These two real life stories tell the harrowing ordeal of concealed pregnancies which both ended in tragedy, the stories were compiled by Polly Molotov (@NursepollyRgn) with the intention of creating awareness around the issue of safe and legal abortion and to open further discussion on the need to Repeal the 8th amendment.
What prompted these women to bravely share their stories was the results of the 8th Committee, as both women had followed the Citizen’s Assembly and the 8th Committee. Both women’s lives have been deeply affected by crisis pregnancy and these crisis pregnancies were induced by their socioeconomic positions. Both women listened to the results of the Citizen’s Assembly where 72% voted that socioeconomic reasons should be grounds for legal abortion, however this motion was voted against by the 8th Committee.
The two women that contacted me did so privately, they are anonymous, I do not know their real names nor do I know exactly where they are from. They both found themselves pregnant. Both were terrified. Neither of them could afford to continue with their pregnancies or indeed raise children on their own. Both were let down dreadfully by men that they trusted. They were also both living in their parent’s houses at the times they became pregnant. So, it being 24 & 21 years ago, both women did all that they could in panicked attempts to raise funds to travel to have abortions.
Neither had the means.
Sadly both women concealed their pregnancies, not seeking medical or professional help, in fact neither spoke to anyone about their stories until they contacted me. But, the two men knew. Concealed pregnancy is not a new thing in Ireland, it has gone on for generations, indeed I myself was one of those girls who concealed as long as was possible (5.5mths). One would think that concealment of pregnancy would be disappearing in this day and age however it most certainly is not. A recent study by Sylvia Murphy-Tighe and Joan Lawlor shows us that despite the public knowledge of heartbreaking stories including those of #AnnLovett and #BabyMaria (2015) and #BabyAllannah (2016) Irish society is still what it is that women & girls still conceal their pregnancies.
I have been asked by both women to tell their stories and will attempt to do so in a true and compassionate manner, these women have carried such an amount of trauma and guilt and have felt such shame that it must have been unbearable. I am truly honoured that they felt they could trust me with this, it may take some time to complete their stories. Please bear with me. Their stories are not ones we read about all the time, but their voices need to be heard, their stories are the silent ones, the ones not spoken about but vitally important to hear.
The first woman who contacted me, she was 22 and going out with an older man, when she told him she was pregnant he told her to ‘get rid of it’ and never contacted her again, she couldn’t contact him either, in her words ‘he vanished’, she worked in a poorly paid office job, she lived in her parent’s house with her brothers and sisters, she never attended a doctor, never went to a hospital, she tried to figure a way that she could keep her baby, her parents were unwell, money was scarce. She simply could not see a way to continue with her pregnancy so she tried to raise the money to travel to have an abortion. However due to bills at home and costs of medications for family members she found that this too was impossible. So she soldiered on, she wore clothes to hide her figure and strapped herself tightly to conceal her pregnancy. She went to work every day, she pretended to be fine, morning sickness she felt it was never ending but she pretended it away. She knew how many weeks pregnant she was, she knew the date she conceived. She had tried hot baths and gin and throwing herself down stairs early on but nothing had worked.
This woman went into labour, she was approximately 37 weeks pregnant. She went about all of her duties, work, family etc and never let on. Didn’t allow herself to cry out in pain, didn’t allow herself to panic. She said she felt she was going to die. On the Saturday morning, she said it all became too much, she locked herself into the upstairs toilet (having completed the morning duties required of her) she was in her own words ‘about to shout out for help’ when, sitting on the toilet, screaming silently into the bath towel, she delivered her baby, she fainted immediately.
When she woke on the floor she was confused and didn’t know where she was for a moment and then she remembered and jumped up and lifted her baby out of the toilet. The baby was not breathing. She sat & held her baby for a long time. She had to wrap her baby girls body in newspaper along with the placenta, she never cut the cord. She cleaned the bathroom, cleaned herself, knew she was dreadfully torn, but she had to pretend she was fine. She kept the body hidden for a week, until she thought of what to do.
She took a train and left her home county and had to leave her babies remains in a random bin, she said she couldn’t bury it in case anyone or any animal found it. She traveled home and pretended it away. To this day she lives in fear every time someone knocks at her door, scared that her secret will have been uncovered, terrified of being in trouble with the guards. She has lived with this for years. It is beyond heartbreaking.
The second woman who contacted me, her story was similar. She dearly wanted to have her baby, she told her boyfriend, however this did not go well, he was married, she was destroyed on hearing this and so found herself having to deal with the prospect of raising a baby alone.
She too lived with her family, again no money to mention. Her family were deeply religious, she dreamt of running away and raising her baby alone, however having no money meant this was impossible. She worked in a bar part-time and tried to save the money to travel for abortion but it was simply way beyond her means. So she too concealed it. She dreamt that things would work out despite being unable to tell her family. In her estimation she was approximately 32 weeks when she discovered her family were going away for a weekend in about a month’s time. She realised if there was to be any hope for her baby and herself in not being discovered that this was when the baby needed to come. So she went to the library, she researched anatomy and physiology and came up with a plan to induce her own labour, by breaking her own waters.
(She told me the exact method she used, I won’t reproduce it here as it wouldn’t be fair to anyone reading it and I also have her permission not to include it in her story).
Her family went away those weeks later and she was prepared. She went into labour, she had towels and sheets and baby clothes and a plan, she was planning to leave her baby at the local hospital in the middle of the night. She laboured for 24 hours, alone, and delivered her baby, a baby boy, he wasn’t breathing, he was blue, she tried to resuscitate him, she just wanted him to be ok, however despite her desperate attempts he never took a breath. She delivered her placenta and cut the cord, washed him and dressed him and sat with him.
She took a photo of him on an old ‘film cassette’ camera and hid the roll of film. She too had to dispose of her babies remains, she said she walked for miles until she found a skip that was full, she had to climb into it to place him where she hoped he wouldn’t be found.
She too had to clean up her house and herself and pretend like nothing had ever happened. She describes the fear as all consuming. It’s truly unbelievable what these women went through and what they have lived with for so long, all alone. Both of these women went through this in the nineties, and never spoke to anyone about it until 2018.
Imagine how lonely and isolating and terrifying that must have been. Both firmly feel that had it happened then today they would have travelled, but both are so angry that anyone has to travel. Their stories are part of who they are, it shaped who they became. There are many stories like theirs. Many sad sorrowful stories that will never be shared because people are afraid. Both women spoke of how afraid they were every time there was a news story regarding ‘human remains found’. They both live in fear of a knock on the door, terrified they will be found out, terrified that people will know what had happened them. Both so bravely now want people to know what happened to them, they want others to know that they are not alone. They want their voices counted amongst all of the other brave voices that have shared their remarkable stories.
We called it ‘a silent solidarity’.
They truly are remarkable women. I’m very proud that they were able to speak through me, their trust is something I’m humbled by. Their strength is humbling too. Both went on and met people, one wasn’t able to have any more children but had step children and her life in her own words ‘was exactly what she had hoped’. The other woman went on to have two more children and has never told them her story, her husband knows and has been nothing but a tower of strength to her.
The one that took the photo? She years later plucked up the courage to get it developed and she treasures that photo, keeps it hidden but looks at it often, she showed it to me.
None of this should have happened to these women. No one should have to live with such massive secrets and also guilt and shame and trauma. We need to build a kind and compassionate and caring society where none of this has to happen again. With the 8th amendment in place though these and stories like them will keep happening, they have always happened. We only hear about the ones publicised, I can guarantee that there are so many more.
Prior to writing this I contacted a colleague, Jeannine Webster @flowepower66 for advice on the telling of such powerful stories. We both know cases, we are just two people. I dread to think how many more there are. It really does not have to be like this. The Citizen’s Assembly was very clear in their recommendations, their recommendations are what it necessary to make certain no one is left out of this process. The recommendations are required to prevent people from having to endure such suffering again. Yes we have a referendum coming but we must work to ensure that no person in any situation is left out, we must learn from the mistakes of the past and build a kinder more open and compassionate place for us all and for those coming behind us. Many thanks to the two remarkable women who so bravely allowed the telling of their stories, their voices will count in the shaping of a better country for all of us. Repeal The 8th.
Picture provided by Sarah Woods (@SLWCartoons)