Ahead of the March for Choice next week in Dublin, there was a Repeal Not Replace demonstration in Cork City on Saturday 23rd September. I was asked by the organisers to be one of the speakers at this event. Initially I was hesitant to speak, feeling like my story wasn’t as relevant of that of many of the women who have suffered greatly under the 8th Amendment to our constitution. However, on reflection, I realised that as a woman who has gone through pregnancy in Ireland, I do have my experiences of maternity care under the 8th to speak about. The 8th Amendment is about so much more than abortion and it’s availability in our state, and I hope that I got that across in my speech. Here’s the full text of the speech, I’d love to hear what you think.
I listen to the radio on my commute to work, my commute home and often when I’m just hanging around in the house by myself. I have a preference for talk radio compared to music-filled segments. While I was off work, it filled the void of social contact that work had previously given me. Conversations they had on air felt like conversations I would overhear, and potentially take part in, in real life. However, it hasn’t escaped my notice just how few of the voices I’m listening to are female. Where are the women on Irish radio?
Disney movies were a key part of my childhood, like that of many children. I spent hours watching, singing along and playing pretend with friends and family about the worlds of the movies. As a parent, I’m now watching them with different eyes than my five/six year old self. More knowing, more judgemental – and definitely a whole lot less dismissive of some of the issues they bring up. So, here goes, an analysis of the Disney Movies I once loved, but now through my adult eyes.
Another day, another horrific tale in the news. It’s unfortunately part of life in Ireland in 2017. In the last few years, the topics of mental health and the 8th amendment have been in the news seperately and together, but yesterday’s news had something different. The Irish Times journalist Kitty Holland reported on a case from the Child Care Law Report Project which took place in 2016, and opened our eyes to fresh horror.
The news came to the fore yesterday that the new National Maternity Hospital was to be placed under the ownership of the Sisters of Charity. The Sisters of Charity is a religious group who in the past were one of the groups who ran the Magdalene Asylums. Under their watch, terrible abuses were carried out on mothers and children alike. In State redress schemes since the news broke of what went on inside these Mother and Baby Homes, the Sisters of Charity have neglected to pay their fair share. In 2013 the Sisters of Charity, along with the three other religious congregations which managed Magdalene laundries, announced that they would not be making any contribution to the State redress scheme for women who had been in the laundries. The Sisters of Charity were involved in five industrial schools – including St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s, Kilkenny and Madonna House in Dublin. They were party to a €128m redress scheme with the State in 2002 for child abuse which took place. According to a December 2016 report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Sisters of Charity offered €5m towards the redress scheme – but have only paid €2m. They are currently in debt to the state, and the victims as a result, to the tune of 3 million. So, gifting them a hospital sounds par for the course, right? Only in Ireland.
I bought a car in August. I’d passed my theory test nearly two years earlier, then put off that whole learning-to-drive malarkey because of issues with back pain. So I kickstarted this whole right-I’m-doing-it-learning-to-drive thing in June, bought the car in August and applied for my driving test. Fairly simple, right? The six month waiting period was null and void because I’d gotten the licence almost two years before. So aside from the twelve lessons (and the many more besides), I was golden. How difficult can getting a driving licence be? As I’ve discovered, for me, very.
I’m a big advocate of the internet and how it has enhanced my experience as a mother. Through my online communities on Facebook and beyond, I’ve met some incredible parents who have shared their experiences. I’ve made fantastic friends who I never would have met otherwise. I’ve had conversations late into the night about the frustrations of motherhood and been made to feel less like I’m going crazy and more like I belong. I have found my village. It’s a wonderful resource, a fantastic element which many people find essential to their daily lives. However, with all great power (the power of the online community), comes great responsibility, and I feel that this is something which can be easily ignored in the heat of the sleep-deprived moment.
Every day, I take medication. This medication allows me to go about my day as a normal person, able to cope with the world. For my chronic pain, I take painkillers so that I’m able to work, to play with my son, to leave the house and not cry in pain. For my depression, I take antidepressants, which enable me to come out from under the duvet and interact with others. I work in a field where I am constantly talking to people – the idea of shutting myself away just isn’t sustainable to my earning power. So, each day I take these tablets, I get on with life and all is as it should be. I’m not ashamed of it. Not anymore.
This post is one I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s not the first time I’ve spoken about my thoughts on the Irish education system. I’ve previously lamented the level of religious indoctrination in our primary and secondary schools. I’ve given my thoughts on consent education, and sex education as a whole in Irish schools. Today’s post is somewhat similar to those, but more with a retrospective look at the education I received in second level about mental health. Moreso, what mental health education I wish I had received, instead of the lacking amount that I did.
My heart is sore. I’ve just finished listening to an incredibly brave woman, Siobhan Whelan, talk about her pregnancy in an interview on Prime Time. Prime Time never gets the good news stories from maternity wards, and this interview was no different. Siobhan, who was pregnant at the same time as I was in 2013/2014, was treated in Cavan General Hospital. This hospital has been in the news quite a bit over the past few years, home to numerous tragedies caused by medical misadventure. Pregnant women have entered and left empty handed, mourning the loss of their babies, believing in many cases that it was their fault. This isn’t the first Prime Time interview I’ve watched with women who were treated there, not the first I’ve welled up to. It draws little surprise, even though the topic is heart-wrenching. The lack of shock about the conditions is what hurts my heart most of all. It’s not exactly the only example of pregnant women losing their voices in the course of pregnancy as far as the medical profession is concerned. Bodily autonomy isn’t something afforded to those with child here.
On my way to work this morning, I was listening to a radio station I don’t normally listen to (Cork’s Red FM, I’m normally a 96fm woman after 9am). Amid discussions on government decisions about tax, and extra traffic on the road due to kids being back to school, the conversation turned to the traumatic events which unfolded in Cavan over the weekend, the tragic case of the family who died in a murder-suicide. This case has been all over the media in the last couple of days, with 99% of the focus on the man and his sons, with little on his wife who was also a victim. The media has talked about motivations, about mental illness, about how someone could do such a horrendous thing to the people they are supposed to love most in the world. Reading it, and avoiding any of the more salacious details which the tabloids seem to be reporting with glee, makes my heart hurt.
Here we are again, continuing the conversation about a line in our constitution which forces half the population into a second class citizen role. One that requires permission, only given by begging, pleading, desperate measures, from the bigger authorities, because heaven help us if they were trusted with making their own decisions. Yes, boys and girls, we’re talking about the 8th amendment again. I’m actually tired of talking about it, but it’s not something we can stop the conversation about because it’s still there, glaring at us up from Bunreacht na hEireann, highlighting the role of women as vessels. De Valera’s Ireland is still alive and kicking according to that piece of paper.
That quote about the best laid plans of mice and men? Someone definitely had spent time with a toddler that week. I’ve got the Monday blues, looking back at all of the things I had wanted to do last week, to do this week, feeling utterly muddled.
The word feminist is bandied around a lot, and there seems to be a lot of puzzlement about the actual meaning of the word “feminist” in a lot of cases. There are mental images of underwire on fire, talk of hairy women wanting men out of every powerful position. The words “feminize”, or worse “feminist bitches”, are bandied about and it seems that any replies to “banter” that call that behaviour out are taken in a remarkably negative way. This is the world we live in, and the world I am raising my son in.
If you missed it on Wednesday night, a rather incendiary debate kicked off on Brendan O Connor’s new current affairs show “Cutting Edge”. In response to a rather thought provoking piece from writer Louise O Neill, which spoke about how being a woman did not necessarily mean you wanted kids, Niamh Horan added her two cents. The piece from O Neill had put forward the idea that women who choose not to exercise their womb are thought of as selfish. In response to this, Horan, who is of the same age bracket, commented that in her opinion it is the parents who have their children but leave them in childcare, creches, while they head out to work, who are the selfish ones. It is, she said, the children who are suffering for their mother’s need to “have it all”.
We recently elected a new government, not that you could tell it in looking at our currently defunct parliament. In the 36 days since our votes were counted and those who were chosen by the people were officially elected, we have sat around watching them squabble like children, unable to pick their teams in a way that made anyone happy. They’ve racked up a whopping 1.75 million (and growing) wages bill – and that’s just the TDs – for their playground politics. Keep that figure in mind when you see the next one I give you – a proposed cut of 12 million from the 35 million budget ring fenced for mental health services. In our already fractured mental health system, the government is prioritising other things and taking funds away from helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I’m angry.
By now, you’ll have heard that Donald Trump is running for President of the United States of America. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (in which case, lucky you), you’ll have observed that his campaign has been brash, offensive, and discriminatory in just about every way possible – racism, sexism, and a whole pack of incitement to hatred thrown in for good measure. Recently, he made a statement which caught my eye more than the others – and given the dramatics he’s come out with, that is really saying something. Upon being interviewed in Wisconsin lately, he statedÂ that women who seek abortion should be subject to â€œsome form of punishment.â€ Media uproar ensued. Women’s rights activists lamented and shouted. Here in Ireland, we looked on at the potential new leader of a world superpower condemning his country to our current state: where women’s choice in their reproductive rights is limited and intrinsically linked with the opinions of people whose lives it will never affect.
This month, on the 24th of April, every household in Ireland will be filling out the census form. They’ll document every little detail about every person in the house that night – details of education, employment, religion, earnings, practically everything except for what they have for breakfast. This happens once every five years and gives the government information which they can then use to develop policies and allocate funds for development of things like schools, community amenities and various other schemes to improve society. It gives the state an honest picture of what it’s citizens look like. That is why I am finding it important to ensure my census form has the “No Religion” box ticked.
It isn’t something I write about often, my pain. Mostly because I don’t want to make this blog about my parenting journey into an eternal journal of whinging, but also in a slight denial aspect that if I don’t say it exists then it might go away any day now. That’s not been a successful venture yet, so I’m led to wonder what can be the harm of being honest in this, my little spot of the Internet. For the past two years, I have been parenting with chronic pain.
Are you familiar with Paw Patrol? Chances are, if you’ve got a child under the age of five who has been introduced to a television or Netflix account, you’ll at least be familiar with the theme tune. By familiar, I mean it’s stuck on a loop in a part of your brain that nothing else can quite reach to get it out of there (I’ve contemplated bleaching it out. Surely that will work?). For those of you who haven’t become familiar with the show that has taken over our lives as we know them, Paw Patrol is a Canadian animation broadcast in 126 countries, based on the premise of a pack of dogs who, under orders of the questionably aged boy with lots of technology at his disposal, go about saving the rather questionable townspeople from themselves. In our house, the combination of dogs plus fire engines (that would be the aptly named Marshall) was fated to be a winner.
Ah, that time of year again. Gone are the “bikini-body” workouts being flaunted in every magazine, newspaper and bathroom stall scrawl, enter the confectionary-filled holiday season which begins at the end of October. Not that anyone has told the local Tesco, who have been stocking selection boxes since before schools went back last month. Yes kids, the one time of year where it is not only socially acceptable, but rubber stamped okay to ask strangers for sweets and accept them from them without feeling creeped out or violated in any way.
Consent. It’s the hot topic word of the moment, being flitted around the media, around the twitter sphere, with differing opinions from many people from many walks of life, stretching over different generations. The publication of Louise O Neill’s “Asking For It” has sparked a debate that isn’t going away any time soon. More recently, Hollyoaks has run a successful campaign peering into what exactly consent is, and what it isn’t. The concept should be simple; do both of these people want to have sexual intercourse, or any sexual contact with each other, and are they of a mental capacity to make such a decision? However, as we all know, nothing in life is simple, nothing is ever black and white and it is in the shades of grey where we find our current situation in Ireland.
The concept of rape culture is something that was probably first highlighted to me around the time of the furore around that “Blurred Lines” song – it’s not that my life had been in a massive bubble from it, but rather it had never been pointed out in such a way that it had a name, that it was a thing, not just a part of normal life. Things previously seen as “banter” or “just being lads” began to be framed in a whole new, less rose tinted, light. I consider myself extremely lucky in this regard, that it isn’t something that had hit me personally, that it wasn’t something on my radar. I remember being horrified hearing the details of the Steubenville case, the victim blaming, where society didn’t look at the horrific acts suffered by the victim but rather the damage to the reputations of these “promising young men” and the ruination of their futures, as if their “indiscretion” shouldn’t be something they needed to face up to, and one girl shouldn’t get to ruin their lives. This wasn’t the first case in the US in recent years where this was the premise; Savannah Dietrich from Kentucky, was assaulted and recorded in 2011, and faced her “justice” as her attackers having their records expunged by the age of 19 and a half, despite her having to live with their actions for the rest of her life, then faced potential incarceration herself for breaking a gag order by naming them online as her attackers. As a long term fan of shows such as Law and Order SVU, I’d seen time and time again the “ripped from the headlines” stories where girls and women who had been violated were unable to win a case against their attacker as much of the time, it came down to a “he said, she said”, and often, she wasn’t believed. It wasn’t until the Slane Girl debacle, almost a year after the Steubenville case that we got to see it hit our shores here, the difference in attitudes and the ruination of reputation and impact of social media in how we perceive sexual conduct in society. There were no Slane Boys, there was no shaming of them for their actions which were equal to that of the young woman involved. Instead we saw a public “slut-shaming”, photos going viral over social media, a drunken mistake displayed to the world and in an instant ruining a reputation and a life. It is with these cases, and others like them in mind, that Louise O Neill wrote the powerful “Asking for It”.