All We Want is Choice

What if Repeal doesn’t pass?
What will become of me and my country, where my life matters less than a ball of cells, where my worth is measured on my ability to incubate potential life?

All we want is choice,
For most of my life it was a distant dream, a reality we hardly dared to hope for, the ever present fear that facing that choice would mean a temporary or permanent exile to England or further afield, 
Now it is almost within our grasp, but there is so much at stake, our lives, our health, our dignity.

All we want is choice, 
Choices my mother and my grandmothers never had,
Did they really choose to have all the babies her God sent them? 
Could they plan, did they have options? 
How did they feel about the repeated swelling of their wombs, year after year? 
How did they feel about the ones who were lost?
These are questions I have barely dared to ask.

And the ones who survived? 
They had life, but what about love? 
Growing up on spuds and cabbage there was never enough to go around, not for them nor their children. 
They got crumbs of affection, in a land where hugs were thin on the ground and sex was mandated for procreation not pleasure.
Families marked by deprivation, abuse and the heavy burden of secrets left unspoken.

I left as soon as I could, turning my back on the culture of shame, silence and fear, and the guilt, the terrible guilt, sometimes for just existing, where to not profess a faith meant eternal exclusion, never mind my other transgressions.

My mother stuck it out, she never left, but carried on despite so much, 
The nuns, the casual violence and misogyny, an abusive husband and then divorce — she had many secrets, most of those I will never know. She never stopped smiling. 
I often think she was much stronger than me.

I would phone her from abroad, before Skype existed, so I couldn’t see her tear filled eyes, but I could hear the crack in her voice. Proof, at last, that she missed me, she loved me. Some would have kept us apart but a Mother’s love won out in the end.

So I came back. 
I didn’t know then that it would be for the end. 
She was sick within the year. 
“Women’s problems,” her GP said, “probably early menopause, 
Take some iron pills.”

But the bleeding never stopped. 
Seven months to see a gynaecologist we were told. 
“Just keep taking those iron pills and here’s something for the pain.”

Then she haemorrhaged, on one of the days between her father’s death and his funeral. We were in Dublin, luckily. She went to A&E in the Coombe. 
We sat among heavily pregnant women while she waited for a biopsy. 
That was how we found out it was cancer — a creeping ulcer had found it’s way to her cervix and taken root.

It grew and grew and became to much for her to fight. 
Little by little her body betrayed her. 
Hospital to hospice, then came the morphine. 
I had no idea that it meant her death sentence. 
She didn’t make it to her 48th birthday, 
Not even to the anniversary of her diagnosis. 
Her womb gave me life, then 23 years later took hers.

We had two good years I’ll never forget, nor regret. I held her hand to the end. 
Then I held a rage in my heart for so long, against the Doctor’s, the Church and the State. They failed me, they failed her. 
They care so much about regulating the products of our wombs and yet see if you can get a gynaechology appointment in under a year.

I left again but took my rage with me. I directed it at everyone in my life and at my country of birth where my visits became less frequent, only passing the time until I could leave again.

The self imposed exile has lasted six years. 
I thought I would never want to go back. 
I thought I was done with the hypocrisy the lack of compassion the Church led and State sanctioned misogyny. 
I thought I was done with feeling like a vessel, 
Never feeling like I had a place there. 
Sure I’m only a woman, an angry and opinionated one at that, Ireland was no place for me.

And then Repeal happened,
And then my healing happened, 
And then women found their voice, broke the silence, defied the shame,
And then thousands of women took to the streets to march for choice,
And then they shouted #IBelieveHer across the internet and outside courts, 
And then finally, I thought, maybe it’s time to come back?

But six years away means no right to vote, even in the most important decision of my generation,
So I sit on the sidelines and write and tweet and write some more, 
Six years away means I missed most of the fight, 
So I continue on the sidelines, resisting the uselessness, writing and tweeting and writing some more, feeling the distance more than ever.

I scroll compulsively through Twitter and the joy and hope of #Together4Yes is palpable,
Meanwhile the antis are panicking for the first time in my life as they realise their lies, hatred and intolerance, and maybe even all their money, is no longer enough to counter all those voices coming out to support our choice.

Now Vicky Phelan has spoken out, her voice joining the choir of thousands who have been hurt by this country.

Her name now stands alongside Sheila, Ann, Joanne, Miss X, Savita, Misses A, B, C, D & Y, Amanda, my mother and countless others.

And still alone on a bus or walking down a quiet street my mind wonders and I find myself asking: what if?
What if it is not enough?
What if they vote no?
How long would it take before we’d get another chance?
Will I come back to keep fighting for a country where my body is valued?
Or will I make my exile permanent?

All we want is choice, but,
what if that is still too much to ask?

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