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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 3 September, 2014

Column: I’m so grateful I had an unplanned pregnancy in America, not Ireland

An Irish girl recalls her experience of deciding to have a termination – and her relief that she was away from home.

Catherine W

I WOULD TRULY love to be able to submit this piece with my name attached. However, as a young woman in modern Ireland, I feel it’s not possible due to the stigma and negativity attached to the subject matter.

I love being Irish, I love my country, I love my small town, but this is a very dark moment for Irish women and their rights.

The majority of Irish women who choose abortion have to travel to the UK to carry out the procedure. Deciding to have an abortion is a tough enough process to undertake, without the physical, financial and mental anguish of having to travel to another country in secrecy.

All of this explains why I was so lucky to have gotten pregnant while in America and not in Ireland.

I learned my lesson the hard way a few months ago while on an exchange to America.

Interning in New York for a year and working in a bar, I had an irresponsible encounter with an old crush. One thing led to another, and we ended up sleeping together that night.

The sex was uncoordinated and alcohol-fuelled. He didn’t come at all, never mind inside me. Which was a good thing, I thought, as we stupidly hadn’t used condoms and I had recently come off birth control.

Sex education

The typical Irish Catholic of my age with limited sex education usually would not be too concerned about pre-ejaculation. You see, in this Catholic country, where the division between the Catholic Church and State is often unclear, sex education was not a priority when we attended school. To this day many of my peers – 20 to 30-year-olds – admit to having limited knowledge on sexual health and contraception issues.

Still, about five hours after the unprotected deed was done, I started getting ‘pregnancy paranoia’. My dramatic Catholic mother had warned me that I had “highly fertile genes” and that all five of my siblings were unplanned. So I decided to take Plan B, mostly to put a stop to my paranoia.

Many Irish girls in similar situations are very hesitant to get Plan B.

Up until recent months, it was only available by visiting a doctor to get a prescription. A few months ago this was changed and it was made available over the counter in pharmacies. To obtain it, one must have a consultation with the pharmacist. The Irish solution is – wait for it – build a glass room in the middle of the pharmacy!

This glass room is meant to be a general private consultation room, but among my peers it is nicknamed the ‘morning after box’. In a small town like the one we live in, where you know everyone and everyone knows you, it’s pretty embarrassing to be seen shuffling out of that box on a Monday morning after a weekend contraception failure.

Courage

During my most recent trip to my local pharmacy to pick up a prescription, I silently observed and empathised with the terrified-looking teenager in a local school uniform who entered and exited the ‘morning after box’. I’m guessing she felt the same way, judging by her frightened manner and the ashamed expression on her face. I was proud of her for being brave enough to have the courage to protect herself, even at the risk of facing embarrassment.

In New York, I easily obtained the pill at CVS, popped it that day, and vowed never to be careless again.

About six weeks after that I was constantly tired, had low energy levels, and weird cravings for red meat (which I rarely eat) and chocolate. I was telling my friend about these cravings, which I suspected were signs that my period was coming, as I hadn’t had one since I had taken that morning-after pill.

The next day at a bar, a friend bought me a shot, which I drank and promptly puked back up.

The same friend with whom I had had the ‘period coming’ conversation with looked at me worryingly and promptly popped out to pick me up a pregnancy test.

I went to the bathroom with her, giggling at the ridiculousness of the situation; I felt at the back of my mind that I was overreacting, but that I’d do the test to calm my mind.

And it was positive.

Young, single, pregnant

That night, I repeated the process four more times, just in case the others were faulty. Surely I couldn’t be pregnant? I’d barely had sex AND I had taken Plan B.

Long story short, I was young, single, alone and pregnant in New York; and scared shitless. I told the father, but he proved to be not very caring, understanding or supportive.

However, I was surrounded by a most amazing group of friends who were willing to help me with anything, from arranging appointments with Planned Parenthood, to accompanying me there, to offering assistance with the expense. It really showed me the true kindness and love of the people I had met in a foreign city.

In New York, I was able to be open with my friends about what was going on and have the ability to talk through my feelings with an incredibly supportive and non-judgmental network of people.

In Ireland, one simply does not talk about such an experience openly among their peers, even though I would consider my group to be liberal, intelligent young women.

I have told a few close friends, and while they have reacted to my experience with kindness, compassion and sensitivity, I’m utterly terrified of my parents and wider social circle finding out.

Stigma

I was lucky to have gotten pregnant in a country where I had the right to choose and the ability to be open and honest about my situation. However, I returned to Ireland a few months after, carrying this secret, unable to tell friends and family given the stigma surrounding it.

Termination is never an ideal choice; however, it was the right one for me at the time, and I feel that I have learnt and grown as a person as a result of this experience.

I am silently grieving for Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child, and publicly supporting demonstrations in support of her cause, while still keeping secret the story of my unborn child for fear of stigma in my small town. I only wish that Savita could have had her experience in America, where proper abortion legislation is in place to safeguard the life of a woman.

I hope that Savita’s death has not been in vain and that legislation will be introduced towards the separation of Church and State in women’s health issues.

Reprinted with permission from xoJane.com, where a version of this article was originally published. The author is 25 years old and wishes to remain anonymous.

Open thread: Do you remember when buying contraceptives was illegal?>

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