On Wednesday I took my 2 year old daughter to her first protest march. We dropped the boys to school and headed in to the city to Strike for Repeal. I put a few photos up on facebook and someone remarked during the week "I'm really surprised to see you supporting abortion Emily, you know, in your line of work".
I was brought up to think that abortion was wrong. It wasn't a catholic thing, I am technically catholic but we never practiced the religion growing up. I think its was probably a lot to do with the fact that my mum was a very terrified teenager when she had her first baby. She often spoke of her terror and fear and I could see how that shaped a lot of her life afterwards. That fear and terror also had an effect on my brother's life I think. But my mum obviously made a decision to go ahead with the pregnancy and birth and so from then on she believed abortion was wrong, and so she taught us the same. Not in a pushy way, but you know how you often take on your parents ideals and opinions.
Then when I was 11 the X case happened. My mum was incensed and we took to the streets. Myself, my mum and my 4 year old brother. Marching for this girl, a little older then me, and her right to have an abortion. I don't think I really understood why we were marching, how could I, it was all very confusing! We were saying now that abortion was ok for some situations, but not others.
In my teenage years, a couple of my friends were going through crisis pregnancies, I strongly discouraged them from having an abortion. It was very black and white for me then - I felt if you had an abortion you would never get over it, you would never be the same again. That's what my mum had told me. Best to avoid getting into that situation in the first place - use contraception, protect yourself. If it happens, abortion is not the answer because you will never get over it. You're better off having the baby.
I wasn't aware of the 8th Amendment, it wasn't on my radar. But if I had to vote yes or no to abortion I would have voted no. Because you would never get over it.
I went on to have my first baby myself in my late 20s - a baby I was ready to have and was so delighted to be having. A healthy pregnancy, a baby born out of love and happiness. Lucky me.
After the birth of my second baby I started working in birth education and yoga. Wanting to share my wonderful experience of birth and helping couples to enjoy their experience too. I worked with lots of couples through great births and not so great births, empowered births and contrived and controlled birth. The question of abortion never came up. Everyone I was surrounded by was delighted to have their babies. A lovely little bubble.
On Valentines Day 2014, I was in the middle of teaching a hypnobirthing class to excited parents to be when I started to bleed. I was 7 weeks pregnant. I knew what it was. I hoped it wasn't, but I knew I was miscarrying. On the Monday morning I went to the early pregnancy unit. Tucked in the back of the complex, away from the antenatal clinics. It can't be a good sign can it? I waited an agonising wait, with other agonised parents, my husband holding my hand. We were eventually called in for a transvaginal scan (horrible thing it still makes me shiver). There was the sac, lovely thick nurturing lining of my womb, no heartbeat. I knew it. At least now I knew. I could be sad, grieve, get over it and try again (this was the process ahead of me in my head anyway).
Enter the 8th Amendment from the wings.
We can't see a heartbeat, but we can't be sure we'd see a heartbeat at this stage anyway. We can't be sure the baby is dead. You'll have to go home and wonder about it for 10 days and then come back and we'll check again. If there's no heartbeat then, we'll confirm a miscarriage.
Make no mistake, this was the hardest part of my miscarriage for me. I was so annoyed. I knew the baby was gone. They probably knew that baby was gone. But instead of being able to deal with that I was left in a 10 day limbo of frantic googling, researching, working out odds, lighting candles, hoping, crying, praying but really in my heart of hearts I knew the baby had gone. Thanks to the 8th amendment I had to wait and see what my body would do next. The doctors can't intervene or hurry it up unless miscarriage is confirmed you see.
What an eye opener. The penny dropped. It's not about abortion. It's about rights.
From that point on I began to see how the 8th amendment affects maternity services. The baby in my body was not confirmed as dead. So it has equal rights to me. So no one can be seen to do anything that would harm it. So I had to wait. 10 long days, and though I got through it and moved on, I'll probably never get over that.
Obstetricians and midwives consider the 8th amendment every day in their work - they have to.
"They won't let me go over", "they said I have to have a caesarean birth", "they had to induce me" I hear these statements in my work with expectant mums every day. They can all be as a result of the 8th amendment. If a situation is deemed to be harmful to your baby, and bear in mind that's driven by opinion and often just one opinion, then the law of the land states you must comply.
And what of the babies who cannot live outside the womb. Can you imagine? You know your baby is not going to survive after birth, but you have no choice but to carry it and give birth.
It will get visible and obvious to everyone that you are having a baby. But then there will be no baby. And you will have to explain, relive the pain over and over again. Explain to small kids that they are not going to have their baby brother or sister for long, even though its growing in mummy's tummy. Explain to work colleagues, neighbours, strangers...
I have no doubt that parents of these babies, that are able to access choice and avail of termination, still walk through this wilderness of pain. But at least they have the option of sparing themselves some of the pain. At least they would have a choice.
A choice that's relevant for everyone in every situation. Do you want to have this pregnancy?
I'm sorry that for a large part of my adult life I thought it was reasonable for me to deny people that choice. I'm sorry I thought it was ok for me to decide it was right for some but not for others. To deny them choice when I couldn't possibly appreciate what they were going through. To deny them choice when I could't possibly have any right to decide what they can or can't do with their body.
The pro-life movement argues that the 8th amendment protects lives. What are we protecting them from? Their mothers?
I marched with my toddler daughter on Wednesday because I am her mother and I love her to bits and I want the best for her. I want her to have a choice, and I trust her to make the right one for her.