All September, we are publishing abortion stories. If you are an Irish person who had an abortion, or a person who found themselves pregnant in Ireland and in search of one, and would like to share your experience, email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no editorial guideline – a line or a paragraph or a chapter. Your voice counts. Correspondence will be entered into in strictest confidence.
I must have conceived about a week before my 22nd birthday. I was living in a ski resort in France where I’d worked since dropping out of college. For my very last week in France my period was late. I remember being handed my last paycheck of €450 and thought “this will help pay for my abortion”.
A pregnancy test in the toilets at Gatwick airport confirmed my fears.
Because I’m from a rural area, I had to move back to where I attended college to find a job. What was left of my money went on a house deposit and luckily I found a minimum wage job quickly. I had to save hard, and fast. The longer it would take me to save, the more expensive the abortion would be. I didn’t see a doctor, I didn’t contact any crisis pregnancy agencies, I didn’t tell a single soul I was pregnant. I didn’t want to say it out loud. Mostly I wanted to ignore the problem and just concentrate on gathering the cash I needed. I did all my research on the computers at my old college’s library. I would go to a Marie Stopes clinic in Brixton, London. I would travel alone. I didn’t know where I would stay, a hostel maybe, or how I would book the flight: in those days bank cards were laser rather than debit and couldn’t be used online (I’d been refused a credit card). I think I was about nine weeks pregnant when I booked the abortion. I still didn’t have enough money but I planned to quit my job and move home so I would get the deposit back. Shamefully, I stole my mum’s credit card out of her purse to book the flight, then replaced it and hoped she wouldn’t notice the transaction. I had a week of hell at home leading up to my trip. The prospect of my lonely journey was terrifying. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think “surely I could end it myself, a coat hanger, out of date medicines in the house, a steep fall?” I hope I never experience anxiety like that again; at times it bordered on panic attacks. I felt like my body had betrayed me. Why was this being, this parasite, growing inside me? I never once felt like a mother carrying an unborn child.
It took two long buses to get to the airport then a short flight and I was back in Gatwick airport (7 weeks after taking the pregnancy test). The next part I hadn’t planned so well: I had nowhere to stay. When I got to Victoria station I seriously considered trying to sleep rough in the toilets. I traipsed around London, feeling totally lost. Before, I thought I could stay in a hostel but the prospect of meeting partying backpackers and having to pretend to be jovial sounded awful. After hours of wandering, I found a cheap hotel run by a Hungarian couple. It was basic but I had my own room for £25. I had to leave before breakfast to make my appointment meaning my morning sickness kicked in (this only happened when my stomach was empty). I distinctly remember throwing up outside a fancy hotel on Park Lane. I felt like the poor cratur Irish girl in London; like a character from a Padraig O’Conaire story. I only had enough spare money to pay for the tube to Brixton and back and enough to get me home from the airport, so I wasn’t going to be eating that day at all. But when I did get to the clinic the procedure was slightly cheaper than I been quoted leaving me with £50 more. From that point on the relief was wonderful. I can remember the not unpleasant sensation of the drugs kicking in and then coming through while sitting in a wheelchair in a lift. I was high as a kite and thanking the staff profusely. The recovery area featured these deckchair-like seats that were surprisingly comfortable. I slept soundly, beautiful unencumbered sleep, until one of the staff woke me up to encourage me to get dressed and on my way. Back in central London I had lunch in a cafe and made my journey back. Rather than go home, I told my sister (via text) what had happened and stayed with her for a few days before returning to my parents who thought I’d been visiting friends. I have never told them and I think it would hurt them to know what I went through alone, so my story is anonymous.
I am so delighted with the repeal movement. If the conversation was more open back then, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so silent. We won’t be silenced anymore. Repeal the Eighth.