If there were a referendum on the 8th Amendment tomorrow, I would vote to repeal. I believe that access to safe and legal abortion is an important part of a modern society. I do not believe that life starts at conception.
But when did my life begin? Should I be here at all?
Where it all started
“My mother was a 19 year-old Trinity student when she became pregnant with me.”
I recently went to a theatrical showcase of performances, one of which was about a young Irish girl who becomes pregnant and follows her story as she travels to England for an abortion.
Well-written and well-directed, the show told the harrowing truth of what it is like for young woman travelling abroad for an abortion. Walking out, it would be hard to feel anything but a desire for repeal.
But as I travelled home, the lines “I finally have my life back,” echoed inside my head. The emphasis wasn’t on the “my”. Every single ounce of emotion had been poured into the “life”, as this beautiful, young arts student was freed from a future of dread.
Had I taken my mother’s life from her? Was I that nightmare come to fruition, because of the 8th Amendment?
My mother was a 19 year old Trinity student when she became pregnant with me. She had finally left her home, liberated from the small-town claustrophobia that was her childhood. Studying English Literature, she became passionate about a world that, until recently, she hadn’t even known existed.
She watched foreign films in the IFI. She drank wine. She travelled abroad. She fell in love. Polaroid photos of her smiling in the sunlit Front Square make today’s Instagram seem drab and boring.
Then she became pregnant and the world was put on pause. She had a decision to make: would she let it all be taken from her?
Why I’m here
“My mother’s life didn’t end at me though. I wasn’t a full stop but a comma.”
There was no ready access to abortion in Ireland in 1997, nor is there in 2017. Twenty years later, women are in the same situation. That wasn’t why she decided to keep me though. Asked why she chose not to travel abroad for an abortion, she teasingly jokes, “Because I hadn’t met you yet”.
The truth is a little harder to hear. Like me, my mother was an unexpected pregnancy. Unlike me, however, she was the third child to a mother in a stable, married relationship. And yet, something remained off. As a teenager, her own mother revealed to her how she had wanted an abortion but couldn’t get one and how she had tried to lose the pregnancy naturally. My mother was an unwanted child. It struck her to her core, being told by her own mother that not only was she unintended but undesired.
A few years later, my mother sat in a Well Woman clinic and was told of a positive result on her pregnancy test. She still has the receipt for this consultation. She decided she would keep the pregnancy. More than that, she realised she wanted to raise a child. She went off-books for a year and gave birth to a healthy, baby boy. At 10lb 4oz to a woman of 5’1, the labour lasted 5 days. She still holds a grudge.
From there though, she was everything a child could ask for. While she separated from my father a few years later, I have never felt unwanted. If anything the opposite is true. Travelling between my parents, I struggled over trying to please them both by spending time at either house. I was supported and encouraged in anything and everything I pursued.
My mother’s life didn’t end at me though. I wasn’t a full stop but a comma. She finished her degree, translating and interpreting medieval literature. She continued to embrace her love of books and fostered the same love in me. She discovered her passion for fitness and yoga, and is currently training to be an instructor. It was an Arts degree, after all.
What it means to be Pro-Choice
“Sitting amongst other students who have come from stable, traditional families, I feel as though I’m the monster in their closet.”
Still, I feel guilty about what I may have denied her, about what her decision to give me life cost. But it was her decision to make. Now, as an adult myself, that isn’t the message I’m hearing. Rather than students being told that they should have the freedom to make their own decision, it feels as if what’s being broadcast is “unexpected children ruin lives”.
Sitting amongst other students who have come from stable, traditional families, I feel as though I’m the monster in their closet. Eager to safeguard themselves from the “burden“ that I was to my mother, they fill the streets, campaigning for their rights. And I campaign with them.
Because like my mother, I believe that every woman should have a choice, but that choice doesn’t always have the same answer. She doesn’t consider herself hard-done by or that she took the hard path. It was an entirely personal decision but it was the right one for her. And for these women, we need to look at what it means to be Pro-Choice.
Leaving the angst of adolescence behind me, discovering my own passions and emerging into adulthood, there has been a newfound enjoyment of life in the past year and it’s hard to consider that this might have come at the price of my mother’s happiness. That she gave up a potential future for my sake. But maybe this isn’t the case. She certainly doesn’t think so.
Seeing myself where my mother was 20 years ago, I would want the option of abortion in case of the unexpected. A child changes the life of a parent beyond recognition. But it doesn’t ruin it. Instead of idealising a life of unrestrained youth, we need to acknowledge that, for some, keeping a pregnancy might be the right option and doesn’t mean regret.
For the past 20 years, the closest person to me has been my mother, and I to her. And, equally, just as that doesn’t make her my life, it doesn’t make me hers. That 19 year old arts student who, 20 years ago, stood smiling in Front Square, still meets friends for coffee to chat. One such friend just happens to be her son.