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I was called a child abuser for conceiving through IVF – and it hasn’t ended there

Dil Wickremasinghe outlines the attacks she has suffered on social media relating to her pregnancy – and the social stigma they illustrate.

Dil Wickremasinghe

I HAVE TO be honest with you: this has been an extremely challenging week for me. Yet again I have been the victim of cyber bullying.

Exactly two years ago, coincidentally in the week leading up to International Women’s Day, I experienced racial cyber bullying. To give you a flavour of the offensive tweets I received from an anonymous Twitter account, I was called “Paki”, “Nigger” and I was told to “go back home”.

It was very upsetting as I recall when I read them. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. So I promptly reported it to An Garda Síochána and the account was suspended.

Sadly, two years on after that unsavoury incident I have had to contact An Garda Síochána again but this time on account of homophobic cyber bullying.

It all started last November when my partner and I announced our news on Twitter that we were to become parents. We received thousands of congratulatory wishes but we also received some very upsetting messages through social media.

Some went as far as calling me a child abuser for conceiving a child through IVF. As a survivor of child abuse I was deeply affected by this as I know only too well the devastation this causes a human being. I was shocked and repulsed and my immediate response was not to engage but instead to block and report the anonymous Twitter account holders.

However it didn’t end there as for the last three weeks there has been an ongoing inflammatory conversation about me on social media mostly relating to my pregnancy. This was mainly driven by one of the individuals I had previously blocked. My Twitter followers flagged this to me so once again I decided to contact An Garda Síochána and I am happy to report that the account of the ringleader has been suspended.

From a handful to an army

I wish I could say it ended there. As a result of the incessant attack by this individual and their conversations prior to their account being suspended, the cyber bullying reached dizzying levels that I have never experienced before in all my time on Twitter. I received hundreds of deeply intrusive and insensitive tweets. This time it wasn’t just a handful of people but it was a whole army made up of known users and anonymous trolls.

I was called a “child abuser” again and a “baby shopper”. Others accused me of being selfish and putting my needs ahead of the needs of my child. Some went to great lengths to humiliate me professionally by accusing me of making my sexuality and race into a profession and playing the victim. Others attempted to cheapen my pregnancy by asking me “why bother to pay for it when I could have just slept with a man?”

However the most outrageous tweets came from a cohort of people who felt they were entitled to ask me the most invasive question of them all, “Who’s the father?”

This frankly is none of anyone’s business except our own. A child’s parentage is a highly confidential matter that should stay within the confines of the family. I was furious as no one in their right mind would ever ask this question of a single parent, adoptive parent or even a heterosexual infertile couple who availed of the services of a fertility clinic. So why ask me?

I was speechless at the depth these individuals were willing to go to try and devalue my experience of becoming a parent and bringing a baby into this world.

Could social stigma be the cause?

How could a group of people feel it was acceptable to gang up on a pregnant woman who is just three months away from delivering her first child? How could anyone go out of their way to cause emotional and mental distress to a woman during their most vulnerable time of life?

After much reflection, I honestly believe that my experience is not dissimilar to the attitude shown to the victims of the Mother and Baby homes. They suffered unimaginable pain as a result of social stigma. They too were pregnant outside of a traditional heterosexual marriage and because of religious dogma people felt justified to humiliate and bully these vulnerable women.

They were called “fallen women” and much worse. Their beautiful innocent babies were called “illegitimate” and “bastards”. It was a national scandal, one that Irish people are rightfully deeply ashamed of.

A conscious decision to be open

Is it any wonder why I actively support the marriage equality campaign? When I became pregnant, my partner Anne Marie and I made the conscious decision to be open as possible about our experience in the hope that it will encourage people to come out of their political closet and vote yes in the upcoming referendum.

I believe that if the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum is passed, Ireland will change for the better and most importantly families like mine will finally be safe.

  • Dil is a social justice and mental health campaigner, broadcaster of Global Village on Newstalk 106-108fm, Saturdays 7-9pm and Training Director with Insight Matters

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Dil Wickremasinghe

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