I don’t write about one big part of my life on my blog, but I will today. It is one week before we go to the polls to vote on whether we repeal the eighth amendment and replace it with the thirty-sixth amendment.
I have two children and I am nearly 21 weeks pregnant. These are all planned, chosen pregnancies. My first pregnancy was when I was 30 years of age. I had little or no idea how the eighth amendment affected maternity care. I was able to choose private maternity care with a consultant who provided excellent care and eventually delivered my daughter by c section at 39 weeks gestation. I had no idea back in 2012 that if I hadn’t agreed to that procedure, court proceedings would have been almost inevitable.
The absolute and complete game changer for me was the death of Savita in October 2012. It was the first time I ever thought about marching for something. Me, my husband and our baby (in a sling worn by my husband) marched in Dublin in the rain until it got dark when we reached Merrion Square. I felt deeply, deeply ashamed that day of my former ‘prolife’ views, formed almost entirely from the overtly religious nature of schooling in Ireland and an unspoken but present sense that abortion is always, always wrong.
The Oireachtas held hearings on the introduction of new legislation to deal with the X case and cases like Savita in January 2013. I was newly pregnant and still on maternity leave with a baby as I watched non medical experts explain, twisting and turning their words as they did so, why the eighth amendment was a good thing. I was overjoyed to see the doctor who delivered my baby speak robustly about how women and children are at risk in Ireland because of the status quo.
I returned to work and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act debate was in full swing. People who now hold this legislation up as a reason not to repeal the eighth amendment seem to have forgotten that we saw them protest against it, saw their posters full of lies and heard their myths during the wearying ‘balanced’ debates on television and radio. Being pregnant while a whirlwind of debate about the contents of your uterus which omits you or thinks you’re untrustworthy isn’t pleasant.
My wonderful prochoice consultant delivered our second child by c section later that summer. This time I knew how the eighth amendment affected my care, but I also knew that we had to change this. That’s when me and my husband started really thinking about getting involved instead of letting someone else do it.
We have brought our children on marches in the rain and the sunshine. We have donated money, and donated again, and then donated some more. We’ve had uncomfortable chats with friends and family, sometimes leaving things and then coming back to them. We’ve worn the badges and the t shirts and the sweatshirts. We donated again just in case. We feel guilty for not canvassing.
In January this year we found out I was pregnant again. I’m 36 now, and officially a geriatric mother. We knew we wanted prenatal testing and our wonderful doctor advised it. We had the harmony test, the test that’s waved around as a reason to deny all women control over their bodies. We had the money to pay for it and it was a short train journey to the hospital to have it.
Less than a week later, when I was nearly 14 weeks pregnant, a call from my consultant told me there was a high risk for a trisomy. The test is not conclusive. You don’t get a definitive answer. My husband, who loves numbers almost as much as he loves me and our children, crunched the numbers. We decided we wanted definitive answers and agreed to the suggested course of action, which was amniocentesis.
We wore our badges and tshirts from Together for Yes to the appointment. We saw the foetus during a scan, a scan which was more painful than the amniocentesis itself. We watched amniotic fluid being taken from my uterus. My doctor and the nurse in attendance didn’t need to tell us what our ‘options’ were if the news wasn’t good. Days went by as we waited for the results and I spent most of them in bed, rereading comforting books from my childhood. A call from my doctor confirmed the initial results were clear but there were other test results to come. Another week later and we got confirmation that everything was fine.
Did the eighth amendment ‘save’ this foetus? Did I feel supported by it? Did my husband feel I was getting some of the best medical care in the world? No. No. No. We hadn’t fully decided what we would do if the news wasn’t good, but we knew that the ‘options’ are. In Ireland, you must stay pregnant; there is no other option.
I’ve come to loath the phrase ‘journey’ when it comes to the eighth amendment, but we have been on several of them over the past few years. I look back on 30 year old me, and 31 year old me, with a serious amount of bafflement. How was I so ill informed and so ignorant? How had I ever thought this crazy amendment, inserted at a time of fire and brimestone over creeping reproductive rights elsewhere, was a good thing?
It is no surprise that me and my husband and our wider families are saying Yes to repeal next Friday. We hope all our friends vote Yes too. I think many people are compassionate, but sometimes that compassion needs to be explored. I never thought I was a cruel person, but supporting the eighth amendment is a very cruel thing to do.
My Yes is most especially for my daughter. My wonderful, funny, clever, insightful daughter, who’s been marching since before she could walk. I hope that Ireland shows its compassionate side for her generation, and the ones after that. Please vote Yes for her, and her classmates, friends, cousins and every other girl and woman in Ireland next Friday.