I am almost 70 years old and have kept my abortion secret for most of my adult life. Like many women of my age, I got married when I was 19 and quickly had four wonderful children. After our youngest, I decided to take control and had a contraceptive coil inserted.
Thirty-five years ago when my children were teenagers, I awoke one morning with an excruciating pain in my back. My GP sent me for an X-ray immediately which revealed that my contraceptive coil had fallen out of place meaning that it was no longer working. A pregnancy test confirmed that I was pregnant. I was devastated. I asked my GP could he do something about the pain and of course the danger of the contraceptive coil in my womb. He said he couldn’t because of the 8th amendment and it might cause a miscarriage. I didn’t know what he was talking about.
My GP gave me an appointment to come back in a few days and I told him I was going to go to England and I was going to have an abortion. He said: “Well if you have decided to do that, it’s my job to make sure you do that safely.” He unlocked his filing cabinet and took out all the information I needed on how to do it, where to go, the phone number, the whole lot. He knew a clinic that was well-known and safe, and that would do it properly, and in the right way. I will never forget his kindness and caring for me without any judgement, and it was clearly not his first time to do this.
I had to do this alone; I didn’t tell my husband as I knew he’d never agree. I snuck down to a public phone box with a pile of coins to arrange the appointment. I told my husband I was going on a shopping trip and to see a show in London with some friends.
The only theatre I saw was the operating theatre and the only thing I bought was a tubal ligation to ensure this would never happen again. Afterwards I felt emotionally and physically battered. It was probably the one and only time in my life where I have been somewhere for 24 hours where none of my family or friends – nobody – knew where I was.
I returned home to Dublin I kept my head down and continued on with life.
Now I look back and think “why should I have had to make that trip all alone and live through all the lies for the rest of my life?” I was using contraception which let me down.
I don’t believe any woman makes a decision like this lightly. You agonise over it. I had my four children all very close in age and I had spent years caring for them. It’s heart-wrenching really, finding yourself in a position where you have to make a decision that you believe is best for everyone – and then, when you make that decision, and you realise the lonely road you have to go down to follow through with it.
I am a grandmother now and I never want any of my children or grandchildren to have to face such a lonely, heart-breaking journey as I had to face all those years ago.
Name has been changed for privacy.
Maeve Sheehan, of the Irish Independent, covered this story on the 25th March 2018.