Care, Compassion, Change


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I used to identify as pro-life…I think in many ways I still am pro-life. I understood that there were some circumstances where a woman might terminate a pregnancy, I was uncomfortable with the idea of people getting abortions ‘willy-nilly’. Yes, I thought women who have been raped should have access to abortion. Yes, I thought women should be free to travel if they wanted to have an abortion. But to have them here in Ireland? Not sure about that - it shouldn’t be too easy to get. I didn’t want people to start “using abortion as a form of contraception”. I thought, if they want it badly enough, they’ll travel.

I think my views were very similar to those held by many Irish people, we don’t like abortion but we also recognise that in certain situations it may be necessary. I have thought about this issue and the 8th amendment a lot in the months since having my third baby. I still don’t like abortion, but no-one does. Absolutely no-one. Yet now I identify as pro-choice. How did I get here? This is how…

When does life begin?

I believe life begins at conception. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always struggled with the concept of abortion. But does the life of the unborn have the same value as the mother?

I think it’s somewhat disingenuous for our society, our constitution, to say that the rights of the unborn are equal to that of the mother - because they don’t mean it, not really. Looking at it another way, are the rights of the unborn equal to that of a toddler? They don’t think so - they have never thought so. Ask any woman who has had a miscarriage and has been expected to just jump up and get on with life, or is told that “at least she has the other children” or “next time”. She is not treated like a woman who has just lost a child - we do not treat her like a woman who is grieving the loss of a baby. We say things like “at least it was only 10 weeks” or “maybe it’s for the best”. Can you imagine anyone saying that about the death of 2 year old?

The language we use is different too. We talk about women “having a miscarriage” or “losing a pregnancy” - we talk about in terms of her body, her anatomy, her loss. It’s not until much later in pregnancy, close to the point of viability, where the language changes and we shift the vocabulary from the mother to the baby.

Why can’t the baby be put up for adoption?

This is a hard one for me too. If a woman doesn’t want to or can’t raise a child, why can’t she just put it up for adoption?

As someone commented recently on the internet “my womb is not your herb garden”. A woman should not be forced to grow a child against her will - we are more than soil. A society that makes women who are pregnant continue with the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption is a cruel one. That is no different from the Magdalene laundries. We are past that - we are better than than kind of slavery - we have evolved - or at least I thought we had.

Adoption can be a beautiful thing. I am in awe of women who continue with their pregnancies and, at the end, pass their child over to another family. But it has to be consensual. We can't force adoption upon women in crisis.

Is one abortion better or worse than another?

I think most people agree that abortions should be available to women in certain circumstances, like rape. There are those that feel that even in these circumstances, a woman should have to carry her rapist’s child. If this is your view, you probably should vote to keep the 8th amendment. But for everyone else, who thinks there should be circumstances in which it is allowed, I would ask you consider whether the issue is just the abortion itself or the circumstances in which a woman became pregnant.

Abortion is abortion is abortion. A foetus conceived in rape is no less a life, has no fewer rights, than one conceived in other circumstances. So why is it ok after rape, but not in any other circumstance? Is it because with rape we can vaguely imagine the horror that forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s child would subject her to? But we can’t imagine why a married woman with two small children already should be able to get one.

Not all horrors are ones we can see or understand. What about the woman who suffers from hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme sickness) in pregnancy so severely that another pregnancy would leave her unable to care for her existing children? What about the married mother who has a history of pre-natal psychosis and cannot risk that happening again? What do we know of other people’s lives. If a woman is in crisis to the point that she would terminate her pregnancy, who are we to judge whether her reason was deserving enough to make it ok for us?

We can’t just sit up on our moral throne and dictate who “deserves” an abortion. What kind of society does that make us, that we are more concerned by other people’s morality than anything else?

This is also why the referendum is proposing that abortion be available to women before 12 weeks gestation, regardless of circumstances. To do anything else would be to subject women to a trial of morality - you would have to force a raped woman to prove that she was raped, to make her case to a panel or a jury who would then decide if she was deserving enough. You would make her go through it again.

Women have to be allowed to deal with their own issues themselves, they shouldn’t have to convince strangers that they are desperate, the fact that they request an abortion should be enough. No-one should have to turn out their souls to salve our consciences.


How do we reduce the number of abortions?

This is the real issue. We do not want to see a high abortion rate. Abortion is not a lovely thing. It may be a necessary thing, but the lower the better. So here are the facts:

Criminalising abortion does not result in lower rates of abortion. In fact, the opposite is true. In Africa and Latin America, where abortion is illegal in most circumstances in the majority of countries, the abortion rate is 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age respectively. Conversely, in Western Europe, where abortion is generally legal to a greater or less extent, the abortion rate is 12 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. These statistics point to a correlation between restrictive legislation and high abortion levels(Source: WHO)
http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/induced_abortion_2012.pdf

In Switzerland, for example, where abortion is available in the first trimester regardless of the circumstances. The rate of abortion is 7.1 per 1,000 women (and that’s including women who aren’t ordinarily resident in Switzerland).

I know there are a lot of posters up saying that 1 in 5 pregnancies in the UK are terminated but, as we always like to tell other people, we are not the UK. The UK rate of abortion is 17 per 1,000 women.

Let’s not be the UK, let’s be Switzerland.


Constitutional NIMBYism

It was only somewhere around my second or third pregnancy that I became fully aware that travelling was never the deterrent, abortion itself is its own deterrent. Having brought three children into the world, I really believe that nobody comes to that decision easily or with a light-heart. It is physically and emotionally draining and painful. So why are we making women in crisis travel to the UK to undergo these procedures alone, without proper care, without proper support?

Because we don’t want it in our own back yard.


Does the 8th amendment do what it’s supposed to?

The 8th amendment was designed to prevent abortion - it doesn’t. Ireland is not, has never been, and never will be abortion free.

At least 150,000 Irish women have travelled abroad for abortions. And these are only the ones they can count. This figure also does not include those who procure abortion pills on the internet.

If you want a society where abortion does not happen, under any circumstance, what you need is not the 8th amendment, but a time machine to take you back to the 1950’s and a sand pit in which to stick your head.


Maternity Care

While this is a peripheral issue for most in the debate on the 8th amendment, the vast majority of women who are affected by the 8th amendment are happily pregnant and looking forward to the arrival of their children.

They are pregnant in a system where the legislation enshrines principles which fundamentally remove their right to bodily autonomy. At the end of the day, the decisions that govern how a woman’s body will be treated during pregnancy and labour are not her own. Other people have the final say over what happens to her body.

As a result, pregnant women in Ireland are treated like toddlers. They are infantilised and patronised. Procedures (episiotomy, membrane sweep, artificial rupture of waters, induction) are frequently performed on them without their consent because, when it comes down to it, they do not have an inviolable right to withhold consent. And women don’t want to put their babies at risk, so they do what they’re told. But it’s no way to have a conversation.

Women should always have the final say. They should always be asked “Is it ok if I push a metal hook up through your cervix and break the amniotic sac that you have protected your child with for all these months…is it ok if I do that?”. But they aren’t always asked, and it isn’t always, or even often, necessary. Pregnant women and women in labour are not imbeciles, they are mothers - they want to protect their children - they are capable of making an informed decision and, crucially, their only vested interest is their own child and their own body. Trust them.

Repealing the 8th Amendment

I have thought about and argued and discussed and pondered the 8th amendment back and forth for months, and I cannot think of one single logical reason to retain it. I don’t know how I feel about abortion - I don’t know if it’s something I will ever be fully comfortable with but my comfort and my conscience is not the issue here. The 8th amendment is not about whether we are morally opposed to abortion or not, it’s about how we treat women who have decided to terminate their pregnancies. It’s about care - it’s about compassion - it’s about taking our heads out of the sand and changing the way we treat these women.

The 8th Amendment does not save lives. It punishes women. It adds pain and strife to a woman whose plate is already overflowing with pain and strife.

Children are a blessing, they should never come into the world to punish someone else.

We are better than this.

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Enter the Bear

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You know what this blog needs? A birth story.

Please come back...I promise no-one eats their own placenta. In fact, I vow not to mention placentas at all. There. How can you resist an offer like that? It’ll be edifying and fun.

Ok, lets crack on. So in the autumn of 2016, I found myself ‘with child’ as the virgin Mary says. My joy was short-lived. I had morning sickness so unwavering and unrelenting that I would often cry with the thought of another day of work, children, house, awakeness. The exhaustion was crushing and never-ending - no amount of sleep filled my cup. People would sit beside me on the DART carrying with them viscous haze of cigarettes or perfume and I would have to clear my mind and think of a cool, mountain spring to stop me vomiting all over them. In work, I would hold on to my desk as the floor seemed to slide off to one angle and then retch violently into the bin. I don’t remember much - I think I blocked it out.

I’m writing this to formally note that the term ‘morning sickness’ is offensive to those ashen faced women who want nothing more than to crawl into bed and be knocked unconscious for months at a time. It implies that you wake up in the morning, feel a wee bit off-form for about ten minutes and then continue on with your day bathing in the warm light of that special glory reserved for those who are creating life. There is no glowing. There is only grinding, interminable nausea that sucks the joy out of every single thing in your life. But you’re not allowed to talk about it because your pregnancy is still supposed to be a secret at the point when you most want to turn into a mushroom and melt back into the earth. You continue as normal - working, commuting, cooking dinner (my kids ate sandwiches for dinner for three months) - because you’re only pregnant and you’re supposed to just get on with things. I deeply resent the ‘get on with things’ attitude attached to pregnancy. I’m making an actual human being - let me have a goddamn nap under my desk.

Sozfest. Got a bit carried away. Ok so let’s do what they do in the movies and skip over the next six months with a cheery montage of fun pregnancy activities which include standing precariously on a step ladder in dungarees with a paintbrush, running on a beach (*snort*) and sitting on the floor of the kitchen by the light of the fridge eating pickles and ice-cream. A more realistic montage would involve shots of me napping on the train, napping in the bean bag, napping on the floor of the children’s bedroom while they cry...the pickles and ice-cream scene can stay too - that happened.

This did not:

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Nor did this:

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Taking up the story again two days past my due date. I have just spent half an hour googling whether tom yum soup has ever induced labour...followed by whether tom yum soup is safe in pregnancy. I should have done both these things before I ate the tom yum soup. I also googled “Is back pain plus exhaustion a sign of impending labour”. It turns out it’s just a sign of being 38. I decided to go to sleep. I awoke two hours late with a sharp pain my cervix. One only really knows where one’s cervix is when the fecker starts doing something. For years, decades even, the cervix stands immovable and silent, like a stone wall, and then, as if the baby inside had silently whispered “open sesame” from the depths of his amniotic bubble, it starts moving. It’s not unlike a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the dim lighting of our bedroom, Mr Oh does look a bit like Harrison Ford. I wake up to tell him I’m in labour. He mutters something inaudible that sounded a bit like “ok so” and started snoring. Indy would never have done that. I gave him a sharp, accidental kick in the upper thigh. It had no effect but to make me feel slightly better. Feeling underwhelmed by his reaction, I went downstairs to sulk/labour in the bean bag alone until morning.

The morning came, and I was still having contractions. Mr Oh remained deeply unmoved by the seismic event I was experiencing and pottered about the house making tea. At 10am, he decided to take Little A to his swimming lesson. I reminded him of the fact that I was in labour. He reminded me of the fact that my last labour went on for three days, it was incredibly boring and there were not enough snacks. He left. I made a sandwich and pulled out the TENS machine.

A TENS machine is a little device where a set of electrodes are attached to a labouring woman’s back and when she presses a button, the machine sends an electric pulse along the wires, into the electrodes and into the pregnant woman’s internal organs. I did not make this up. It is supposed to help with the pain of contractions. It is rooted in the well-known medical theory of distraction through electrocution. Every time you get a contraction, you press the buzzer on the hand-held taser and electricity courses into the kidneys. Imagine stubbing your toe, and as you’re reeling from the pain, someone slaps you in the face - that’s what a TENS machine is like. Super little device - it just confuses the pain out of you.

Mr Oh came back from swimming to find that I had not, in fact, given birth in the driveway. I was a bit disappointed - it would have been one hell of a ‘told you so’ and I am so not above having a roadside birth if it would bestow upon me enough martyred righteousness to power a decade’s worth of marital arguments. Instead, he found me bouncing on my swiss ball, still very much pregnant, electrocuting myself at irregular intervals and cursing.

He had the good sense to deposit Little A and Snugglepunk with the grandparents. I took this as a sign that he was ready to focus on the birthing of our child. I soon discovered that it was actually a sign that he was ready to focus on garden maintenance. By the time the front and back lawns were mowed, my contractions had become very painful. I handed him my phone and assigned him the job of timing the contractions while I paced up and down the back garden in the hope of regularising them. They say that once you cannot keep walking or talking through contractions, you’re seriously on your way to having a baby. After a series of contractions that fully stopped me in my tracks with a pain so intense that I could barely breathe as it exploded through my body, I wanted information on the interval between contractions and details of whether they were of regular duration and spacing. I looked up at Mr Oh, who was as you will remember tasked with compiling this information, and found that he had set my phone down on the path and was himself, on his hands and knees, trimming the edge of the lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors. It was unclear whether the stream of expletives that subsequently emanated from my person were as a result of the piercing contractions, the electrocution of the organs or the fecklessness of the husband.

At 3pm, I told Mr Oh that I wanted to go to the hospital. He said “No, it’s too early”. I thought (or maybe I said), “What would you know? You’ve been fixated on the grass for the last three hours, you wouldn’t notice if I was crowning on the patio”. I accepted that it was probably too early - my contractions weren’t yet regular but they were very strong. And I wanted to go to the hospital - I didn’t care if they sent me home again - I didn’t really want to give birth in the driveway, not even for the mother of I-told-you-so’s. And so we got into the Oscartavia (which is Little A’s name for the Skoda Octavia) - Mr Oh, me, the hospital bag and a giant pink birthing ball wedged into the back seat. And off we hurtled to the hospital, which was about 30 minutes away.

It was 10 June 2017, one of the hottest days of that year. The air-conditioning in the Oscartavia was broken so I had rolled down all the windows. As we approached the hospital, I felt relief wash over me. And then, as we zoomed right past the hospital door, relief was replaced with panic, disbelief and a soupcon of homicide. “What are you doing?” I demanded as the hospital faded in the distance behind us. “It’s too early”, Mr Oh said, “we’re going to Dun Laoighaire”.

“We are in my...oh, another contraction...” and I started hollering out the window.

Dun Laoighaire is a picturesque seaside suburb, 30 minutes south of the hospital. I think it’s a nice place but I did not want my baby to be born there, mainly because there is no maternity hospital in Dun Laoighaire. There is ice-cream, however. And Mr Oh suddenly had a hankering for ice-cream. As we got further and further away from the hospital, I contemplated opening my door and rolling out onto the road, but I was, at that exact moment, the wrong body shape for rolling. So, I sat in the car as we drove to Dun Laoighaire, gripping the edges of my seat as my labour marched onwards, blithely unaware of Mr’s Oh’s treachery and deceit. When we got there, the place was, naturally, jammed with people and the traffic slowed to a crawl. Tourists sauntered past the window, inches from me as I was loudly vocalising each contraction. Mr Oh tried to close the windows, presumably to stave off the mortification of your pregnant wife birthing in front of strangers. I did not give a flying fox who heard me so the windows stayed down. It was at that moment that I looked him in the eye and said ‘Take me back, now’. He looked longingly to the right as we approached the ice-cream shop with a long queue of people snaking along outside it. “Are you sure you don’t want to stop?” he said. To this day, I don’t know if he was joking.

We reached the hospital at 5pm...two hours after we left our house. Mr Oh still thought they would send me home but we were not only admitted but brought straight up to the labour ward and assigned a midwife, who confirmed that I was ‘definitely in labour’. There was an hour of gas and air (very disappointing really, I expected so much more), more electrocution and a lot of chanting birth meditations like ‘it’s not pain, it’s power’ (it is pain, in case you were wondering...lots and lots of pain). I was busy ‘breathing my baby down’ as they say when I hit what is known in the business as ‘the transition’. It’s the part that feels like you’re either going to die or are possibly, already dead. Gas and air was abandoned, the TENS machine was ripped off and I started cursing at everyone - Mr Oh, the lovely midwife, anyone who tried to talk to me. It was also the exact point when Mr Oh said, “I need to go and feed the parking meter”. My head whipped up, and my eyes locked on his. In a voice that I do not recognise as my own, I said “you can get clamped, or you can get divorced”. He chose clamped. It was the correct choice.

45 minutes later, I took a break from screaming my head off to tell the midwife that I was going home as I didn’t want to do this anymore. Apparently, this is really common in childbirth and is a sign that the baby is about to arrive. Sure enough, 2 minutes later, there he was.

It’s always a shock when the baby arrives. Right up until the very last moment, I never actually fully accept that there will be a baby. It’s not fear, it’s just that there is some kind of unseen curtain between pregnancy and birth - something inexplicable and dense - like a wall of tumbling, blinding light. They say that labour is the closest that you can come to death in a regular, ordinary, daily kind of way. There’s something about it that is not just primal but unearthly. There is no-one and then there is someone - a small, new, slightly blue someone.

I called him Bear.

That’s not his real name, the name he knows and already answers to. It’s his blog name. I called him Bear after Bear Grylls - because he’ll basically have to raise himself in the wild surrounded by predators and rely on his wits to survive. Such is the way of the third child.

I’ll stop now, before we have to talk about the placenta. Mr Oh did not get clamped in the end. Every time we talk about that trip to Dun Laoighaire, he has a look in his eyes that says “I told you so”. He’s too smart to actually say it out loud, but I know he’s thinking it.




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Guess Who's Back?

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So I took a break to have a sandwich and suddenly it’s two and a half years later...*ahem*...sorry folks. But in my defence, I have been busy. Ok, that’s a crap excuse. I’ll flog myself later but first let me catch y’all up (I’m in one of those moods where I speak only in my “southern belle” accent, I would therefore appreciate it if you could, in your head, read this entry as if you were born and bred slightly west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Damn, I’m starting to sound Welsh again, this always happens eventually).

So, quick update on what I have been doing between 10 December 2015 and today.

1. I did make a lot of sandwiches, that was no word of a lie.

2. I bought a house. Irish people are very into home ownership. I think it may surpass both the weather, and sliced pan as far as national fixations go. I may have gotten married and had children (yes, I know the order is wrong) but home ownership is like hardcore adulting. I am definitely a grown-up now...maybe I have to stop wearing the green crocs first, but I am very close to full-scale maturity.

I should say that ‘we’ bought a house. I could never buy a house on my own. Firstly, I couldn’t afford to buy anything more than a well-appointed garden shed on my single salary. Secondly, and equally important, I needed Mr Oh to do the actual house buying which appeared to be inordinately complicated and time-consuming (and mostly dull). Mr Oh had a long list of criteria that he was looking for in a home so it seemed logical that he would take the lead. He wanted four bedrooms, a moderately proportioned garden, an easy commute to work, local amenities etc. I just wanted a roof, walls, enough garden space to grow a small fairy village, and to sleep no more than 300 paces from the sea.

The only problem we had with the house buying plan other than budget, Mr Oh’s unreasonable and lengthy list of criteria, and the severe lack of housing stock in Ireland is the small issue of the fact that we were not actually in Ireland. We were in China, where the internet has to creep through a gazillion firewalls to eventually flop lazily into your computer and then wants to take a nap before you try to do anything else with it. Thankfully, houses are not bought over the internet on the basis of fastest fingers. Mr Oh spent months scouring the property sites looking for suitable homes. There wasn’t much out there. Occasionally, we found something we liked - sent out some obliging parental scouts to assess the properties - and, once, we got caught up in a bidding war by email which was great fun. It mostly consisted of me sitting in my pyjamas in Shanghai drinking wine and shouting “ten more grand” at Mr Oh, who thankfully had more sense than to treat the bidding process like a souped up episode of The Antiques Roadshow. It was a relief when, after a protracted process of submitting increasingly unjustifiable offers on this particular house, we were finally outbid (I must have run out of wine and gone to bed). Sometimes we drive by the house that we lost and I am hit by a (small) wave of guilt that the current owners and winners of the bidding battle, paid a lot more for their house than they would have if we had just gone out for dumplings that night.

Eventually, and just when I was starting to think we would never find the right house - we did. It has four bedrooms and a moderately sized garden. It is accessible by public transport. There is a fairy garden. And it is no more than 300 paces from the sea.

Yesterday Snugglepunk, who is now almost four and really living up to the ‘punk’ part of his name, used the horn of his toy rhino to gouge out several pieces of plaster from the landing wall. Where once I would have been consumed by fear for ‘the deposit’ and the almost certain loss of the deposit that seems to follow when one has small, destructive, selectively deaf children...on this occasion, because it’s our own house, I just shrugged, smiled benignly and threw the rhino out the window.

3. We left Shanghai and moved back to Ireland. A lot of things went into boxes. They then went on a ship and about six months later they came out of boxes. Mr Oh still thinks I own too much stuff but I have whittled down my possessions to such an extent that the only two items of frivolity that I insist on hauling around the world with me are a pair of small clay elephants and a ceramic pot filled with tiny flag-shaped badges from different countries. He will someday admit that, while we do seem to have a lot of stuff, most of it, while not exactly his, is used to house, clothe and maintain humans that he created. Minimalism is for people who don’t have children.

4. I went back to work. After four years of not working outside the home (and not really working that much inside it either because the ayi did that), this was a bit daunting. On my return I discovered that, in my absence, the entire office had been updated to a new version of Windows so I spent most of the first month trying to figure out how to attach files to emails and wistfully wondering if my children were thinking of me as they toddled around their creche. They weren’t.

5. I made a new person. It would be pretty uncool if I just announced his arrival into the world with fewer characters than I dedicated to describing the attempted suicide of our pet goldfish so I will postpone his formal introduction until the next entry.

So, there you have it. House - country - job - human - sandwiches. That stuff takes 2.5 years.

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