On May 25th, I publicly acknowledged my abortion after 1,349 days of shame

I couldn't come home from New York to vote. So I shared my story instead, hoping to convince others

Politicians, politics and the media are playing catch-up to the people in the aftermath of the landslide result in the abortion referendum. Sarah Bardon reports.

 

It took me 1,349 days to publicly acknowledge my abortion.

In the weeks leading up to the referendum, I couldn’t bring myself to reveal that I terminated a pregnancy on September 13th, 2014.

Despite the vocal Yes campaigners and liberal opinion pieces, despite a thousand different stories and my own pro-choice stance, I could not break the silence. Not yet. The shame of it still stuck in my throat.

Pending travel papers in the US prevented me from leaving the country for at least four months. I couldn’t come home. I could only watch events unfold from a computer screen. My experience was useless: I had no vote and no voice.

But on May 25th 2018, I finally shared the words I had waited four years to say: “Please be cognisant of the hundreds of women who have made the journey to England when you are voicing your opinions. I was one of those women…”

The decision came after a phone call with my mother when the polling stations in Ireland had been open for an hour. I rang her in tears from New York at 3am upon seeing a number of undecided and No voters on social media.

I wanted to do something before the polls closed, to change someone’s mind, perhaps. I was tired of silence.

“You are my daughter,” my mother said. “I will stand by you no matter what. If you feel you should, do it.”

She was in work at the time but stayed on the phone with me as I clicked “post” from 5,000km away.

Shame

It was difficult revisiting the memory of that Manchester clinic and the aftermath. The depression did not lift straight away; it took months to come to terms with my decision. But it is not the procedure itself that destroys you, it is the shame.

It is the judgement people so casually churn out on social media, in political discourse, in legislation and in person: “selfish… monster… murderer”. It is the fact you could incur more jail time than a rapist.

It is the knowledge that some people you love may vilify and reject you if they find out. You carry the burden of that decision.

I was one of the luckier ones. I was not raped. I was not abused. I simply was not mentally or emotionally capable of having a child at that time. I was about to start a Master’s degree and in a relationship that was not meant to last.

I had parents that did not force a decision upon me. I had a supportive boyfriend who travelled with me. I had a mother to hold my hand in the dark months afterwards when the self-hatred became too much.

There are women who travel alone and return alone to cope in silence, in whatever way they can. I can only imagine what those who have travelled to England over the past five months have endured amid the graphic posters and vitriol.

Initially, I felt sick after posting my story. I couldn’t sleep. Telling that truth was like bloodletting; I felt weak and exposed. I paced back and forth around my living room for hours as my husband slept upstairs. What would people think?

I had vocally supported those “statistics with no faces” on numerous occasions while hiding my own. I had marched for choice, terrified my own decision would somehow come to light. Now, it had.

Five hours ahead in Ireland, the outlook was hopeful. Still, I didn’t believe it could be repealed, despite the “landslide” of yeses recorded in the preceding exit polls.

This was Ireland after all, where 15-year-old Ann Lovett died giving birth in a grotto in 1984. It is where Savita Halappanavar was fatally refused an abortion during a miscarriage in 2012. It is the country that abandoned myself and 3,735 others when we boarded planes to England in 2014 for a medical procedure.

The Irish have always been prone to silence. We buried our secrets in mass graves. We hid familial inconveniences in Magdalene asylums. We farmed out illegitimate babies to the highest bidder. Anything but live in disgrace. Anything but the truth.

Support

But I underestimated the Ireland of 2018...

After posting my story, messages of support flooded in. I received mails from friends and family, from people I had not spoken to in years, all with the same assurance: “I’m voting Yes today.”

Women who had been similarly silenced by the secrecy and shame perpetuated by the Eighth Amendment reached out to me. We commiserated. We hoped.

“My vote is going in on your behalf,” one friend told me. Gradually, another feeling took over as the sun rose on Friday morning. It was a lightness I couldn’t quite identify.

There were tears of joy shed in Dublin Castle on Saturday as the gathered crowd celebrated the Yes vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
There were tears of joy shed in Dublin Castle on Saturday as the gathered crowd celebrated the Yes vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

The following day, the tallied votes indicated that 66.4 per cent of Irish people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Words cannot adequately describe that feeling because it is more than elation. It is liberation. It is closure.

It is the knowledge that Irish men stood in solidarity with women. It is the knowledge that the LGBTQ community, farmers and everyone in between fought for us. It is justice for every woman that stepped off a plane in Dublin or Shannon or Cork with a crippling secret in tow.

In Anne Enright’s 2007 novel The Gathering, she describes how as a child everything is “hidden from you, sealed up, in a way you have to cut yourself open to find”.

Ireland certainly had to cut itself open to get here. Irish women had to cut themselves open to tell the stories that needed to be heard.

After 35 years, the country listened. There was a collective a sigh of relief in lieu of jubilation.

On Saturday afternoon, our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the victory as a “quiet revolution”, but I think it is something decidedly louder.

Finally, the enforced silence of over 170,000 women was shattered with a resounding roar of Yes.

Abortion Referendum

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