I remember the little anti-abortion pins on school uniforms. I remember the earrings, the same design, the two little footprints. I gushed to a girl in my class:
WHERE did you get that! That’s ADORABLE!
She looked at me quizzically. A hint of derision.
They’re against abortion, she told me. My face must have betrayed my mortification. She went on: “it’s the size a baby’s feet are when the baby is aborted in the womb.”
13-year-old me tried to make sense of this. The disembodied silver feet. It all seemed macabre and controversial.
When I was 16, I heard the gossip that other girls my age had abortions. I was scandalized: not because they’d had abortions, but because they’d had sex with a boy in the first place. At that age, I was mildly terrified of boys. Somehow, I think since going to an all-girls school, they had become a species apart. (Incidentally, one of the nuns called them “undesirables” and barred the gate in case they tried to take a shortcut through our grounds.)
Looking back I know I completely judged those girls, for knowing what I shouldn’t have known about them, their secret abortions. Part of me ignorantly thought maybe abortion was like contraception. Quite apart from how personal and intimate the information was, no wonder it was secret with judging eyes like mine. In my ignorance I didn’t even know that abortion was not accessible in Ireland, that they’d have had to travel.
All that those little silver pins had signified for me, was that, accessible or not, abortion was reality.
Just like the sudden assault of pink “NO” posters signified for my daughter, on our drive between Dublin and Wexford last weekend. Lamppost after lamppost on every street we drove through. Inevitably she asked me about them. Thanks to those posters, my daughter is hearing the word abortion and is being treated to a meaningful discussion about it now, at the age of ten.
We explore it. I tell her that sometimes a woman does not want to be pregnant. We talk a little about this as a scenario. She didn’t know the word “abortion” until she saw it on those posters, but we’d already touched on the topic for International Women’s Day, when we painted slogans on vest tops together:
“I Trust Myself”
She and I both know that pregnancy as a condition, as a process, as an experience, is enormous. She watched me go through it last year.
It’s all very fascinating and interesting to her, and to me, the amazing inner workings and energies of the woman’s cycle. We talk about monthly cycles. I tell her that women’s periods should be honoured as a restful, mindful time when it’s OK to take a back seat, to retreat: instead of teaching girls and women to hide and ignore their periods and to try to and get on with their lives as if it’s not happening. I suggest that we should also be talking about ovulation, and what that is, because that’s just as important a part of the cycle and what’s more, it’s crucial that women know when about ovulating – for many reasons, not least that that’s the time of their cycle that women can get pregnant.
She was with me every step of the way throughout my last pregnancy, my little shadow: though she viewed it through the lense of her mounting excitement about the prospect a new baby in the house, she was privy to my exhaustion, my sickness, my pain and discomfort. She stayed in touch with me during my labour, demanding to know every detail. She has been exposed to pregnancy and birth and its insights, and has her own personal fascination with both, like I did as a kid. I appreciate that she has awareness of the gravity and rawness of these experiences, in tandem with the celebration and honour of them.
Unlike those who would run a campaign to outright dismiss pregnancy as just the means to an end, and dismiss the earth-shattering, life-changing, body- and mind-altering experience of birth (because, adoption). A simple obvious fact is thus completely maligned: there is no “unborn” without us, the women.
We talk about some of the stories of the women who have had to leave Ireland for the care they should get here at home. There are so many stories, shared with courage and rawness on the In Her Shoes Facebook page every day. Their realness and their insights to how women are objectified, persecuted, abandoned, strike me to the core:
…. the woman who was told her pregnancy was not viable, and that her wanted baby would die in the womb: and because of no other reason other than the 8th Amendment, they turfed her out and told her to go home and Google it.
… the woman who says she wanted to pull her skin off, because she did not want to have a baby with a man who was abusive towards her.
… the girl who could not access life-saving medication until she took a pregnancy test: even though she said she knew she couldn’t be pregnant, rules under the 8th Amendment made a liar of her, and forced her to be tested anyway. She was not even actually pregnant, but in the medical system here we are basically always treated as “pre-pregnant” no matter what our circumstances.
That last is how keenly and deeply the 8th Amendment affects us all. You don’t know this until it comes to your door. Don’t forget the women who have had High Court cases threatened by the HSE when they didn’t consent to caesarean section surgery. I confess – and Colm will tell you too – that I cried angry tears for these women , the hijacking of control of their bodies, the outright dismissal of their own knowledge, their own wisdom, their own research.
Like how the posters sideline the woman to the extent that all there is left of her is her swollen abdomen, or an ultrasound of her abdomen: the disembodied womb, the only aspect of her worth talking about anymore, now that she is pregnant.
“Don’t do that,” our instructor at my doula training course told us. “Don’t do that thing of advertising with pictures of disembodied bumps. Put the woman in the picture.”
Put the woman in the picture. That stays with me.
I think of those silver pins, and acknowledge what I now know, that an embryo at the size depicted on the pins doesn’t have formed feet like that. And it is my daughter in her knowledge of pregnancy scans and stages who points out that a poster proclaiming to depict a 9-week-pregnancy is clearly much further along.
After a while, as we near home on our journey between Dublin and Enniscorthy, my daughter says “Mammy, I don’t think I’d ever like to stop a pregnancy. But I won’t know.”
I look at at her in the rear view mirror, and I agree: we just don’t know.
That’s the point of repealing as far as I’m concerned: allowing for the unknown. Please, help us to give individual women the credit to know what is right. Please, put the woman in the picture.
Please, trust women.
Please, help us to repeal the 8th Amendment.
Check the register to make sure you are registered and on May 25th, please, vote yes to repeal.