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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Faffing about on the interweb last weekend, I came across an exposé of the mental health system in New York City by one Nellie Bly, who convinced a host of medical and law enforcement officials that she was dangerously insane, got herself involuntarily committed to an aslyum, and then wrote unflinchingly on the abuses visited daily upon the most vulnerable of the state’s citizens, abuses she endured firsthand.

Bly’s report, Ten Days In A Madhouse, lead to a grand jury investigation which directly resulted in an increase of $850,000 in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. It was 1887, a staggering 33 years before American women won the right to vote. Bly was 23 at the time.

This was by no means her first nor last daring assignment. A foreign correspondent at 21, she’d had to flee Mexico after denouncing Porfirio Díaz’s government; shortly after writing Ten Days, and inspired by Jules Verne’s Around The World in Eighty Days,  she broke the record for circumnavigating the globe. But what stunned me most about the Ten Days report was not just Bly’s age or her pluck, but the ease at which she managed to convince all and sundry she was hopelessly crazy.

All it took, apparently, was a night of practising vacant wide-eyes in front of the mirror. Booking into a female boarding house under an assumed name, Bly succeeded in terrifying the women around her simply by acting slightly erratically and refusing to sleep. No tearing her hair out, no speaking in tongues, no physical manifestations of inner turmoil. Sitting up late and sighing; that was enough for the management at the boarding house to cart her in front of a judge and have her taken to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

It made me wonder … just how frail of mind were women once assumed to be? Any inconsistent behaviour at all and they were flung aside by family, friends, society at large – too much trouble to engage with. And not just by the menfolk, either. “Sane” women, with one or two merciful exceptions, do not come across very well in Ten Days; her fellow boarders need little encouragement to proclaim Bly a danger to them and in dire need of incarceration, and while the male doctors in the asylum are hopelessly incompetent, cold and dismissive, the nurses in charge of the day-to-day care of the inmates are absolute monsters. They are physically and emotionally abusive, and derive pleasure from torturing their weaker or genuinely delusional charges. We’ve certainly come a long way in terms of humanity in the last hundred and twenty years, if Ten Days is indicative of society as a whole. Women were regularly committed for such ailments as postpartum depression, for such slights as flirting with men other than their husbands (sound familiar, Ireland?), for such gaffes as not having working English (most heartbreaking is Bly’s account of immigrant women who are committed who have not even been told where they are and why) … even for frailty brought about by convalescence! It seemed even a swoon on the street could land you on The Island, and should you not have friends and family willing and able to pay your way back again, well. One of the things that almost thwarts Bly in her attempt to be committed is that the judge was reluctant to send such a “good girl” to the asylum; she spoke well, and was pretty. No such luck if you were of the teeming working classes, I’d wager.

Terrifying to think that this was acceptable policy only a couple of generations ago, isn’t it? And it’s mind-boggling that it was in this era that Nellie Bly achieved so much. Whilst born into the upper middle classes, she wasn’t exactly rolling in it – her father died when she was six, and her mother’s remarriage to an abusive lout ended in divorce – and yet Bly managed to blaze a trail with nothing more than unshakeable self-belief as her fuel. Really humbling stuff, no?

You can download Ten Days in Word format here.

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Stop all this rampant casual pill-popping wanton humping, for God's sake...

In yesterday’s Irish Independent rambo-catholic David Quinn sought to portray himself as a martyr for free speech. Whilst he demonised women for seeking the morning after pill in Boots (preferring restraint or chastity!) Quinn also whined to high heaven about being the victim of repressive feminazis on Twitter. Poor Dave! Apparently some had the cheek to define his views on women’s control over their own bodies as ‘medieval’. He also claimed he’d been insulted and called a cunt. He scrambled about in the dark for 40 dazed seconds wondering ‘how we ever got to a point where there’s even a demand for a product like this’. The word demand here of course meaning a desire for sex outside of a committed relationship, such as a deluxe married one. There are no offers of stats accompanying this ancillary demand. Rather, he seems to have taken the product name: ‘Morning After Pill’ to heart, like Head & Shoulders shampoo could mean decapitation to a psycho. Availability of such a product will simply encourage the easily swayed fairer sex to indulge in quick-fix hot rampant park-n-ride humping at a moment’s notice.

The type of woman Dave sees wanting this pill: ‘Young, single women who were out on the tear over the weekend.’ Why don’t you just call them ‘slags’ and be done with it, someone snapped back on Twitter. Women scrambling for this €45 ‘abortifacient’ offering − in David’s comely eyes a kind of preemptive breakfast muffin termination − doesn’t seem to include 30 or 40-something women like me dealing with a burst condom scenario. Sorry Dave, but I do tend to like it a bit frantic and it’s happened twice, or a married woman worried her ordinary pill may not work after a bout of sickness/diarrhoea. And a myriad of other situations where emergency contraception is needed, including in cases of sexual assault. Imagine in the dark old days if such a service was available to women, especially young women who fell pregnant through incest, rape and abuse. And don’t say those scenarios were rare! If there was a morning after pill in 1983, for instance, maybe the young woman who died giving birth in that dreadful desolate place at Granard might never have been put in such a lethal position.

Instead, P for Pill in the Quinn context seems to spell PROMISCUITY to a congregation of tunnel visioners. He refers to pro-contraception folk as ‘moralising anti-moralisers’. It’s an inversion of the truth to portray those on the liberal side of the sexuality debate as the newfound ‘old right’. Such a dishonest move turns all logic and meaning on its head. ‘The problem with your thesis is that you want to legislate for an aspirational society that doesn’t, and may never, exist,’ another twitterer responded. Nor does he mention anywhere in his quickie-porridge-oats analysis, health concerns or issues surrounding the actual taking of the morning after pill. Even that would be a type of progress or perceptibility. He prefers to finger-wag at the female sexual gambol, citing that ‘demand can only be high where there is a high level of self-defeating, self-destructive behaviour’.

I seem to recall similar fears about the potential for mass-hysteria triggered divorces back in 1997 too. And God forbid if we should ever have abortion available in Ireland, we’ll be dashing out to get preggers just for the Nilfisk novelty of it all. While I’m all for the I Believe In Talking Snakes lobby having their divine say, it’s worth remembering that concrete church & state roadblocks obstructing liberalism began to crumble back in the late-1980s, when contraception became more freely available here in all its ambrosial forms. So the marauding tart tanked up on cheap booze and gagging for it without any prior contraception sorted, is tired nugatory nonsense. Coincidentally this change in our society arrived around the same time news broke in the international press of rampantly repressed Irish clergy brutally raping children on an industrial scale. Here’s hoping Boots launch a 2011 Here Cum The Girls campaign, with two for the price of one thrown in for good measure. In the meantime you can read Dave’s latest sermon here − I’m off out to buy some lube and jump on the first cock I see.

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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What a month. First the European Court of Human Rights tells Ireland to get its house in order and make life-saving abortion services available to women here. Shape up and reform your laws, the situation is no longer tolerable, the court told the Irish Government in December. Now mega-chemist Boots announces that they will sell the morning after pill to any woman over the age of 18 who requests it. Talk to a pharmacist, meet the medical criteria, come up with €45 and you can use this effective, tried, tested, reliable medication. Everyone else in Europe has been doing it for decades, so why can’t we? Well sisters, yes we can! From today, we can. We might pay slightly more to do so than women in other countries, but yes we can.

The tide has turned. It’s going out on an era of repressive, fundamentalist theistic control of women in this State and it’s time to make some sandcastles. Of course, one morning-after pill does not a revolution make. Well, yes, actually it does. For those of us whose small, personal revolutions have been facilitated by the ability to control our fertility… for those of us who have taken emergency contraception when we needed to …. for those of us who have avoided undesired pregnancies… for those of us who have had a choice that begat more choices, the morning-after pill has meant a personal revolution. And sure isn’t the personal political? Hell yeah.

Women in Ireland are about to cross the Rubicon. It’s not that we couldn’t get the morning after pill – the Irish Family Planning Association and other organisations have brave-faced opposition from religious fundamentalists and a reluctant State and made it available to women via their clinics. And GPs are willing to prescribe it too (some GPs that is). Technically we could get the morning after pill it’s just that it has been hard. If you’re lying in bed in Kerry with a beautiful boy and a burst condom and it’s Saturday morning, getting hold of emergency contraception to use when it is most effective has been a scary chore. If more chemists follow in Boots’ footsteps (and they will) emergency contraception will become widely available across the State – particularly at weekends, when it is most needed. For women in Ireland, using emergency contraception will become a financial transaction stripped of moral judgment, a decision for an individual woman to make when she has weighed up her individual circumstances. Not a decision for a priest or a refusenik GP. Not a choice denied to her because of where she lives or what day of the week it is. Hallelujia. Choice is truly liberation.
It’s a good day for Irish women. So many of them have worked hard to get here and it’s an achievement we can all share. We stood up for ourselves and kept demanding. Of course, it’s ironic that it has taken a multi-national pharmaceutical retailer making a commercial decision to finally open the doors, but sometimes you take victory where you can find it. It is a victory for choice, freedom and dignity. See, we can make our own decisions. We are responsible adults.

Things are looking up.

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Welcome to 2011 and non prescribed emergency contraception becoming a reality.

The reaction to the announcement that Boots are to dispense emergency contraception to women has been positive so far. Using a dispensing protocol which has been in place for other medications since last summer, Boots pharmacists will be able to meet with clients in a private room for a full consultation and the medication will be dispensed.

This service has already been available to Boots customers in the UK and Northern Ireland for the fee of £24.99. In Ireland the fee from Wednesday will be €45. This will be cheaper than attending a doctor and then attending a local pharmacist to get the prescription filled. It will also save on the time involved and for some travelling to find a sympathetic service. Last year a woman in Tralee reported that a GP in Tralee refused to prescribe the medication to her.

Choice Ireland
and the Irish Family Planning Association have both welcomed the announcement by Boots.  The Irish College of General Practitioners have raised concerns saying that continuity of care may be affected [loss of business also one assumes]. The Irish Medicines Board confirmed last night that the medication can be dispensed by a pharmacist which makes one wonder why others had not done sone before now.  I’m also seeking clarification on whether the service will be available to medical card holders.

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The Pregnancy Police

I was typing the other day with my ear half cocked to the radio in the background when the subject of ‘pregnancy police’ came up. You know, those caring tut-tutters who give women the stink eye for eating soft cheese or standing to close to a vicious Merlot while pregnant. As I listened, it occurred to me that there has to be something about women and motherhood that allows other people to so harshly judge them for simply being. Do the collective we care so much about somebody else’s unborn fetus that we feel we can freely scowl at the person for making a choice of which we disapprove?  Or is it that we use the onboard fetus to revel in our judgements?

If a woman rides a horse, swims, drinks coffee or has a glass of wine while pregnant, surely that is up to her, no?

It’s not only pregnancy that brings forth the police. If  woman choses a C-section over vaginal delivery, if she decides breast-feeding is not how she choses to feed her child, if she decides to terminate her pregnancy, all of these private individual choices seem to be up for public debate and in most cases public scorn.

As soon as a woman enters into the realm of motherhood it seems to me she must throw up her guard and above all else be perceived to be doing ‘her best’ at all times. To not do so allows others take pot shots at her character. A father may be feckless or domineering, ineffective, disinterested or a host of other things but we never seem to judge them as harshly as we do mothers. Woe betide the mother who does not stake her child’s interest ahead of her own.

Pregnant women do not revert to childlike simplicity, they have needs, wants, desires, habits, furies, and all the rest of it. They might very well read all the right books and eat all the right foods and gobble folic acid and attend pre natal classes, but even if they don’t, who the heck are we to judge them?

I’m as guilty of this as the next person. Over the holidays I saw a heavily pregnant woman with another small child in a buggy puffing away outside the Dundrum Shopping Centre. I felt a sneer curl my lip as I passed her by, but it was short-lived. Two minutes later I could have kicked my own arse.

How dare I! I didn’t know the first thing about her, but there I was, strutting along like a puffed up pigeon, condemning her, judging her, weighing up her character based on a two second glance.

Well lah-di-dah Arlene, I thought,  ain’t you great? Ain’t you so very special? Hold on there while I hold the mirror of supreme worthiness up against your own face. Didn’t you leave Jordan with her Granny as a baby on occasion so that you could go out and have a wild good time taking who knows what drinking who knows either? How responsible was that? Oh you were perfectly put back together before her return, but because your poor choices went unseen that means they didn’t exist?

Didn’t you smoke while pregnant all those years ago? Oh it might not have been as frowned upon then as now, but you knew it was hardly going to do either of you any bloomin’ good. Still you puffed merrily away, menthol you see, much safer*. Did you breastfeed? Only for two weeks until the real breast milk came through, then you switched to formula. Where’s your badge of awesomeness, it might need some polishing. Let’s not even talk about what you ate while pregnant, oh no, let’s not go there.

Ugh. What a stupid selfish fool I was in my youth  I stomped through the centre, thinking. I confess at that moment amongst the shoppers and holiday makers I felt like a heel, a hypocritical heel. A lucky, jammy, hypocritical heel. We, all of us, have made choices in our lives that there by the grace of the universe could have gone horribly wrong.

Pregnant women make choices, will I eat this delicious brie? Will I have crab? Will I smoke Consulate? Will a glass of wine cause FAS? What about two? This seat belt is uncomfortable, perhaps I won’t wear it. Cycling**, can I do it or not?

That is their right. We may not approve of the choices other people make, but we ought not use that to berate them or sneer at them from a perilous lofty perch. Pregnant women are people. Individual people. Maybe that is what we should remember when we first notice a tell-tale bump.

* I was told this back in 1990!

**  I was lectured regularly for my habit of cycling to the beach and swimming in the sea during the last days of my pregnancy- July, very hot- the notion being that I would ‘upset the babby’ by being physically active, a notion quickly disproved when the 8 pound Jordan arrived on time into the world, perfect and screaming blue murder.

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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 figures aren’t in yet for 2010, but in 2009 we welcomed a whole heap of little girls to Ireland. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe – welcome! You are the proud owners of the top 10 girls’ names in the State.
They are beautiful names. We hope you get to keep them.
We hope you get to grow up in a State that vindicates your human rights, Sophie. We hope you keep your good name, Ava. We hope your name is respected, Emma. We hope that it isn’t taken from you, Grace, as we manhandle you, small and scared and 14, through a legal system that strips you of your privacy and dignity. A system that replaces your beautiful name with a single letter.

The European Court of Human Rights

In 1992 we took another 14-year-old girl’s name from her and replaced it with a single letter, X. She had a beautiful name too. She had been raped. She had been made pregnant. She had decided to terminate her unwanted pregnancy.
She couldn’t do it here, of course. We have no truck with girls with letters for names whose experiences cause us to shudder. We are not comfortable with such discomfort. It is not for us.
X went to England.
Her parents supported her decision, but we did not. The Attorney General, who upholds the laws of our land, sought and got an order from the High Court stopping the nameless Ms X from leaving Ireland for nine months. She came back from England with her mum and her dad to contest the order. More time passed. We piled more pressure on the head of the 14-year-old we had stripped of a name. She had been raped. We had no shame.
She could take no more, the nameless 14-year-old. She wanted it all to stop. She was suicidal.
On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that “if it is established that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy, such termination is permissible”.
She remains Ms X to this day, but she is part of a chain of amazing women with letters for their names whose bravery and dignity will make a difference.
In 1997, we supplied another link in the chain of suffering. Another 13-year-old girl was raped and impregnated. She was in the care of the Eastern Health Board. She was in the care of the State. She was all our responsibility. She had no need for a name, so we called her C.
The EHB goes to the District Court to apply to take C abroad for an abortion. C’s parents challenge these orders in the High Court. The High Court rules that as C is liable to take her own life if forced to continue with the pregnancy, she is entitled to an abortion in Ireland by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment in the 1992 X case.
C still has to go to England.
Five years later, in 2002 Irish voters reject the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2002, which would have removed the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion and increased the penalties for helping a woman to have an abortion.
In 2006, another Irish woman loses her name.
Pregnant with twins, one of whom has died in her womb, the other with fatal fetal abnormalities, she has to travel to England to have a termination. Her name is now D.
She has been forced to leave her country to go to England. Now she must travel further, this Irish woman with no name, to whom the saddest thing has happened.
She tells the European Court of Human Rights that Ireland’s ban on abortion in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities violates Articles 1, 3, 8, 20, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Irish Government argues that the woman should have applied to the Irish courts to have an abortion. She could have been legally entitled to an abortion in Ireland, they argue. They don’t say where in Ireland. Europe agrees that domestic legal remedies had not been exhausted.
The alphabet is being exhausted too – the alphabet we use to protect ourselves from looking into the eyes of the real girls and women we are hurting.
In 2007 a 17-year-old woman in the care of the State finds herself with an anencaphelic pregnancy. HSE social workers challenge the right of a second Miss D to travel to England for a termination. Let her go, the High Court says. Miss D has a right to travel abroad for an abortion.
Two years before D was put in this position that thumped us in the solar plexus of our national shame, three more women were dealing with their own challenges and tragedies. It was back to the beginning of the alphabet.
And so we come to this Thursday, December 16th, 2010, when the European Court of Human Rights will issue a ruling on whether Ireland’s restrictions on abortion violate women’s human rights.
Since 1980 more than 143,479 women and girls have left Ireland to have an abortion abroad. The figure is not final – it rises every day. We have exhausted tens of thousands of alphabets. Now we have three more letters – A, B, and C. Three more women whose bravery, whose resilience, whose selflessness has carried us to the door of another decision on Ireland’s stance on abortion.
Listen to their stories, because every woman has a story. She is not a letter, not a statistic, not a footnote.
On Thursday the ECHR will rule whether the cases of A, B and C involved a transgression of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Applicant A was living in poverty. She was getting her life together after facing personal problems and was hopeful of being reunited with her four children, who were in care. She got pregnant. It was not planned. Another child was not what she wanted. It was the wrong time and might damage her chances of getting her existing family back together. She went to England for an abortion.
Applicant B had taken emergency contraception after unprotected sex. It didn’t work and she was told she also could be at risk of an ectopic pregnancy. She didn’t want to go ahead with the pregnancy at this time or run the risks associated with an ectopic pregnancy. She travelled to England and had an abortion.
Applicant C had battled cancer for three years. She had become pregnant unintentionally after the cancer had gone into remission, but had undergone a series of tests contra-indicated during pregnancy, while she was unaware that she was pregnant. C had not been able to find a doctor in Ireland who would tell her whether her life would be endangered by the pregnancy or if the foetus would be affected by the tests she had undergone. Given the uncertainty and the risks involved, she travelled to England to have an abortion.
These are the bare bones of these women’s cases. They do not do justice to the women or what they have suffered at the hands of a State that chooses to look the other way, as long as the other way involves a plane or a ferry to somewhere else.
The ECHR must decide whether Ireland has failed to vindicate the human rights of these three women.
If they decide this is the case, then we will no longer have need of the alphabet to save us from ourselves. Sophie, Ava, Emma, Sarah, Grace, Emily, Katie, Lucy, Aoife and Chloe can keep their good names. And we will have grown up.

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