Stories of abortion: by people who have been through it
KATHY SHERIDANrecently wrote about the tens of thousands of Irish women who have had abortions abroad, and invited readers to share their experiences. About 100 people responded. Here are some of their stories
A MONTH AGO in these pages we featured two very different abortion stories. One was about a couple, “Rachel and Tim”, who had terminated a much-wanted pregnancy after a catastrophic prognosis for the baby. The second was about a woman who had already checked into an English abortion clinic when she discovered that her pregnancy was more advanced than she had thought, and was by a different father.
We invited people who had experienced abortion to share their stories with us. The response was immediate and almost overwhelming. They ranged from women, now in their 60s, who had taken the often hair-raising route to England 40 years ago, to a desperate young student who bought pills on the internet a few months ago and induced her own lonely abortion in a Dublin flat; and from (a few) distressed and baffled men who had felt overlooked in their partners’ decision, to husbands who took the heartbreaking flights to Liverpool or Birmingham with their wives to terminate longed-for pregnancies.
About 5 per cent of the responses were from people who had no direct experience of abortion. A few were from people who asked frankly whether we intended to present “the other side” of the story. The answer was no.
Our objective was to open a forum for those hitherto silent voices who had had direct experience of an abortion. They have carried the physical, psychological and emotional burden, or blend of guilt and relief, of what many described as a life-changing decision.
It is obvious from the responses that women can be tougher on themselves than any critic. In many cases, they have carried their secret alone for years, some with memories of domestic violence and marital rape. Still, deep down, many believe they have been “punished” in some way for their abortion choices when afflicted by life events from acne to infertility. But by far the most responses among those who had not experienced abortion were from couples who, faced with the same agonising decision as Tim and Rachel, had continued with the pregnancy.
None stood in judgment. One couple, whose baby had Edwards syndrome, wrote while awaiting a Caesarean section at 37 weeks’ gestation. They said their consultant had told them that if they decided to travel for a termination, they were “basically on our own; there would be no support from family and friends to help us through an already impossible situation”.
This mother wrote after the birth to say their baby had survived “for just over an hour”, although “in such a short time his impact on ourselves and everyone around us was phenomenal”.
But the experience, she added, had made them “even more aware of the support every person should receive, no matter what their decision . . . It’s disgraceful that, faced with such an emotionally hard time in our lives, it was made even worse by having to decide if we wanted to go to another country alone, and abort our baby and leave with nothing except pain and grief.”
Another woman who discovered at the 21-week scan that her baby’s chances of survival were less than 1 per cent, and then heard that her own life was threatened by the pregnancy, described “the oddest mixture of intense relief and yet more intense grief” when their “precious daughter” was stillborn four weeks later in a Dublin maternity hospital.
Another view held by people with no experience of abortion was expressed by a young woman who was nine when her mother gave birth to a baby girl, afterwards diagnosed with Patau syndrome.
Every baby has a right to live, she said. “Doctors said [name] was ‘incompatible with life’ and ‘wouldn’t survive the night’. But she did. She was blind, deaf, had underdeveloped eyes, a heart murmur and a cleft palate. We had Baby [named] in our lives for 14 weeks. She was a blessing to my family and we hold her very close to our hearts . . . I have my very own special guardian angel.”
In seeking these stories, The Irish Times gave contributors an assurance that it would respect their privacy. All were contacted or interviewed prior to publication. Their identities are known to The Irish Times.
In the past 20 years alone, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Irish women have experienced an abortion abroad. Wherever one stands on the debate, this is the unavoidable truth of abortion in Ireland.
‘I loathe the secrecy and stigma’
I am wholly satisfied I made the right decision and have no regrets about going through with a termination 15 years ago this month. However, I have not yet let go of the fury I feel at being forced into a corner by those who know little or nothing about how a young pregnant girl feels.
As a professional married woman in my mid-30s, I loathe the secrecy and stigma associated with this topic in Ireland. I deeply resent those, my husband included, who demand my silence, and I wish people realised how “going to England” damages one’s sense of worth.
‘I went into college the next day as normal’
I had an abortion two years ago, when I was 20, a typical college student who wanted to finish my studies. I didn’t want to break my parents’ hearts, or to be tied to the person who got me pregnant.
I had always felt that the effort Irish women had to go through was a good thing, that it was important to have to go through an ordeal to do something “terrible”. I felt that way up to the day I travelled.
Our flight to Liverpool was cancelled because of the ash cloud. We had to take a last-minute ferry and wander the streets of Holyhead until we found a BB, at 4am. The staff at the clinic were very supportive and told me they had as many Irish patients as English. Several of the faces I had seen in the waiting room were also on my flight home, mostly women on their own who looked just as exhausted as me.
At Dublin Airport and on the ferry I was terrified that I might bump into somebody I knew. Or, worse still, somebody my parents knew. They still have no idea. This is the first time I’ve spoken about it.
Driving home from the airport, I was crying hysterically. It was as if I had been so distracted and stressed out by cancelled flights and rushing for trains that I never really had time to think about what I was actually doing.
I went into college the next day as normal.
‘It stays with you always’
Not long after I started university and met my first serious boyfriend, I discovered I was pregnant. I was 17.
When I was considering writing to you, I realised that despite the relatively “liberal” circles I moved in, in 15 years I have never had a conversation with another woman in Ireland who has [told me she] had an abortion.
Abortion is not a contraceptive method; it is a very big deal. It’s not a nice thing to do, and of course it stays with you always. Despite having to travel, I had the love and support of both my parents, and the practicalities were dealt with for me.
My dad brought me to the clinic. He also picked me up, took me home and looked after me. I did not have to get on a flight alone. I find that reality unbearably sad. In this day and age, I can only presume the vast majority of women who want to have an abortion have one, but because they live in Ireland there is a big chance they have to do this alone, without full medical support, or their friends or family, or even the comfort of their own bed and a hot-water bottle.
‘I regret my decision but can’t change it now’
Four years ago, I made a hasty decision to travel to Manchester for an abortion. I was 23 and in a long-term relationship at the time.
I was afraid to tell my parents and afraid of disappointing them; I was afraid to tell my friends and be judged by them; I was afraid to tell my boss, as I teach in a Catholic primary school; I was afraid parents would judge me, as I wasn’t married; I was afraid that my boyfriend would feel trapped and end up resenting me or the baby in the future. All I remember was the constant sick feeling and trying to keep the nausea at bay.
For a long time afterwards, I was very sad and felt guilty. It took me well over two years to fully come to terms with the decisions I made as a young, scared adult. This January I did think that the baby would have been three years old, but I didn’t cry about it.
While I still regret my decision, I accept that I can’t change it now. I’m more confident and know myself a lot better. What I want more than anything in life is to be a mother, so hopefully someday I will get that chance again.
‘I felt as if I had been cured of a terminal illness’
I was 23 and living in [a Scandinavian country], being paid to do what I did best after all those years of toiling away at exams and studies.
I was terrified when I found I was pregnant, in a foreign country, with no maternal instinct and no savings. All of a sudden my already-rocky relationship was looking decidedly unhinged. My kind doctor booked me a session with a counsellor to make sure termination was definitely what I wanted.
I confided in my manager; I had thought about lying to her, but I was glad I told the truth. She told me that she’d had a termination at my age too.
I remember crying with absolute relief that it was all over. I felt as if I had been cured of a terminal illness.
Afterwards, when I told my mother, she told me that she had terminated a pregnancy before I was born: as an Irishwoman in the 1970s.
Most people at least want to hear that you’re racked with guilt and remorse, but I won’t lie about it just to pacify other people. The truth is that I’ve never looked back.
‘It’s still something I think about every day’
I had an abortion in February 2007. Wrong man, wrong time.
I’m not ashamed of my decision, but It’s Just Not Something To Talk About. I know that many of my friends, Irish and non-Irish, are pro-life and would not accept what I did, and I could lose some of them because of this.
I’m now married, to a different man, and we’re trying to have a baby. I wonder did I miss my chance to become a mother, and every month I ask myself whether I am being punished for my abortion. If I do get pregnant again, will I hate myself for what I did?
Now, as someone who is not a parent, I stand by my decision, and I know what I did was best for both my child and me.
Will this change if I become a mother? Despite the fact that it has been five years since I had the abortion, it’s still something I think about every day, and I wonder about the almost four-and-a-half-year-old child I would have had.
‘While the doctor worked, we discussed Eurovision’
I felt very strongly that I could not cope, mentally, with another pregnancy, baby and child. The difference is that I was living in Turkey.
My very supportive husband and I talked and talked, then phoned the [state] hospital and went together to see a gynaecologist. From there I went to the family-planning clinic behind the hospital, where they took my details and medical history and told me to eat something. (As I am married, they required my husband to sign to say he was aware of the abortion.) Then it was back to the clinic, where the doctor performed a DC with local anaesthetic for the cervix. It was uncomfortable but not painful.
The most bizarre thing was that while the doctor was working away we had a discussion about the Eurovision and Johnny Logan.
Afterwards, I was given a prescription for the pill (I could have had a coil fitted if I had wanted), as well as painkillers and antibiotics. I walked out of the hospital by lunchtime.
Having made that hard, hard decision to go ahead with it, I am so grateful that I could have the procedure done at my local hospital and sleep in my own bed that night. From a practical perspective, being cut off from the aftercare that may be necessary could endanger a woman’s life. It must make a woman feel so rejected by her country.
For once, Turkey is ahead of an EU country.
'I had visions of Spuc wielding placards when I arrived at the airport’
The rhetoric in Ireland surrounding the issue of abortion is rife with all sorts of things, among them the accepted narratives of abortions for medical reasons (ie the mother’s health, either mental or physical) or the heartbreaking circumstances of the health of the foetus.
Another common narrative is that of the abandoned, impoverished (both financially and emotionally) young woman or girl, who knew no better, often with implicit or even explicit suggestions of moral compromise.
The only other possible narrative is that of a sexually voracious (read promiscuous) girl or woman, wholly immoral in character, who will stop at nothing to satisfy her craven appetite (and this includes killing babies in utero).
My experience of abortion, during my final year in college, doesn’t fit conveniently into these stories, or at least I don’t interpret it as such. And in talking to Irish women over the years (I am now in my 40s), I am fairly sure many of their stories don’t either.
Throw a stone in any direction at a gathering of professionals or semiprofessionals in Ireland and, I guarantee, you will hit at least one woman who has had an abortion. It is something that, rather like other life experiences, is not acknowledged until one person breaks the dam of silence. Then, suddenly, you realise everyone has a story to tell.
I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never regretted my decision, not from the moment I made it. This is not the same as saying it was an easy decision. Logistically, it was a huge challenge. It was the 1980s, I hadn’t a penny, so I had to go to my student bank and lie through my teeth to get a loan. I got the impression from the bank manager that this was not the first time he had heard some cockamamie story from a college-going young woman looking for quick cash.
I also went to the college doctor at the university I attended, a female, who told me she would be legally required to report the matter to the gardaí if she was aware that I was planning to go to London for such a reason. I had visions of Spuc wielding placards when I arrived at the airport.
The whole experience was dreadful; how could it not be? But, undoubtedly, it was made more awful by virtue of the fact I had to travel to London.
What people don’t want to acknowledge, but probably know, is that Irish mammies, sisters, aunties and friends have a shared experience of abortion from which no one is separated by too many degrees.
'The very act of abortion is inhumane'
I travelled to the UK for an abortion in 1980, when I was just 18 years old. I opted for abortion principally out of fear: fear of telling my grandmother who raised me; fear of letting everyone down; feeling like a failure; feeling ashamed. I just wanted to turn the clock back and not to be pregnant, to put everything back the way it was before.
My boyfriend, who was later my husband, was much older than me, but he didn’t object.
We did not consult anyone else. Information was very limited. We travelled to Birmingham, to visit relatives, and from there to London, where we looked up the telephone book to find a clinic.
I was about 22 weeks pregnant. I don’t remember much about the procedure, except waking up in excruciating pain and a nurse offering to get me something, smiling very kindly. I remember feeling really empty and alone. We returned to Birmingham the following day and I had to pretend like nothing happened, though my breasts were engorged and leaking milk, something I had no idea would happen. I was bleeding and in pain, physically and emotionally.
Soon after, I became quite depressed. I attempted suicide, ended up in hospital, had my stomach pumped and survived. I eventually pulled myself together, got married about two years later and went on to have children.
Though I buried it for years, I still mourn the loss of that child, 32 years on. On the surface, everything is well. Inside me, though, the loss will always be there. I don’t lie awake every night agonising over it, but it is a regret I have to live with.
My marriage ended – I find it hard to forgive my husband for not insisting that we have the child, because I was only 18 and he was much, much older.
There has to be a better way. The very act of abortion is inhumane. I think it is about making money for the providers, not about helping women. It certainly didn’t help me.
‘At no point did anyone use the term “abortion” ’
I am one of the few women in Ireland who have legally availed of an abortion. This was due to an ectopic pregnancy, which is a life-threatening condition.
I collapsed and was rushed to [a named] hospital. Surgery was scheduled for the following morning. In the panic, it had never struck us to mention that we had private health insurance, but when we did, they immediately rescheduled the surgery to that night. The level of urgency had clearly hinged on whether the public or private purse was footing the bill.
Afterwards, I felt immensely grateful to be alive. But . . . the baby I so desperately wanted had to die so that I could live. The fact that it could not have survived anyway seemed secondary. I felt a profound loss mixed with a strange guilt, even though I knew it was pointless to feel guilty.
At no point during my abortion did anyone use that term to describe the procedure, but I’m okay with the term. It is what it is.
‘I asked for my husband to join us. This was refused’
Nine years ago, I already had three very small children and a medical condition that prevented me taking the pill. I had had five miscarriages, each extremely stressful, involving multiple doctors’ appointments. After much deliberation, my husband and I decided to contact an abortion service.
Foolishly, we contacted one that advertised in the Golden Pages as providing referrals to a clinic in Liverpool. We both presented for the appointment, but my husband was refused entry. I was brought to a room and asked to provide a urine sample.
I was then informed that I was not pregnant. The woman asked me for various personal details, including my obstetric history, which I provided. She suggested that I had already miscarried this pregnancy and that an abortion would not be necessary. She was very insistent that I was not pregnant. I asked for my husband to join us. This was refused.
I wanted to leave, but she suggested that my husband was pressurising me into having an abortion. I again tried to leave and requested the paperwork she had completed about me. She said she would get it and asked me to watch an educational video about abortion while I was waiting. She left the room and locked the door.
The video, predictably enough, contained images of aborted foetuses with lullabies playing in the background. The woman returned, accompanied by another. Only after a threat of legal action did they give me back the forms I had filled in. I left through another locked door.
As it happened, we decided to continue with the pregnancy but I miscarried the baby many weeks later. This led to further complications I feel could have been avoided if I had received proper abortion advice in the first place.
‘I was facing either a miscarriage or a stillbirth’
I was delighted to become pregnant naturally following two failed cycles of IVF. But an early scan at 10 weeks showed that the baby’s brain was not in the body and there were heart problems, so life outside the womb was not possible. I was facing either a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
I was referred to a Cardiff hospital that had just received a very high-resolution scanning machine, and my Irish doctor was very keen that it was confirmed to me that the foetus was not viable. I could then have a termination there if that was what I wanted to do.
The hospital confirmed the problems . . . The termination was done immediately, and we returned to Ireland the next day.
Over the next few years I suffered another miscarriage. Since then, we have adopted babies from overseas.
‘I felt angry about the legislation in Ireland’
I went through an abortion in the UK almost three years ago, at the age of 26. Although I was in a long-term relationship at the time, and the father very much welcomed a baby, I felt unready and unprepared. There was a lot of agonising over what to do, though I was sure that a baby in my circumstances at the time would have been at the very least unfair to the baby, myself and my family.
Afterwards I felt quite angry about the legislation in Ireland, which on the one hand attempts to be pragmatic in allowing organisations such as the Irish Family Planning Association to do its work yet still forces women to travel abroad as if we are morally deficient people in a pure-white state.
‘I found the subterfuge the hardest part’
Earlier that year I had suffered a nervous breakdown, had had to quit work and was still in recovery. I was barely able to look after myself, not to mind a child.
I was still on an antidepressant drug that you were not supposed to take while pregnant, and I was prone to moments of extreme anxiety and depression. The pregnancy came as a huge shock, and I fell apart again.
My partner and I were pretty instantly united in deciding on termination. A friend who worked for the NHS registered me with her GP, who booked me in. I lied to my friends, family and workplace. My partner had to return to Ireland before the procedure.
In a medical abortion, an abortifacient drug is placed in the vagina to induce contractions. I had vomiting and diarrhoea, then the pains came in waves, much like labour pains, and I thought I would pass out. I bled profusely.
I returned to work two days later, still bleeding heavily.
I found the lying and subterfuge the hardest parts. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that us having a child at that time would have been a disaster. Every child deserves to be wanted and to have parents as healthy and sane as possible.
I think it is so wrong that women have to go through such upheaval and expense, frequently on their own, just because politicians in Ireland are afraid to make tough decisions. If we don’t have a problem with them travelling to the UK for them, why do we have a problem with them having them here?
I’m off the antidepressants now and really hope that one day I’ll be mentally and emotionally strong enough to have a child and to raise him or her well. If it doesn’t happen for me, I won’t regret my decision to have an abortion.
‘They told me in Liverpool that there are two or three Irish couples a week in room 5’
Our son had severe problems at 12 weeks’ gestation and was not supposed to live to 15 weeks. At 16 weeks, it was looking like he might be born alive.
We were looking down the road of a child who, if he survived birth, would be severely disabled. I talked to professionals and healthcare providers, and it was clear that although services were available they were limited, and we would be pretty much on our own.
At that stage, we had a happy-go-lucky two-year-old and a happy marriage; we were both professionals, and I had a career I enjoyed and wanted to continue with.
We knew that we would both have to live with this decision for the rest of our lives; neither of us could turn around in the future and apportion blame. We blocked out everyone’s opinion and made our decision based on what was right for our family.
We didn’t know what questions to ask. Our consultant was so good to us. He gave us the names of hospitals. We contacted Liverpool Women’s Hospital ourselves; I scanned my medical notes and sent them there. I was so upset. It took a couple of calls for me to be able to talk coherently enough for them to understand me.
They were wonderful. We arrived on Friday and met our family-liaison nurse, who held my hand and allowed me to cry for hours. The procedure was the same as it would have been had my son died in my womb; they would induce labour, and he would not survive the birth.
So we went back into hospital on the Sunday, to room 5, and I delivered my little boy. The silence after he was born will stay with me forever. I then helped the midwife dress him; we took photographs, handprints and footprints; and I stayed with him that night. We had the most lovely Catholic priest, who blessed him; we had a little naming service, and we cried and cried.
The next day, I helped the midwife pack away his little body, and he was taken to the mortuary. There was a funeral service a week later, after which he was cremated. My husband flew back later to collect his ashes. I couldn’t bear his last journey home being by courier.
“Having to travel” was awful, and we really felt that we were exporting our dirty little secrets, but the treatment and service we received in Liverpool were better than anything available here.
Room 5 is a huge suite especially for mothers who are delivering a stillborn baby, with a sofa bed for my husband and a little kitchenette. It is soundproofed, so you can’t hear other babies crying. It also has a separate room, with a cot and a rocking chair, where you can spend time with your baby. If my son had died and I had had to deliver him here, that facility is just not available. That’s what really galls me; yes, we had to travel, but the fact that we had the means meant we were spared a huge amount of additional psychological distress.
They told me in Liverpool that there are two or three Irish couples a week in room 5. I couldn’t believe that; I joked that it could be called the shamrock suite. The irony was not missed.
We have since been blessed with another wonderful baby. I have now started counselling. I think of my little boy literally every day, but, bit by bit, it’s in a more positive way. It’s when I see a robin at the bird feeder that we put up in his memory, or a pretty flower, or just a nice breeze.
I don’t regret my decision to terminate, but the real story is the A story, as we call it – for close family and friends only. The B story, that we had a late loss, is what we tell most people.
The problem is, I’ve forgotten who knows the A and who knows the B. It shouldn’t be like this: the grief is hard enough on its own. But, as we love to say in this country, we are where we are.
‘My girlfriend seemed to think it was happening to her alone’
My former girlfriend and I chose to abort her pregnancy during our travels. I am still trying to come to terms with what happened and with my role in the “mutual” decision-making process. In particular, I am finding it difficult to deal with the negative feelings I still have about the experience.
I felt that I was expected to agree to whatever really needed to be agreed upon and provide support for my girlfriend, who seemed to think that it was something that was “happening” to her alone.
‘A path was beaten to London all through the 1960s and early 1970s’
I was 23 in 1970, and very worried my family might find out, but, really, I did not want to have a baby at all.
Having got confirmation through an illicit pregnancy test, which was very difficult to access at that time, I was given the phone number of a doctor in Belfast. When I called the number, a woman told me [the doctor] had been arrested. She told me to come along anyway and performed a procedure with water and a tube, like Vera Drake, and I gave her the money (about £50, I think, which was a hell of a lot then).
I waited in my room for three days, but nothing happened. I then got an address in London where I could stay, and told people I was going on holiday for a week. I was put in touch with an organisation that helped women with abortion information, and I talked to two girls in a warehouse. They gave me an address in Harley Street.
The place was packed with people, filling the hall and sitting all the way up the stairs. I had a brief interview with a doctor, to satisfy the legislation, and he gave me the address of a clinic in Ealing and an appointment for the following day. He said it would cost £120 upfront. I had only £100. There were no ATMs then, so the friend I was staying with chased across London with it during his lunch hour.
I had been advised to visit a doctor in Dublin for a check-up a week later, so I picked one out of the phone book and got a lecture on morality and a clean bill of health.
But it’s never over, really.
I’m 65 now and I’ve decided it’s time to talk about this. Over the past year I have spoken to my mother, my children and a number of old friends who knew me then. What has astonished me is the number of women who have stories to tell you back. I’m talking about my generation and our experiences with unwanted pregnancy. It is clear a path was beaten to London all through the 1960s and early 1970s.
‘Reading others’ stories makes me feel less alone’
I am a 21-year-old student, and I had an abortion almost a year ago. Today, when leaving the college library, I noticed writing in chalk all over the ground. As I read the writings, I realised it was the work of a student society here. The sentences were extremely offensive to me and upsetting. I went to class but couldn’t concentrate and started to cry.
Later I spotted the woman writing on the ground and tried to tell her my situation and how upset I was. I was met with replies that I should have chosen adoption, that I was misinformed, that I took the easy route. When I asked if she had ever been in my position, she replied that she would not be so careless.
My decision was not a quick fix. I live with it every day of my life. Reading others’ stories makes me feel less alone.
‘I lied about what a great time I had on holiday’
Twenty years ago I was 19 and with my first boyfriend. In the evening I went to a phone box to call a doctor who sold the morning-after pill.
Next day, I got the pill, swallowed and waited in my bedroom. Nothing happened. I waited until the weekend and then called him again. He hung up, saying: “I can’t help you. Don’t call me again.”
I cried and cried, my boyfriend beside me. I phoned my GP, who confirmed the pregnancy with a test and said I had options. I thought of adoption; he was thinking of abortion. He made the calls; he was my saviour. My boyfriend was totally supportive and said it was up to me, whatever I wanted.
I couldn’t go until I had finished my college exams, by which time I was four months pregnant.
In London, it was very businesslike and everyone was friendly and nonjudgmental. I confirmed this was what I wanted, and returned to the hospital the next day.
Afterwards, I was in agony, but it was over. I was picked up at the airport and lied about what a great time I had on “holiday”.
I went on the pill but hated the way it made me feel, and I stopped taking it, so I started to bleed heavily. I was unaware the two were connected, and ended up in [a maternity hospital], sitting among pregnant women, frightened, exhausted, then in a tiny voice having to utter the word “abortion” to a stony-faced doctor.
That was the night before my sister’s wedding. The next day I was all smiles and photographs alongside my boyfriend.
I was to join my friends in the US after the wedding and arrived late at night. Six of us shared a one-bedroom apartment for three months. I cried myself to sleep.
‘We hated, hated, hated what we had to do’
I’m 42. I had several miscarriages, then finally got pregnant. But at the 20-week scan they discovered something was wrong. I live in the west of Ireland, so I had to travel to Dublin for more scans and then the amnio.
Then we got the dreaded call that our baby had Edwards syndrome. At this stage I could feel her kick and move around. No medical staff would even discuss termination, or where to go, or what to do.
It was by going on [a parenting website] and discovering hundreds of women out there going through exactly what I was going through that we got all our information about travelling to Liverpool and what to expect.
We hated, hated, hated what we had to do; I wanted my little angel so, so much. The staff in the Liverpool hospital were truly fantastic. I had half of the procedure over there but decided to come home to have my dead baby.
I couldn’t tell the hospital in the west what I had done. They did a scan and said: “We’re really sorry, but your baby is dead.” Two days later I delivered my dead baby naturally. It was horrific, the guilt and the longing for my baby.
The most hurtful part of it is that nobody gets it. If somebody dies, there are hundreds to grieve for them. When you lose a baby like I did, you’re the only one grieving for it.
The day before what would have been my baby’s due date, I said to a very close family member, “I’m dreading tomorrow.” Her reply was: “I don’t want to hurt you, but how can you be upset after what you did?” I said: “Until the day you walk in my shoes, don’t you dare judge me.” We haven’t spoken since.
‘I deeply regret ending the life of a baby’
I had an abortion in 1996, when I was 20 and in my third year at university. My long-term boyfriend used a condom that broke. The next day I got the morning-after pill, which failed. About two weeks later I had a termination in the UK. I was no more than eight weeks pregnant. I never considered having the baby, and I feel this was due to a number of complex influences:
– Social conditioning. For academic women like me with a bright future, babies were a no-no. I remember my (female) doctor saying: “Teenage pregnancy is the quickest route to poverty.”
– Like a lot of women, I fully bought into the feminist myth of the pill being nirvana, career being everything and babies being the enemy.
– I felt guilty about being sexually active in the first place, probably because my mother was very conservative and I had been educated in a convent.
– I felt ashamed of being pregnant and was terrified of telling my mother.
– I believed that abortion was a feminist issue, and had been “pro-choice” since the X-case issue in 1992.
– My boyfriend was adamant that he didn’t want a child.
Today, I am the mother of a two-year-old boy, and I deeply regret ending the life of a baby. I had three devastating miscarriages before the birth of my child, and this certainly made me re-evaluate my attitude to the deliberate destruction of babies who never asked to be conceived. However, what changed me most profoundly was becoming a mother.
A previous contributor to your paper on this subject stated that “lives can be ruined going down either path”. It is exactly this kind of disingenuous hyperbole that I also believed as a younger woman and that should, I feel, be exposed for the lie that it is.
‘It was scarily convenient’
I had an abortion at the age of 22 in a Scandinavian country. It was fully legal and acceptable for no other reason than “not being ready”.
I am now 55 and married with six children, and, while recognising there might not be a clear right or wrong in this matter, I nevertheless know now that having an abortion has implications for the rest of your life that you cannot foresee when you are in crisis.
I was young, had a boyfriend (my present husband), did not have a clue as to what I wanted to do in life, became pregnant and panicked. My parents disapproved of the relationship, so that didn’t help either.
The experience of the “procedure” itself was nothing like what you described people in Ireland have to go through. It was easy to access, and there was no judgment by any of the health professionals, and no cost. It was scarily convenient to opt for. It was seen as a form of contraception, almost. (This has since changed somewhat, I believe.) Because I was young and healthy, there were no after-effects and the whole experience seemed safely tucked away somewhere . . . We never talked about it.
However, one thing stood out for me in your previous article on this subject. One of your interviewees mentioned that no one spoke to each other in the waiting room, and they avoided each others’ eyes. I also remember this clearly and now so obviously recognise it as shame. And in that overwhelming feeling I seem to find the answer to the rights and wrongs of abortion.
I would imagine it would be the same for many women: whatever the crisis, the difficulties, the impossibilities, it is not right.
It is very timely for a public debate around this issue here in Ireland. And it shouldn’t be too fixed on these cases of the baby endangering the life of the mother. Those cases are a minority, I think.
‘I would have had a mental breakdown if I had had to travel’
I am 20 and at college in Dublin. My abortion, about this time last year, was one of the loneliest experiences I ever had. I had not been living in the country very long, and I wasn’t sure who to tell; I did not want to tell my parents.
My case is unusual because I induced my own abortion here in Ireland. I ordered abortion pills online [full details, drug names and cost given]. I told only my housemate on the day I decided to do the abortion, in case anything went wrong.
When I took the second pill, I was very sick for most of the night and I was in a lot of pain. Afterwards, I was bleeding for a week. I told my partner afterwards, but he didn’t really seem to have the maturity to deal with the situation.
I want to make it clear that I wasn’t sad about the baby, as I really didn’t want it. It was all the loneliness and the difficulty of having to do this, as well as the hormones, that made me so upset. It was not easy at all. I think I would have had a mental breakdown if I had had to travel somewhere.
Doing it this way also cost less money. I can’t afford to go to the doctor. I was just able to pay for the pills but had to sacrifice food and asked my partner to go skip-diving for both of us so that we could eat.
‘A child would have interfered with my lifestyle’
I had an abortion 10 years ago in Birmingham at the age of 38. [A Dublin centre] gave me the names of a number of clinics. The one I chose said I had to be accompanied by somebody. I had been in a relationship for a number of years, but that was not very secure, so a good friend came with me.
We travelled there and back in one day. I left home at around 6am and returned about 10pm. There were four of us in the room: two other women who felt their families were large enough and one young girl who was very emotional and didn’t want to talk. My heart went out to her.
Having had the procedure on a Friday, I was back at work on the Tuesday.
I do not regret what I did, because a child would have interfered with my lifestyle.
The baby would have been due on March 21st, 2003. So on that day I went to the Loughcrew cairns, in Co Meath, for the equinox dawn. I found a quiet spot and planted some flower bulbs.
‘We left the Irish health system. Or perhaps it left us’
We were excited parents-to-be, going for our 20-week scan, when we were told our baby had a serious abnormality and would not survive outside the womb.
I could feel the baby move. Now something that had been a joy became a continual reminder of how our baby had no chance of life outside of my womb.
We asked the specialist about the likelihood that I would miscarry naturally. We wondered whether there were ways to induce a miscarriage. We were gently told that a termination was an option, although it would have to be performed outside Ireland.
And thus began a journey during which we left the Irish health system. Or perhaps the Irish health system, bound by Irish legislation, left us. In the hospital, we were given the name of Liverpool Women’s Hospital. It fell to us to Google it.
We arrived on a Tuesday morning and were met with friendly, caring faces. I refused the medication offered; I wanted to be fully aware of what was happening. My husband watched our son on the screen, moving around, while the consultant tried to locate his heart in order to inject it to stop it beating. She said it would be instant; in the time it took his heart to beat another time, he would have passed. I could feel the baby moving around, and all I wanted was for the kicking to stop.
Afterwards, we checked into a hotel and wandered the city in a daze. Two days later, we went back and were taken to room 5. Our little son was born asleep at 6.30pm. The bereavement counsellor visited us several times that day. The midwife took photos and made prints of our son’s hands and feet. Later, the hospital chaplain arrived and blessed him.
The following morning, we said goodbye to our little son. We took his little knitted hat, and they gave us a memory box in which to put his mementos.
They brought him to the hospital morgue, from where his little body would be sent to another hospital for a postmortem. Then he would be cremated and his ashes sent by courier in a wooden box to our home.
We visited the accounts department to pay the €1,000 for the feticide and overnight stay: such a bizarre yet normal thing to do. The next morning, our airport bus passed the hospital and tears were rolling down my face.
There we were, recent parents, my breasts were sore and filling up, and I was bleeding – and our baby lay in the morgue of a hospital in the UK. We were shell-shocked.
While our decision was horrendous, we know deep in our hearts that it was the right thing for all three of us. To everyone outside our families and close friends, it was a miscarriage, rarely mentioned. Ultimately we arrive at the same place: loss. Yet it is terrible to have had to lie. The reality is that this happens every day, yet it is never talked about.
‘Thank God we’re not in Ireland’
We are Irish and living on another continent. A routine 20-week scan revealed that the ventricles in our baby’s brain were significantly enlarged. This means there is liquid on the brain, which significantly reduces the possibility of the development of the baby and of their brain. We were in a very strange situation, as there was a minuscule chance of having a perfectly normal child.
We were referred to the scientific literature to get more information about this. Ironically, a paper from Ireland provided the most helpful information. Because abortion is illegal it meant that most of the prospective parents carried the children to full term. While there were some children who had mild abnormalities, the outcome for most of the children made for horrible reading.
Further scans showed that ours was the most severe type, with no hope for the baby’s survival. We made the harrowing decision that, because of the likelihood of our child having zero quality of life, we would terminate.
Only because of the amazing staff in the hospitals where we now live did we feel that we could go through with it. All through the process we took comfort in saying: “Thank God we’re not in Ireland, where we wouldn’t have this option.” Never were we made to feel that what we were doing was wrong.
I cannot state how much we support the possibility of termination in circumstances like ours being legalised in Ireland. The whole process is harrowing enough without being made to feel like an evil, nasty person by laws that were made under the influence of a religious order.
Never should someone who has not been in a situation such as ours be able to decide what is right for us.
‘Eventually, she confessed she’d had an abortion’
When my girlfriend got pregnant, she became extremely sick, volatile and totally irrational. She was about 14 weeks on when she asked me to leave the house, and about two weeks later she told me she had had a miscarriage. I was brokenhearted. I had been so thrilled about having a child. We had planned it, had told people about it and had thought about names. Eventually, she confessed she’d had an abortion. All I remember is this numbness, a sense of being in this sea of bewilderment.
I don’t feel vindictive towards her, only this feeling that I should have done more to protect the child, though I don’t know what. Every year now, I go to the place near the sea where she revealed the truth to me and I leave flowers there.
I’m not an advocate for or against abortion. But we pretend abortion doesn’t exist in Ireland. What I am an advocate for is a collective understanding as a society of what this is.
‘Thankfully my husband and I were on the same page about all this’
This year I had a termination and induced labour in Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
It was our first baby, and after three agonising weeks of waiting, it was confirmed our baby had a rare syndrome along with severe hydrocephalus.
We had great support from our immediate families and close friends, but it was surprising how most people just assumed (including my mother and father, who are very traditional and Catholic) that in our situation we could have an induced labour here in Ireland. Most of my friends were shocked to learn that it was not possible.
Thankfully my husband and I were on the same page about all this; otherwise it would have broken us. Neither of us ever felt guilty, but that is because of our outlook, attitude and belief in facts and because of that elusive word “choice”.
In a way, what choice did we really have? The choice between having a baby die at 23 weeks or carry this baby to full term, feel it grow and kick and have my mind steadily eroded by feelings of motherhood, because that is what our country in 2012 asked of me and my husband.
‘I missed my chance to be a mum’
I was 20. I had held on to my virginity for longer than most of my friends. I was so naive I didn’t even realise my friends were having sex until one of them became pregnant. I guess, quite stupidly, I tried playing catch-up in a game I wasn’t ready for.
I really liked him. We were friends, I thought. I thought we would get together properly: silly daydreams of a silly girl who had no clue of what lay ahead. I guess I’m not as naive now.
The decision was made quite quickly: panic, shock, his reaction. Appointments were made for a trip to the UK. He came with me to the family-planning clinic – not out of support but out of fear they would talk me round.
I had never been anywhere on my own before. He didn’t offer, so I was alone. I caught a glimpse of the scan and turned away. When I woke from the anaesthetic, I was crying for my dad. They offered to call him, but I doubt that call would have been well received.
I came home in a daze, pretty much how I left, and checked back in to normal life. I thought it was over. But here I am, years later, with no partner and no kids, wondering whether I missed my chance to be a mum.
‘While I had been having the abortion he had gone for food’
When I was 23 I met a man and fell totally in love. I thought he felt the same. Then, three months into our relationship, the condom split when we were sleeping together. I had come off the pill a few months before I met him. (There is a history of cancer in my family.)
A few weeks later, something told me to get a pregnancy test. It showed up positive straight away. My heart stopped.
Once I had calmed myself I rang my partner, and that’s when I first realised that he wasn’t who I thought he was. His response to my request to come up to me was: “I’m waiting to get my hair cut. I’ll talk to you later.” There was never any doubt in his mind that it was to be terminated. None.
My dad drove us to the airport. I know it tore him apart to do it. Both of my parents had sworn to help me raise their first grandchild no matter what, but I just couldn’t risk it. He never told his parents. On the flight to Manchester, he fell asleep.
Alone. The constant feeling throughout, from finding out I was pregnant to eventually forgiving myself for ending the pregnancy, was that of being totally and completely alone.
I was seven weeks and one day pregnant when I signed a form to allow someone to kill my child.
When I left recovery I expected [my partner] to hug me and look after me. Instead, he just handed me my things and we left. While I had been having the abortion, he had gone for food. Not surprisingly, we split up some time later.
He never spoke of the abortion.
‘I became pregnant in the weeks before he was sentenced’
I grew up in London. When I was 16, I started a very intense relationship with a boy who, unknown to me, would be in prison within a few months, for aggressive robbery. I became pregnant in the weeks before he was sentenced to two years in an institute for young offenders.
I carried on the relationship for a short time, despite my mother’s protests. He kept getting into fights, extending his sentence. I realised I would not just be a young single mother, dependent on the welfare state, but would have to cope with him being a drug-taking, sometimes violent father. I knew when he kept getting into trouble that he wouldn’t change.
My mother and I went to the local doctor, who had known me from birth. They granted me a termination on the NHS, booked for a few days past the 24-week deadline. Nothing was said about that.
A friend asked me once what it felt like. The only answer I could give was “murder”.
Since moving to Ireland, some years ago, I’ve slowly recovered. I still can’t talk to anyone about it openly, partly because I know if the wrong person overhears I’ll be subjected to their judgmental behaviour forever. No matter what anyone says to me about it, they couldn’t be as harsh as I was on myself, but it would still be a huge setback to my mental health.
‘We first kissed at the Oxegen festival’
He was the second person I slept with, and we were seeing each other for a couple of months over the summer before I went into sixth year. We first kissed at the Oxegen festival. I didn’t sleep with him then, as we had no condoms – I was fairly smart about that kind of thing. We started sleeping together about two weeks later, always using condoms.
In retrospect I know this 17-year-old boy did not have a clue how to use them. They kept breaking, and I was innocent enough to think that’s just what happened. The first time, I got the morning-after pill. It didn’t work.
I went to a pre-abortion counselling session in Dublin, where they suggested I go to Birmingham, as it was easier to get around and cheaper than London. My mom arranged everything. I took a day off school and went over in a morning and came back that evening. The experience itself is a blur.
The waiting room with a few women of all ages, not speaking or acknowledging each other; looking at a faded poster of a palm tree stuck to the ceiling, and coming to crying; trying to force myself to get up from the bed and one of the staff saying in the background: “We’ve had a lot of criers today.”
That night back in Dublin, over a massive Chinese takeaway, I broke down and cried again. That’s the only time I’ve ever cried about it since. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing, and I never told the boy.
‘He struck me with an iron bar’
I staunchly disagreed with abortion prior to having my own and was judgmental of those who chose it as an option, something that I wholly regret now.
Some years ago, my family was involved in a serious accident, leaving us with a severely injured child and a partner out of work. The domestic violence that had been there became steadily worse – he struck me with an iron bar, and slashed my arm while I was holding our nine-month-old baby. At that stage I discovered I was pregnant. I finally left him when he punched me repeatedly in the car and almost killed us all, though he continued to ring me and family members. I was homeless, jobless, had no money and no partner.
To say I tortured myself in the days running up to the choice I had to make is an understatement. Getting off the operating table at the clinic, I didn’t want to look at the dish where I knew my baby had been sucked out of me and abandoned. I began to haemorrhage before I left the clinic, and it continued on the street. My terrified sister wanted to go back, but I begged her to get on the plane. Two days later, I began to haemorrhage again – it was like something from a horror film – and I was taken to hospital.
The depression lasted for months. Abortion was traumatic for me, to say the least, but upon reflection, it broke the cycle of abuse that I had endured for years and made me a stronger person. I hope God forgives me. I know I made the right choice, albeit with a broken heart.
‘I deeply regret the decision forced on me’
In 1986, as a result of nonconsensual sex with my husband, I found myself pregnant with our sixth child. At my husband’s insistence, and as he refused to support another child, I visited the Well Woman Centre, where I explained the circumstances of the pregnancy and also stated that my husband had been violent throughout our marriage.
They referred me to a clinic in Ealing.
I am very much pro-life, and deeply regret the “decision” forced on me. I know now I was in complete shock at the time, and was bullied into this action. Domestic violence causes great amnesia, as one is trying to survive and manage a dangerous situation: I feared for my children, as they too were bullied by their father.
Looking back, I think I managed very well, despite my husband being 100 per cent controlling about money: I never had any money of my own. I was, and still am, patient and good-humoured, and positive about life. I keep in touch with all my children and grandchildren all the time, despite the fact that three of my adult children live abroad.