Caoimhe Anglin set up the Everyday Stories project to publish the personal accounts of people who have been affected by the 8th Amendment. By publicly sharing her own story of travelling to the U.K. for an abortion, she encouraged other women to open up about their own experiences.
The project uses illustration and audio alongside each personal account. Here Caoimhe outlines her hopes for the project and shares project contributor Catherine’s story.
What is the Everyday Stories project and how did it come about?
Everyday Stories is a project publishing personal accounts and real-life experiences from people who have been affected by the Eighth Amendment. Through this project we aim to bring clarity and compassion to what can often be a divisive public debate.
The project started early last year when social entrepreneur, Mary McDermott, came to me with the idea to build a website to share personal stories. Mary was already involved in the Repeal campaign and my background is in IT, so together we make a great team for Everyday Stories!
It was difficult at the beginning, but we now receive 4-5 stories each week. I think it helped that my own story of abortion was included in the original eight stories that we launched with.
Why did you incorporate illustration and audio into the project; what do those elements add to the stories?
We looked at a number of options to best represent the complexity of each story and sought advice from many people more experienced than us. We ultimately settled on illustration, as photos are unique to one person, and we wanted the stories to be applicable to every person. Also, illustration, as opposed to photo, allows the person to retain an element of anonymity. As abortion is a private healthcare matter between a woman and her doctor, it was really important that we respect that privacy.
Audio and video are becoming increasingly more popular in a social media age. They’re sharable and relatable in 2-minute bite-sized chunks. Our web analytics show a higher engagement rate and time spent on page for stories that feature audio, so we’re working to improve the audio side of the project.
How do you gather the stories featured on the site?
It was difficult at the beginning, but we now receive 4-5 stories each week. I think it helped that my own story of abortion was included in the original eight stories that we launched with. I put my full name and photo out there and once we launched, the stories came trickling in through our website. We’ve had wonderful support in helping to publicise the project, which led to an interview in The Guardian newspaper last December, and that really opened the floodgates.
I’m not aware of any platform that existed for Irish women to share their collective experiences prior to Everyday Stories. When I experienced a crisis pregnancy I thought I was the only person in the world who had ever gotten the boat.
Do you find that women/families in Ireland affected by abortion are becoming more open to sharing their experiences?
I’m not aware of any platform that existed for Irish women to share their collective experiences prior to Everyday Stories. It’s hard to gauge if people are becoming more open to sharing their stories because the times are changing, or because they now have a platform from which to speak from. When I experienced a crisis pregnancy I thought I was the only person in the world who had ever gotten the boat. When I heard Roisin Ingle and Tara Flynn’s stories, I felt safe and normal. With Everyday Stories I wanted more women to feel that.
You are currently touring Ireland to bring the project to each county ahead of the Repeal the Eighth referendum. Have you encountered any aggressive or negative responses on your tour or has the debate been civil and respectful so far?
The tangible project is available in two flavours – the exhibition and the audio workshops.
The exhibition is eight illustrations and eight stories. The audio workshops are a more scalable pop up event where an organiser selects three stories and facilitates a discussion after listening to the audio version of each. These events can be held anywhere – from a living room to a local pub and only require a phone to play the audio.
The reception to date has been fantastic. I am so overwhelmed by the kindness and willingness of Irish people to put themselves in another’s shoes. I’ve had amazing conversations with people that very often end in tears and hugs! I really, truly believe that when people realise what women have to go through in this country, they will realise that the Eighth Amendment has got to go!
With kind permission from Everyday Stories, we have republished Catherine’s story below. The accompanying artwork was created by the artist Lou Hicks
How was your weekend?
A fairly mundane question we all ask and are asked on a Monday morning in the office. “Oh fine, you know, had an illegal abortion on Saturday and did the normal Sunday afternoon visit to my parents the next day so as not to arouse suspicion.”
Not the answer you would expect to get is it? Especially from a mother of 3, with her own home, job security and a supportive and loving husband. But if I had answered the question honestly this Monday morning (I didn’t by the way) that’s the answer I’d have given.
There seems to be a misconception that women who have abortions are predominantly young, single and broke. But a crisis pregnancy can happen to anyone, and everyone’s perception of a crisis is different. To outsiders the news of my pregnancy would have been met with congratulations, warm wishes and perhaps the odd jibe about how our television mustn’t work, and how busy we would be with 4 young children. But my husband and I were absolutely devastated.
My Husband Became Ill
We were not irresponsible with contraception. I was on the pill. But life happens and 2 months ago my healthy, fit, 34 year old husband became seriously ill. It was a bolt from the blue, and as I was following the ambulance to Dublin, trying to arrange for our children to be taken care of, absolutely terrified at the prospect of losing the love of my life and the father of my children, my pill was not to the forefront of my mind. With the chaos of that week I missed a few pills. Hardly a crime. Except in this country as I was to cruelly discover, dealing with the consequences can be a crime.
My husband is fine, and the stress and emotion of that week is like a distant memory. But when I discovered 6 weeks later that I was pregnant I felt like I had been hit with a train. I didn’t even have to do a pregnancy test, I just knew. I had hyperemesis on my previous pregnancies, and as soon as I got that familiar feeling of nausea I knew. I also knew that there was no way we could have another child. It simply was out of the question. My reasons are many and complex and they are just that – MY reasons. They are none of anybody else’s concern, and every woman’s reasons are valid to them. Nobody has a right to decide what is and isn’t a valid reason except the woman herself. My husband agreed that ultimately it is my body. I was the one who would have to go through with the pregnancy, the birth, and I would bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for a new baby, when I would be up round the clock feeding. He would be supportive of whatever decision I made. I was so grateful for his support, and I cried with relief as he held me and told me everything would be alright.
I was 5 weeks pregnant when I found out. Because of the total ban on abortion in this country I was trapped. The feeling of desperation was just horrendous. Each day I was getting sicker and sicker, vomiting more, eating less, all while having to keep the pregnancy a secret from my family and colleagues.
Traveling to the UK was out of the question. We simply didn’t have €2000 hanging around to spare on Christmas week. We also would have had to come up with an excuse for why we were going, and arrange childcare.
I am lucky that I am part of a Pro-Choice group on Facebook, where I had heard about several voluntary organisations who help women living in countries where abortion is illegal. They provide the abortion pill for a contribution of €70. I contacted Women Help, who after an online consultation with a doctor, despatched the abortion pill to me by post. I was petrified it would be seized by customs. It was posted on December 23rd. Christmas was hell as I waited. I avoided family as much as I could, although they couldn’t be dodged completely. It took all of my energy trying not to let people know I was sick, and acting like everything was fine. I managed to feign a stomach bug over New Years, which thankfully took the pressure off for a few days.
I came up with a Plan B in case the pills didn’t arrive. I told my best friend who was home from London for Christmas. She was so supportive. She was incredulous that I had to break the law, and that I wasn’t allowed to make my own decision in this country about what was best for me. I decided that if they didn’t arrive I would have to miss January’s mortgage payment and travel alone on a Saturday in January to London, have the procedure, stay with my friend and her husband, and come home early the next morning so nobody but my husband would know where I was gone.
Thankfully on Wednesday January 3rd they arrived in a small inconspicuous padded envelope. The relief was overwhelming. I took the first pill on Friday morning and went to work as normal. By Friday night I was so sick that I couldn’t even keep water down, and every time I moved my head I vomited. On Saturday morning I went back to bed at 10am. I put the 4 pills of Misoprostol between my gum and my cheek and let them dissolve. I was so afraid to move in case I vomited, and when I swallowed them I managed to wait an hour before vomiting again. I was so terrified they wouldn’t work since I had been sick, but about 2 hours later I started to get some mild cramping.
Throughout the day I continued to have cramps and bleeding. I stayed in bed, and every time I felt a gush I went to the toilet where I passed some clots. By 5pm I knew the worst of it was over, and was relieved to find that I already felt better and was able to eat a small meal for the first time in weeks.
My decision is my own
I realise that some people will feel that I made a selfish decision. But it was my decision and affects nobody but me and my family. I had a “bad” abortion. You know, the type that people have when they aren’t raped, or aren’t faced with a devastating diagnosis. I became pregnant through consensual sex with my husband whom I adore. Some people will judge me because my abortion doesn’t match up to their moral guidelines on when a woman should and shouldn’t be allowed to end her pregnancy. They are more concerned with the type of sex she had to become pregnant than the effect being forced to continue with the pregnancy would have. Other people feel that that abortion is morally wrong in all circumstances. That is absolutely their right and I respect their opinion. People can have whatever moral position on abortion they wish and can use that to guide their own life decisions. But when they try to enforce that opinion on someone else by making it law, that’s where I have a problem.
Delaying the Abortion
I was 8 weeks pregnant. I could have ended the pregnancy at 5 weeks had abortion not been illegal. I have no regrets. I think this is very important to say, as lots of anti-choice advocates like to preach that they know what is best for women. I am sure some women do regret their abortions, just as some women regret continuing with their pregnancies. But women themselves are best placed to make their own decisions, and it makes me so angry when I hear the patronising drivel that abortion should continue to be illegal so that us poor silly women can be protected from ourselves. How dare somebody think that they know better than me what is best for me and my family. My main emotion now is anger. I am angry that I had to break the law in order to access Healthcare that is standard in most Western countries. To think that I could go to prison for 14 years for making the best decision for me about my own body is like something from a dystopian novel.
I am still bleeding lightly 4 days later. My friend wants me to go to the doctor for a check up, but it’s not that simple. If I go to the doctor I will have to lie and say I had a miscarriage. I’m sure it would arouse suspicion to turn up at the doctor a week after a “miscarriage” I had at home, having sought no medical help at the time. So I will take the risk and assume that everything is fine unless I develop complications. Women living in Ireland are being forced to take this risk every day of the week.
Look around you. Women who have had abortions are not “other”. They are everywhere. They behave no differently to you. They are your friends, daughters, sisters, cousins, colleagues, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, who have all made what they felt was the right choice for them at a particular point in their lives.
The fact that in the year 2018 women need to ask to please be trusted to make decisions about our own healthcare is beyond belief. Yet here we are.