My Body, My Rights

Prochoice March

My daughters and I were on the March For Choice in Dublin yesterday. Us, and about 10,000 other people, marching – again – for the right to bodily integrity; the right to make decisions about our own bodies. There is always great camaraderie on these marches, but each of us there hopes we’ll never have to march again. We hope that each time we march, it will be the last.  So far, we have hoped in vain.

Growing up female, in Ireland, I was taught young that my body did not belong to me.

My first memory is of being three years and one month old, and being carried up an old creaking stairs to be sexually abused. I can see myself, in my mind’s eye; small and chubby-cheeked, green eyes that had already seen more than they should have, dark blonde curls bouncing on the journey. And knowing, knowing with all my being, what was coming next. Because this was not the first time this scene had played out. Nor would it be the last. Not by a long, long shot.

I did not own my body as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager, or a young adult in Ireland. Now, in my forties, I still don’t own my body. Now, as then, my body is regulated – not by me – but by men who claim to have my best interests at heart. Men who claim to know more about my body and what it ‘should’ be ‘allowed’ to do than I do. Men who claim that they should decide what my body (and mind) must endure.

The priest who told me, when I was a teenager and finally broke my silence, that ‘boys will be boys’. The doctor (a paediatrician, no less) who was more worried about scandal in the village should I get pregnant, than about the scandal that I should even be at risk of getting pregnant. The doctor (a psychiatrist, no less) who told one of my abusers to abuse me with ‘more sensitivity’, more worried about the stigma of a broken family than the damage to my broken mind.

These people still exist. They are still active in my life and those of my young daughters. Oh! Their names and faces have changed, but their attitudes have not. The men (and, to be fair, women) who felt they had the right to decide what happened to my body are still active in Irish society. They are the people who aver that I do not have the right to decide who can touch my body and when – that should I decide I need to be touched by caring professionals in order to end the anguish of an unwanted pregnancy, I am not allowed. They are the people who feel that their wants, wishes, desires, beliefs and mores should be mine.

Make no mistake, this is gendered abuse in the same way as being sexually violated on an almost nightly basis was gendered abuse. The damage that the Eighth Amendment does to women is just as awful, just as gruesome, just as real. The message is the same – you, as a female in Ireland, do not own your body. You never will.

I am pro-choice. Not because I would ever choose to have an abortion (even when – as a young teenager – I thought I was pregnant with a rapist’s baby, did I consider abortion), but because I do not have the right to tell any woman that she does not have that right.

If you need an abortion, I support your right to access a free, safe, legal one. If you need an abortion, I support your right to have that decision respected. If you need an abortion, I support you. I will fight for your right to have that abortion in Ireland. I will fight for your right to be treated with dignity and respect as you undergo the procedure, and afterwards. If you need an abortion, I support you in any and every way I can. You deserve that because you are a woman. You are a human. Until it can survive outside your womb, what you hold inside it, is not. The contents of your womb are not worth more to me than you are. They are not worth as much. Your choices matter. Your decisions matter. Your rights matter. Your body matters. You matter.

Until the Eighth Amendment is repealed, however, Irish law will not recognise that fact. Until the Eighth Amendment is repealed, as a female in Ireland, your body will not belong to you. It’s time to change this. It’s time to stop telling our women they worth less than our men. It’s time to stop telling our daughters that they are worth less than our sons. It’s time to stop the misery that gendered violence brings.


Choose Life

This is a pro-life post. I am pro-life. I believe every one is. Including suicidal people. I say this because (as regular readers will know) I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation for most of my life. I am happy to say that it’s more than six months now since I thought it might be a good idea to kill myself.

But here’s the thing; I never wanted to die. Not really. I wanted the pain to end. I wanted to make the pain I was suffering go away. I wanted to live torment-free and know that the torment was gone for good. The sensible, logical part of my brain went through a slew of possibilities before, sensibly, logically, deciding that suicide was the best answer. How I’m actually still here is anybody’s guess – but I am. Maybe it’s because only the good die young.

Years ago, I heard the brilliant Professor Rory O’Connor speaking. Energetic, passionate and compassionate, Professor O’Connor was conducting research on suicide and he made an impassioned plea to everyone listening:

‘If ever there is a question to choose between life and death, choose life. Choose life!’

His words echoed in my head for months and years afterwards. On some of my dark days, I repeated them mantra-like adn waited for how I was feeling to catch up with what I was saying.

Today – World Suicide Prevention Day – I’d like to share two lists with you. First up is a list of things I would urge you to do for yourself if you are suicidal.

  1. Have a mantra and repeat it to yourself. This can be anything that steadies your soul. Choose a religious one if that helps. Or find an aphorism that works for you. For years, mine was ‘It will all come right in the end: If it’s not all right, it’s not the end’. My current favourite is ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going’ alternated with ‘You are never alone’ which echoes in my head in the voice of the wise friend who first said it to me.
  2. Seek help. Even though you feel you’re not worth it, believe me – you are. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Have a message set up, on your phone, and ready to send to five or six people who know you and know your history and that you might – on occasion – be suicidal. It’s best if this note is kept short ‘I need help. Pls call me back if you can’ works for me. Then, when (or if) you do send the message, you will know that whoever gets back to you is self-selecting and you’re not intruding.
  3. Go somewhere safe. Even if the safest place for you right now is in bed, get back into bed. If it’s in your friend’s kitchen, go and sit in your friend’s kitchen.
  4. Ring a dedicated hotline – like the Samaritans or Pieta House. You are not ‘bothering’ these people by phoning them, you’re keeping them in a job. Make the call.
  5. Find a photograph of you that you like and that captures a moment when you were happy. Keep it in your wallet or somewhere you can find it in a hurry. Look at that photo and remember where you were when it was taken. That happy person is in there still. They will be back, if you just wait a while .

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Secondly, if you become aware that someone you know is suicidal, please be mindful of what you say:

1 Do not tell a suicidal person that they are being selfish. In the same way that you wouldn’t tell an asthmatic that their asthma was selfish.

2. Do ask if there is anything you can do – and offer something concrete; a cup of tea, a hug, a walk, etc.

3. If you think the person is ‘just looking for attention’ give it to them. If they are that desperate for attention, then they are desperate.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of witnessing; just being with a person and allowing them to feel what they’re feeling without trying to ‘fix’ it. It’s okay to just sit and say ‘I am here for you’.

5.  Don’t dismiss the feelings of a person who says they are suicidal. If you feel you can’t cope yourself, ring a dedicated hotline like The Samaritans or Pieta House.