Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Friday, June 6, 2014
In response to the discovery of a mass grave of babies and children at a convent in Galway, I wanted to write something about my own personal experience. I firmly believe in the power of personal testimony. I have a story to tell about my experiences however I am currently fighting another fight, stomach cancer.
In the early 1980s I spent some time at an "unmarried mothers home" run by the Good Shepard Nuns" I was one of 28 women who was pregnant and unmarried, each one of us individuals, all with our own personal stories about how and why we found ourselves pregnant in a society that saw our situation as unacceptable, yet collective, as we were pregnant, at the convent, and the nuns at the centre expected us to put our babies up for adoption, or as they said, at the least in foster care for six weeks. I remained in the convent for five weeks only.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, while others know my story. I had the support and love of my parents and family members as well as some very good friends, so my leaving the convent ensured that I was able to keep my baby and I became a single mother. This year my baby will be thirty years old.
My five week stay gave me the opportunity to have a real insight into how the centres were run, and to get to know the girls and women who were there. My first night I made the "mistake" of giving my real name to the people I met, within an hour I was called in to the office, I was told how I was so privileged to be able to give my real name, as everyone else was there in cognito, I was told to stop immediately. I went to chat to a group who were enjoying the evening sun and I asked where they were from, within minutes I was back in the office again and told under no circumstances ask anyone who they were or where they were from. I was naive but learning fast. Not everyone was who they said they were or from where they said they were from. Next morning I recognised someone, and she recognised me, we chatted for a few minutes, again before long I was back in the office. This time I was told I should not have acknowledged the person. I realised that silence was what was expected of me. Those of you who know me personally realise pretty quickly that I am not and never have been capable of silence, so it was no wonder that after five weeks and numerous visits to the office I was asked to leave.
There were twenty eight women at the centre, ageing from 13 years old to 32 years old. I was 20 years old. Each morning we had chores which involved washing, scrubbing, and sometime packing envelopes, it was as though the nuns felt that water and soap would cleanse us of our shame. Also our unemployment allowance was handed over to the centre, for our keep.
The convent is now a hotel and spa, when I saw the brochure, I recognised the stairs I scrubbed when I was seven months pregnant. Travelling to Hospital for check ups involved going by mini bus, imagine up to fifteen or more pregnant women on the one bus, some of us with morning sickness or travel sick, once one started getting sick we all did, we never went anywhere without a plastic bag. We were brought in the back door of the hospital sat in rows waiting to be seen, away from the main hospital, more silence expected here. I became aware of what I now call the " culture of silence" in our society.
The culture of silence that surrounded the need for these centres is still alive and still in existence today. The lack of women's reproductive rights in Ireland ensures that some women still find themselves in situations where their pregnancies are unwanted, and the legal situation ensures that the silence continues.
A number of years ago I made a video with the Crisis Pregnancy Agency to create awareness of the supports for women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation and to share some of my experiences as a single mother, and later as a parent in a married situation. It was my choice to be a single parent, one I am so glad I made. I realise that I could make that choice and it was one I wanted, other women could not make that choice, and in fact had no other choices.
I am sure there are more graves, I have no doubt there are graves of this type at each of the " Unmarried mothers homes". I believe there will be lots more to come out. The government, the Gardai and the Church ( interestingly the church seems to be distancing itself, in fact separating itself fully, from the nuns and the convents on this scandal) are all panicking and remaining silent, more silence, as they know this is an iceberg in its proportions, right now we only "see" what has been found.
In my personal experience these convents were shame-and-blame centres on behalf of the church, the state, and a patriarchal society ( one which still exists inIreland as evidenced by the response to this horrific grave) and had the backing of society to hide and cover up pregnancies. The silence of the men involved ensured the woman was blamed. In some cases the pregnancies were the result of abuse, but in all cases the women, me included, were the victims of a patriarchal society where the males involved could be guilt free, and carry on their lives without shame and without blame.
I don't trust the government to get an appropriate solution to the discovery of the bodies, I definitely don't expect that there will be a right to all the wrongs, I so feel for each and every one of the women, who for whatever reason found themselves in one of these so called "homes", who were silenced and who bore the guilt and shame projected on them. Those convents were never homes in the real sense. I feel sad at the cruel and abusive behaviour of the nuns towards the women and towards the children, and my heart breaks at the loss of life at each and every centre across the country. I know of one still birth at the centre where I was, the little boy was laid to rest in the local church's graveyard, a tiny white coffin, carrying a tiny little mite, who wore a knitted christening gown. To think that so many were denied the opportunity to mourn their children, to lay them to rest in a way that is real and meaningful for them,is horrific. We can't change the past but we can change the future.
As a society we have the power to change how we go forward, learning leasons from the past. I am pro-choice, and unless we re-look at women's reproductive rights, and children's rights, nothing will change. Every woman deserves the opportunity to make a personal choice, in the belief that they are doing what is best at that time of their life, and every child has the right to a childhood and most of all to love and care.
Love Margie ❤️