I had a baby in Ireland in 1995. I was single and living in Dublin at the time and before falling pregnant I thought this country a modern place, a place for the young. I was wrong.
Ireland was and in many ways still is a place for the old, the conservative, the ‘religious’, the man.
My flat wasn’t suitable for a baby so first things first I had to go flat hunting. No one wanted a pregnant girl for a tenant. It was early stages so I could have lied but already I’d changed in ways deep and old. I felt I couldn’t take the chance I’d be turfed out when they’d find out. I needed some shred of security and so it would go, I’d say, ‘I’ll take it,’ and they’d say ‘Great!’ ‘By the way I’m pregnant.’ Awkwardness, blushes, stammering or plain rudeness. ‘Sorry no.’ On I’d go, Rathmines, Ranelagh, South Circular Rd, Drumcondra, Phibsboro, Rathgar Rd.
It took a long, long stressful time. When finally I found a place they hiked the rent a few months in. I was nine months pregnant. In front of the agent I cried. I said, ‘So you’re putting us out on the street?’ He couldn’t look at me but that’s a different story.
Add, people who stopped taking to me, turned away in the street, friends, young, old, people I’d known all my life. Responses varied from how my life was over to oh well you’ve made your bed or just silence.
The two worst incidents were in the hospital, I can’t talk about that one and the christening, saddest day of my life. The priest, let’s just say, he made sure I felt it. Whatever ‘it’ is, well communicated.
The experience of being a single mother was the beginning, the death knell of the church for me. I had my eyes opened. I started to believe and now believe that as a woman particularly it’s my duty to serve no religion. It’s my duty to me, to my children and to the memory of the women and children of the world today and of history to refuse.
It’s funny I got married in a church, I wouldn’t do that today (just in the nick of time Adrian!)
I’ve always felt a close and chilling bond with the girls of the laundries, I’ve never been able to watch that movie for the way it instills a cold terror in me. In some ways I feel I was there, I’m with those girls. I’ve seen today where people have asked, ‘How could people have stood by and let this happen?’ ‘How could mothers give up their children?’ ‘How could parents send their daughters away? Never mention their children or their children’s children again?’ ‘How could nuns, nurses terrorise young girls in labour, not meet even their medical needs and then torture their children?’ The answer, malignant shame, vested on Irish society and other societies by religious organisations, by men, by a patriarchal society that has nothing to do with any god and nothing you say will ever make me believe it. There’s no god, no humanity and no divinity in how the church has treated women and children. The people were complicit too long.
Every day I’m thankful I live in a more liberal and open society than the one of 1995 or any year previous. I applaud people who are brave and open and true but I implore those who work with children or anyone vulnerable to also be brave and open and true. There’s no excuse for complicity in cruelty or neglect, now or then.
As the great slave emancipator Hilary Tubman said... ‘I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they’d known they were slaves.’
Like many people in Ireland I decided long ago I wouldn’t be a slave but now we need more whistle blowers, more people who will stand up for the vulnerable. Stand up for you and your children, honour those lost and don’t forget the thousands in care and poverty today. Who will stand up for them? Who at least will offer kindness? Even the smallest kindness stays with a person forever.
One thing for sure, if there is a hell it’s not full of mothers or children.