I don’t really know where my repeal story began. Was it in Birmingham in August 2011 when I was having my medical abortion while my mam sat in the waiting room, her looking at the other pregnant people who had travelled from Ireland that day too but alone? 12 a day they said. I don’t even think that my repeal story began when I got home and had to say what a lovely “shopping trip” we had. “Did you buy much?” “Ah, you know yourself, few bits and pieces” I replied, all the while relieved that I was one of the lucky ones – one of the ones with savings, the ability to travel and a supportive mam to give me chocolate and a hot water bottle. I did not feel anger at the State for forcing me to travel for healthcare, I felt shame and the weight of the stigma.
Then Savita died. Then a friend got pregnant and wanted an abortion but didn’t know how she could travel. Who would mind her young baby? That’s when I told her my story and I realised the power of speaking out. In September 2015, I went to my first ARC March for Choice and was overcome with emotion. Tara Flynn was speaking; she had shared her story. In August 2016, I went to an ARC open meeting to help out with that year’s ARC March for Choice. I became a member and signed up for some of the working groups. On March day 2016, I arrived at the Teachers’ Club for Steward Training and the room was full and buzzing. We got to the Garden of Remembrance and there were So. Many. People. I was new to this, but I knew we were on the cusp of something major, something historic. I knew I wanted to volunteer alongside these brilliant, empathetic and resourceful people (mainly women). I knew I could bring something to the table. I knew I needed to speak out.
After the March for Choice 2016, I spoke to my mam and brother and told them that I wanted to ‘go public’. It seemed like such a big decision and I remember being afraid of the backlash they might face, what their friends would say to them. They were proud of me. I wrote my Facebook post and put it out into the world – no more shame, no more hiding behind the figures. “We are real people” I wrote. A number of friends contacted me separately and privately to tell me their own stories and everyone was supportive. Everyone said I was brave but again, I felt the privilege that afforded me the ability to have had the option to travel and to speak out.
I was in the Partnerships & Outreach (P&O) Working Group. Sometimes I was wrecked and just wanted to go home after work but then I would think of how much work a small but dedicated bunch of volunteers were doing and I kept going. I was helping. I was part of it. I was inspired. Dublin North West Repeal had its first meeting in May 2017, and I was there – I went as an ARC link, saw the value of organising at constituency level and was instantly impressed by many of the women there. At some point I set up the Oireachtas Staff for Choice group so that we could provide support to each other during the onslaught of awful anti-choice calls, emails and letters (often horribly graphic).
I thought for this piece that I would be able to write about 2018 but here I am two years later, and I can’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t cope well around the first anniversary last year. It was all still too raw and upsetting. Yes, we won (73.1% Yes in Dublin North West – thanks very much!) but it was all-consuming. During the 2018 part of the campaign I was down to around 8 stone as I didn’t have time to eat and I wasn’t sleeping because I kept thinking about what we had to do and what would happen if we lost. I am immensely proud of the part I played in Repeal – my involvement with ARC, canvassing training and being Co-Convenor of Dublin North West. My Repeal Story and our historic win on May 25th 2018 lifted a weight from my shoulders and gave me friends for life, friends whom I love dearly. We went to battle together, and we did it with humour, grace and resilience.
The battle is not over and the troops will eventually have the energy to regroup but in the meantime, thank you to those who are still fighting the fight – I am eternally grateful and I will be back by your sides, soon.