When Do You Leave?


The events in the book in the middle happened 80 years ago this year. The Chalet School In Exile is one of the most extraordinary children’s books I’ve ever read and I still get more and more from it during every reread. It’s written contemporaneously, which gives it a unique perspective, and from the point of view of being generously sympathetic to the German population. I’ve often had the thought “When would I leave” on reading it.

Do you leave when you’re getting uncomfortable with the political unrest alluded to in an earlier book in the series? What about when you see the Nazi party consolidating power? Do you start thinking about packing up your life when you see the local young fellas with nothing better to do chasing the Jewish goldsmith through the village? There’s no spoiler alert required; the school quite clearly does leave and goes into exile (spoiler alert: the initial exile is short lived) and lives are upended by doing so. The school’s history is forever altered, given that the author felt she couldn’t move the school back again once peace was restored to Europe.

I haven’t read the other two books as much as Exile, as its popularly known in the Facebook group where these books have gained a new lease of life, but they have sparked similar musings. When should Offred (TV or book Offred) have left? When the creeping march of control over her reproductive rights meant her husband had to sign the form to get the pill? When she was fired from work under the watchful gaze of “some other” army? What about when the initial terrorist attack took place? Packing up your life is a hard thing to do, when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is it going to get worse? Is this temporary? What do you leave behind? These aren’t rational decisions, no matter how they might appear with the benefit of hindsight.

When Ireland gained independence women lost a lot. Things changed, such as the introduction of the marriage bar for women working in the civil service. Once you got married, you had to leave. This rule wended its way into other parts of the workforce over time. We had never been great at looking after women and children, but the new state didn’t think to address this. Instead, decisions were made to pay religious orders to provide “care” for women, including those who weren’t married but were pregnant. We know how this ended and we have never properly dealt with this legacy. Women were constitutionally categorised as belonging in the home, something which needs to go but is usually dismissed as an anachronism with no real meaning. I don’t agree; it is a horrible thing to read about yourself in your country’s constitution.

Would you leave, knowing the kind of things your new country is doing and saying about women? Would you stay, hoping that the birth of a nation meant some unpleasantness but an eventual working out of the things that a republic is supposed to be? We’ve long had a history of emigration, so packing up and leaving is part of almost every family’s story, mine included. People left, and returned, and made things better. We can change our constitution, and we do, frequently. We have moved forward since independence and this 1937 document. The one pictured above is one of several little blue books I own; this one is from 2018. Before we repealed the eighth. I’m keeping it, because I know how things can change and sometimes its good to have a reminder of what can happen and how it can happen and how hard you have to work to correct the trajectory of a nation.

When Do You Leave?

Reeling in Repeal


It’s been a whole year since we repealed the eighth. This week last year, I was very, very worried. And nervous. And hopeful. And anxious. I was uplifted by my journey home from work the day before the vote, being handed a leaflet by canvassers who lifted my spirits. A leaflet I stuck up on the door before we rushed off to school and which is now in a box, along with a copy of the Irish Times from the Monday after the referendum and our repeal sweatshirts and badges.

I don’t think I’ve fully grasped what the campaign and vote and result really meant to me until quite recently. I needed a break from all things repeal, so while I followed the passage of the legislation and the implementation of services very closely, I listened to little analysis and read even less about what was going on. Some distance was necessary.

I’ve slowly started listening to some podcasts from around this time last year, featuring those I cheered and those I loathed. It’s been somewhat cathartic and frustrating. The same arguments come up, the same lies are repeated and the same frank and brutal truths cut through the nonsense.

Something I’ve watched many times is this short video. It was hard to watch, but covered so many of the emotions I felt. I don’t think I will ever forget 10.01pm on 25th May 2018, when I couldn’t believe that exit poll, until I did and it was all real.

Reeling in Repeal

Tiny Sparks of Joy

img_20190319_121430-1This view. A place in Dublin I rarely walk around. I forgot how nice a riverside stroll can be.

The aforementioned stroll led to a long overdue lunch with friends and plans for more catchups.

Looking forward to another referendum. We do love a good referendum. Thanks, Irish Constitution.

Finally being in the headspace to be able to listen to analysis of the referendum on the eighth amendment. Still brings all the emotions to the surface. Still can’t quite believe its normal to see advertisements for abortion services at bus stops and in the local health clinic.

Feeling stronger after every gym session.

Tiny Sparks of Joy

Not Guilty

I am a parent who works outside the home. So is my husband. We both grew up in households with parents who worked outside the home. I realised after I went back to work when my first child was 11 months old that I felt no guilt whatsoever. And I never have, not for a moment. I’m quite certain my husband doesn’t feel guilty either.

I am lucky and privileged that working outside the home is a choice I have made freely. It gives us more options as a family and I feel better as a woman, wife and parent for making this choice. I enjoy my work, I don’t feel a great passion for it, but I like having a part of my life that’s all about me.

The Constitution of Ireland has a clause which infers that my rightful place is within the home and that I contribute to the common good by my life within this home, where I sit writing this. I do not agree. My rightful place is within wherever I choose to do the most good. Sometimes that’s at home, on the days when I don’t leave this home to go to work. Sometimes that’s volunteering in my children’s school. Sometimes that’s on a march with my husband and children. Sometimes that’s my place of employment.

I don’t know if other women who work outside the home or who choose to stay at home to parent fulltime also feel no guilt. But I hope they don’t. And it is perfectly normal not to. Thankfully we’ll be having a referendum on the ‘women in the home’ clause, not as soon as I’d like. I’ll be voting to repeal it, and voting for political parties who want to ensure that every woman, be she a parent or not, or working or not, is able to make the right choices for herself, free of guilt.

Not Guilty

I Get So Emotional

Praveen on Channel 4 news.

A video of Savita dancing.

Remembering that first donation in 2012.

The 2013 Oireachtas hearings.

The first march.

More marches.

The petitions.

More petitions.

The Citizens’ Assembly votes.

The Oireachtas committee recommendations.

The support for a referendum from so many political quarters.

Wearing together for yes tshirts to Holles Street.

Seeing the first set of Yes posters going up.

Seeing more and more Yes posters going up.

Our daughter counting our Yes badges.

The badges everywhere.

The cheery canvassers.

The confirmation of yes votes from unexpected people.


The realisation that this time tomorrow we’ll have cast our votes.

The thoughts of the exit poll tomorrow night.

The counting beginning.

The tallies.

The hope.

Please vote to repeal the eighth tomorrow. Please vote for change.

I Get So Emotional

Status Update: Bag of Nerves

Two more sleeps and we’ll be voting. That’s the easy part. The hard part will be Saturday, when the count starts. I’m nervous. I’m tired. I’m weepy.

I haven’t thought through what I’ll do on Saturday. I’ll probable be glued to the radio coverage and obsessively updating twitter on my phone.

I haven’t been able to concentrate on much this week. I know this isn’t a constructive use of my time but all I can do is read referendum updates.

I know if the worst happens on Saturday we’ll wake up on Sunday feeling defeated and angry. But we’ll have to pick ourselves up and move forward.

I hope this isn’t the case. I hope by late afternoon I’ll be able to breathe out deeply for the first time in weeks.

If you are undecided, please think of the women who are travelling today, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, who are feeling all the anxiety I am now but with the added trauma of knowing they had to leave Ireland for health care. Please don’t let your personal ‘I would never’ be ‘You can never’. Please vote yes, and help Ireland move forward to a more compassionate, honest future.

Status Update: Bag of Nerves

I said yes I will Yes

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.

I said yes I will Yes