of the night, on came the Pogues (not literally, though that would have been an even better story). Every. Single. Person. in the room suddenly pulled themselves together, stood upright as if at Mass, and burst into pitch-perfect, declamatory, Shane-McGowan-style-swaying song. It made me beam, and beam, and beam some more. OK, so most people know some part of this song, but to be in an entire room of locals all belting it out as though Christmas depended on it; that was something I had no idea would happen.

It gives me goosebumps and makes me giggle every time I think about it. A year on, back in stiff-upper-lip England, we’ve got the song on permanent repeat this Christmas. Need to make sure our Irish-born three-year-old is word-perfect before his passport’s revoked, after all…

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