I’m trying very hard not to get too excited, but it looks like the Irish people have voted to Repeal the 8th, and I keep emitting little squeaks of excitement. The exit polls are looking good, and I am willing it to be true. How wonderful would it be if at least one voting experience of the last few years led to something positive?
I couldn’t be more proud of all the yes voters if I’d made them myself. The lengths that people went to to get home to vote were inspiring and incredibly moving.
I spent large parts of yesterday breaking out into little crying jags as I endlessly scrolled through Twitter, willing them on. Today I am swivel eyed with tiredness, have Tweeter’s finger and am massively dehydrated from all the crying, but hopefully it will all have been worth it.
As I was staring into my coffee cup this morning I kept trying to find the words to explain why this is so important to me, why it feels so monumental. Someone did ask me yesterday why I cared, given that I have full autonomy over my own body and what I do with it. I’ll try and explain.
I am lucky that I live in a country with laws that support my right to choose. For reasons entirely out of their control other women are not. It could have been me. It might be my children, depending on where they end up living.
It’s possible to have empathy. It’s possible to hope that were I in a less fortunate position, someone would help and support me. It’s possible to hope that no woman has to go through what women in Ireland (and other countries) have been having to go through on a daily basis.
Women in Britain only got access to abortion in 1968. That’s four years before I was born. If something had happened to my mum, or her sisters, prior to that date and they had had to think about an abortion, it would have put them in a potentially fatal position. It’s not ancient history we’re talking about here.
On a personal note, if I were Irish, the 8th Amendment could well have killed me.
I always wanted to have children, but I wasn’t very good at it. I’ve had five miscarriages, one ectopic pregnancy and three live births, all of which were messy and complicated.
Under current Irish law, my first miscarriage, during which the dead foetus did not come away and I had to have a procedure called a D&C to empty my womb, is classified as an abortion. If I hadn’t had a D&C I would undoubtedly have died of sepsis. If I had had a D&C I would have been branded a criminal and would have served a prison sentence.
Under current Irish law, the life of the foetus is sacred. My second pregnancy was misdiagnosed as a miscarriage. When I continued bleeding for several days after I was supposed to stop, I went back to the hospital in considerable pain and discomfort, and a scan showed that the baby had started to grow in my fallopian tube, not in my uterus. This is what an ectopic pregnancy is. If they do not remove the baby (and the tube), eventually the tube explodes and it can be fatal for the woman. It’s always fatal for the baby. I got immediate emergency surgery which saved my life. If I were in Ireland when this happened, I would not be here to write this.
After my girls were born, and I’d gone through two more miscarriages that were just awful rather than life threatening, I found myself pregnant again. My marriage had just fallen apart, I had lost my job, I was living between houses and relying on the kindness of strangers. I was in a fledgling relationship which was under enormous pressure, and an accident meant that I fell pregnant.
I could not have that baby. I’d got two small children by this point. I knew exactly what parenting entailed. I love my children fiercely, but parenting is the toughest gig I know. My pregnancies had been largely terrible and frightening. How could I do that again when I needed to go out and get a job? I needed to find a home. I needed to put food on the table. I’d got two small children relying on me to be present for them. I made the heart breaking decision to have an abortion.
I didn’t make it lightly. People who haven’t experienced having to make that decision often say that women choose it because it’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s never easy. It remains one of the most difficult experiences of my life.
The journey to the clinic was miserable. I sat in the doctor’s office as she fired questions at me and held in my tears. About five minutes into the appointment I felt a, by then, familiar cramping sensation. I excused myself to go to the toilet and found that I was actually miscarrying in the abortion clinic.
The journey home was equally miserable. I was heartbroken and anguished and conflicted and relieved all at the same time.
I had support from friends and family while all this was happening to me. I had the law on my side. It was still brutal. I think of all those scared, lonely women going through that and having to worry about going to prison on top of everything else, and I want to scoop them up and make everything better for them, because it could so easily have been me.
Since that time, one more miscarriage and a lovely son later I have had endless experiences of people in authority dismissing me and my body and what I can and can’t do with it.
I have spent the entirety of my gynaecologically active life defending myself from people ‘in charge’, who don’t know me or my body, telling me what to do with it. I have spent hours listening to people telling me that what I am feeling is nonsense, that what I know to be abnormal is actually ‘normal’, that I should go home and shut up and stop making a fuss. If I had done that, I would not be here now. As it is, years of my life have seen me held ransom to my biology because nobody was willing to listen to me.
Even now, it’s still happening to me. Even after a partial fucking hysterectomy I am still having to fight to be heard, to be acknowledged, to have my experience validated and investigated and my body treated with dignity.
All this happened to me. All this is still happening to me, and I live in a country that gives me legal rights over my body and what happens to it. I live in a country which doesn’t treat women like criminals for exercising their rights, but which still shames them and negates them and tries to shunt them into the sidelines.
It’s not that I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to go through that in a country like Ireland. It’s that I can imagine it all too well.
That’s why it’s so important to me. That’s why I care.