“I don’t give a damn if it’s not legal here. I really don’t. You need to look after yourself. Okay, so it’s illegal, but it’s also 2015 and I own my body”, says Lynn is a forthright manner, after my asking whether she feels intimidated by the Irish government’s position on abortion.
As one of the four-thousand women who travel to the United Kingdom and Europe to seek the procedure each year, Lynn, a twenty-four year old resident of Dublin, is quite an unusual case amongst these findings offered up by Amnesty International in their most recent report, ‘She is not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law’. Having journeyed over to England on two separate occasions to terminate unwanted pregnancies, the first when she was nineteen and again, late last year, she does talk with a degree of frustration, but, at no point does she allow herself sink into self-pity when the topic of victimisation crops up.
Meeting to chat in a cafe just off South Williams Street, I started by asking her to tell me about the first time she underwent the procedure during 2010. Immediately, she recalled sitting in the clinic’s waiting room. There were five Irish and two English females present, and she mentioned how the latter two told her straight out, “it was a f–king joke that we couldn’t just stay in our own country and do it.”
Despite having used birth control, she became pregnant in her first year of college and subsequently, found her health deteriorating drastically. “My body just went into panic mode”, she said. “I was violently sick for three or four weeks with these horrific stomach cramps.” Later, she would learn, upon meeting with a nurse, there was a high possibility that she had an ectopic pregnancy and the likelihood was that the foetus would not last until the full-term.
“I was going to have to see a specialist if I was going to go forward with the pregnancy. However, when I told my mam, she said straight off, ‘you’re getting rid of it, no two ways about that. I’m too young to be a grandmother.’ So, we booked the appointment and after that, I blanked most of the situation out. I didn’t want to think or feel anything.”
Booking a plane across to Manchester, she noted that on this particular flight there were five other females present, whom she would later recognise in the clinic. “We spoke when we were in there, it was insane, five girls.” Each shared their own stories with the others and Lynn recounted the array of the circumstances behind each person present on this single morning. “One woman already had a baby, but decided against a second. She wasn’t able to support it financially, or emotionally. Then, there was one there with her boyfriend of ten years. They didn’t want to be parents. Another girl was in the same situation as me, impregnated by a guy she kind of knew, but too young to be a mother, and then there was another lady who had three kids already. Married and settled down, she had the cash, a stable background, a sound home environment, but she was against having a fourth child.”
Heading in to the operating room one at a time, they conversed in detail, while waiting for their own turn, and again thereafter. “The procedure was only five minutes tops. Then we have a recovery period, where we move into this ward with six beds. You’re in there for about an hour and a half, having somebody check your blood pressure, settling you down, and getting your blood sugars up. During that time, you just get talking.”
“It was really reassuring”, she added. “Everybody was supportive, saying you did the right thing. That said though, it was also a bleak place. There was this genuine sadness, because you’ve had to travel to another country when the choice should be a basic human right at home”
Returning to the procedure itself, she described the ordeal as traumatising. “When I had the consultation beforehand, I was still violently ill. For this reason, they told me, I couldn’t get any anaesthetic. I had to do the whole thing completely awake, since there was a chance that I might get sick when they were doing the procedure. I’d been vomiting constantly in the days leading up to it, you see, so they really couldn’t take any chances on me choking.”
Fully alert throughout the operation, she told me about how the doctors induced a series of fake contractions, which she called “thirty seconds of severe pain”.
“I blocked most of it out, but after that, I do remember feeling cutting, and then having two nurses holding my hand, telling me it was over. A few moments later, I ended up getting sick in my mouth, so, they had to roll me over, but it was fine, everything was done.”
Moving on to the matter of her return flight, she called this part of the experience humiliating. “Knowing that you had to get a flight back was awful, really difficult. If I could just have gone to a clinic here, reassured by the idea that I was only twenty minutes away from home might have helped.”
“I was just drained when I got home”, she continued. “I was bedbound and bleeding quite a bit for two days. Then, it was about a week after the operation when it really hit me, what I had done. I suffered from bad, bad depression for a year and a half afterwards, beating myself up quite a lot.”
In the years that followed, she stated that while there was an overriding sense of guilt, nonetheless her attitude was to stay as open about the whole ordeal as she possibly could. Yet, despite this transparency, she knew there would inevitably be “people telling me that I was taking life and emotionally, that just breaks your heart.”
One particular instance stood out in her mind, which was when she went out with a group of friends to a bar one night. “We were having a few beers and then abortion came up. Of course, I started to talk about my experience. There was one girl there, who’d been listening, same age as me, and whom I had been getting on with fine, but after I finished, she literally turned around and said ‘you’re scum, you are scum’. As it turns out, her sister was married for years and had tried to conceive, but couldn’t, so she adopted instead. She was disgusted that I was trying to get rid of something that her sister was unable to have, but we all have different values and maybe I was selfish, but you really do need to look out for yourself in those situations.”
Here she paused briefly. Then, after a few moments, she resumed her story, in order to describe how in December of last year, she discovered that she was pregnant again, only this time, handling all of the finances and arrangements herself. “I was praying for an ectopic pregnancy just to avoid the stress and costs of a flight, taxis and that wait. All I wanted was for something to be wrong. It was probably when I began to really ask myself what the f–k was wrong with Ireland”.
Visiting a Dublin clinic, her first issue stemmed from the price of the entire procedure. Whereas the first operation cost four hundred euro, the second was going to be six hundred and fifty, excluding flights, transport to the clinic and an additional fifty for an injection to prevent her from bleeding out, due to her blood type being Rhesus Negative. “It was the best part of a grand, plus, with this new policy that was coming into place, in order for me to get the abortion, I needed a letter from a women’s clinic in Dublin otherwise it would cost another one hundred for a consultation over in Britain.”
Learning about the clinic in Dublin, where she could acquire a letter of recommendation, through another friend who had found herself in similar circumstances, she spoke with immense gratitude towards the consultants. “They were concerned about how you could finance the flights and the procedure. Going through all these questions, ‘are you mentally able’, ‘are you sure this is what you want to do’, it was good, that part. They didn’t try discouraging you whatsoever. Your choice was priority. If you felt this was the only way forward, then they would say which clinics to go to and who were the right people to call, based on other Irish girls’ experiences.”
With all of arrangements finally in place, she went over to Liverpool on a Friday morning. However, her blood type caused complications in the schedule, so in order to receive the necessary treatment she had to remain in the waiting room for seven hours. “So many people were passing through, getting it done. It was close to half four when I finally went in and the people there literally wanted to get us in and out. They were more concerned about going home at 5 o’clock, but after the operation, I ended up collapsing in the recovery room and started bleeding.”
“They kept telling me ‘you can’t go home, you’ve got to go to a hospital, you obviously can’t stay here for the night though’. But, I told them we had to fly home that night. I had no other choice. That was just the way it was.”
Finishing up, in hindsight, she reflected by saying, “I never think about the second at all. I did the right thing. It was never going to work. Sometimes I feel guilty, mostly because it tore my then-boyfriend apart and I’d never seen a man cry like that. Maybe I should feel a little more towards the situation, but I was more scared of having a child than actually having an abortion. I mean, the first one still eats me up inside. That will stay with me whenever I decide to have a family, because I know that it is never going to be my first child. I’ll always go back to that time. Saying that, I do know that if I ever get pregnant again, I’ll be having the kid. I can’t put myself through any of this again. I’ve come to terms with that fact”, she concluded, before finally, “I’m going to try and give it a chance when that time comes.”