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'The weight of the black secret that I have carried around': Women share anonymous abortion stories

A new project, called Not At Home, is gathering their stories.

A NEW PROJECT due this autumn will see Irish women anonymously sharing their stories of travelling abroad to have an abortion.

The show, Not At Home, is being put together by Grace Dyas of Theatreclub and Emma Fraser of Nine Crows. They want to recount the women’s experiences during a four-day installation at NCAD on Thomas Street in Dublin, as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival in September.

They have been collecting the stories since April 2016 through the Not At Home website.

Dyas said that they have received “hundreds” of anonymous contributions so far, including these two:

I had a cup of tea at the airport and so I could not have an anesthetic. I had to be fully conscious. But there I was in Leeds I could not go and come back or wait another day. I should have thought about the tea.
I curse the country that I love so much for those 7 weeks of my life. I had a window that would have made everything more bearable, everything less confusing. Instead my body and spirit were shaken and hung out naked for all to see. I needed Ireland to take me into her arms and hold me and wipe my tears and tell me everything would be ok. But she turned her back in shame and wouldn’t even look at me, pretended I wasn’t there. The weight of the black secret that I have carried around ever since was made heavier by her disgust of me and her other prodigal daughters.

During the installation, there will be photographs on the walls inspired by the stories, a black cab outside where people can listen to Liverpudlian taxi drivers talk about the Irish women they bring to clinics in Liverpool, and there will also be magazines that are available in the clinics for women to read.

Dyas and Fraser say that the installation “will be immersive, but calm and reflective, allowing the audience to contend with the space as they see fit”.

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"It just shows there is a big demand from people who want to tell their story," said Dyas. "What is different about our project is that while women like Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle have come out and talked about their experiences, we are enabling women to speak anonymously and I think that energy really comes across in the stories. People feel they are able to really speak their minds."

Dyas said that "there is a huge amount of shame still" around abortion, and that as it is a "private, personal decision" people shouldn't have to be public about it if they don't want to be.

The aim of the project is for women to be able to "contribute to the discussion and have their voices heard without having to put their name beside it" - although some people have put their name to their story.

No filter

Dyas said that the project was inspired by the fact that she and Fraser know women who have travelled to have a termination. "The whole point is to present women’s lived experience with as small a filter as possible," she said. "We are trying to create a space in the NCAD gallery where people can come inside, listen to the stories, interact as long as they want."

She said that it is about "listening to women’s real life experiences and then deciding how you feel about it".

So far, Dyas said the contributions have shown that women have experienced "isolation, loneliness, shame" and "a huge financial burden as well from having to travel".

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"It's just to put this across and say to people there’s no such thing as 'not at all', it’s just 'not at home'," she said. "Even if you vehemently oppose abortion you can’t stop people travelling to have an abortion."

Asked whether they feared some fake anonymous contributions might be sent in, Dyas said: "Maybe someone would try and send something in that was false or politically motivated - so far I haven’t read any that I felt were not truthful. You know by the details and you know by the energy. And also to trust people, they are doing this for a reason."

She added that the submissions "haven’t been advocating for any political cause". "It’s more 'so this is what happened to me and I want to talk about it and I don’t feel I can talk about it'," she said.

There have been some who have been saying a lot of the campaigning around this issue... saying it’s a good thing, the truth is it is not a good thing, it’s really traumatic, it’s really painful. It’s that complexity that's important to get across. It’s not about going 'abortions are great', it’s a difficult choice for any woman to make but it’s their choice. The vast majority were OK with their decision but regretful of the context they were in. There is a huge amount of anger at the State, at society for putting people through this, particularly the amount of time, the delay in accessing the procedure.

Dyas said that while she'd love the interest in the project to be from across the spectrum, she thinks that "people who are very far one way or the other" might not be interested in it.

She said that it is being put on for those who are undecided, and that "it’s not a sermon to the converted".

In an effort to connect women who have had similar experiences, on 13 September they will host a private event only for women who have travelled for an abortion.

Read: 25 legal abortions were carried out in Ireland in 2016>

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