Dream sequence. A version of me, over a month of feeling nauseous at the smell of coffee, an early morning spent waiting among many other women in a room between two hallways that look onto a parking lot, the day’s deadlines all missed. A very sunny day, rays beating the linoleum into little segments of hot air, then cool air. Every time a door opens on the hallway all the women stand up. Then sit down again as someone is ushered forward, picking up their conversations where they left off or asking about the bathroom in subdued voices.
There’s a lot of back and forth down the two hallways. One compact, vaguely handsome tanned guy is bringing fresh linen into the ICU and the soiled linen out of the ICU, seemingly on a loop. I vaguely wonder what human seepage is in the patients’ dirty linen. The guy is wearing headphones and banging the cage-like trolley around very loudly.
Another person goes in, the last person must have come out and left without my noticing it. One of the women who’s there with her daughter in her early twenties comes back with two coffees. “Is the canteen ok?”, someone asks. The coffee is ok, yeah, but they’d taken pastries off the counters already in preparation for lunch.
The woman sits opposite me next to her daughter. She has had a fresh blow-dry and carries a Louis Vuitton bag. She has an instantly likeable face, everything slightly over-pronounced - the nose, the ears, the mouth. She and her daughter talk, seemingly about a friend’s new dog that the daughter shows her mother on her phone. They’re bored and slightly freaked by the hospital.
Next to me there’s a garbage lady. I know she’s a garbage lady because she’s wearing a uniform with the brand of the waste management company emblazoned on the front, back, and sleeve. She’s got a mop of curly hair and is listening to throbbing house music as she waits and chews gum. Opposite her there’s a couple in their mid forties with two children aged maybe six and ten. The husband looks petrified. On the other side of the room, in the hallway, sit a teenage couple, both in Doc Martens and ripped jeans. They’re holding hands and taking everything in.
Someone begins to talk about the parking lot in the hospital and the ways they’ve found to cheat the system by parking in a sports centre across the road.
When I finally get into the room we’ve all been waiting outside, I’m sat in front of the large, brusque woman in scrubs I’d seen going back and forth earlier. She asks me a couple of routine questions without making eye contact with me, KYs my belly, and puts the ultrasound device onto my flesh. It feels cool and soothing. “Look at your hip bones. Visible when you lie down. What I wouldn’t give to see my hip bones again,” the doctor sighs. “Haven’t seen them since…” The room has two more doors leading into other rooms and there’s a steady stream of female nurses and doctors coming in and out, taking to corners to gesticulate furiously and sigh under their breath about some hospital matter. “Who do you think you’re fooling, you were never able to see your hip bones like that you liar,” a nurse at a nearby computer interjects, turning around and winking at me. I laugh.
It’s been left too late so I’ll have to come back. “But isn’t it great that we can do this now after all that!”, the brusque doctor says, very upbeat now. “Huh? That we can be here for all of you now,” she says. “Put some weight on before I see you next week, don’t make me feel fat,” she puts her arm around me, more to corral me than out of affection, and leads me to the door.
The woman with the blow-dry and her daughter are outside eagerly waiting their turn, but the door is shut and no one is let in for the moment. They smile at me and the mother asks if everything went ok. We’ve been in the same waiting room together all morning. I say that I’ll be coming back next week. “Take care,” the woman says with a little bow of the head, and I walk out into the sunshine of the parking lot.
I like fantasising about an Ireland where this is a young woman’s experience of having an abortion.
I like thinking of the Irish idiosyncrasies, the Dublin characters, the sense of humour, the natural friendliness applied to something like that normal procedure. The fantasy is satisfyingly transgressive as well as plausible.
I’m tired of seeing renditions and portrayals of that journey to the UK. Not only because the injustice at the centre of it sickens and angers me, but also because, for all their good pro-choice intentions, those interpretations seem to make something normal seem like a trauma that is only exacerbated by the Irish government's criminal stance. In some cases the procedure is deeply distressing. It’s probably always a bit scary. But to have the sole narrative be one that depicts abortion as a terrifying calamity (grey skies, bleak London streets, fluorescent lights) contributes to its mystification and the ignorance surrounding it.
The Irish video artist Jesse Jones was talking to me about how she believes that Irish women are experiencing a modern day witch trial. The New England witches were women who typically had knowledge of medicine and other subjects not generally understood by everyone. I don’t like how easy it is to draw a comparison to modern Ireland. The Salem Witch Trials are often referred to as one of history’s greatest episodes of “mass hysteria”. Again, I don’t like how easy it is to draw a comparison. Jesse talked about a hope for a more radical resistance and protest, one that built on the support for the Repeal movement as well as Irish feminist politics. We should be asking for more, she said.
The Repeal movement is a large family whose strength lies in that it has accommodated all despite their differences. Its role is to be diplomatic and measured. But it doesn’t mean that there can’t be an element of the movement that asks for more, that stays angry, that doesn’t settle.
Scanning my options on Whichcandidate.ie (a website that compared candidates’ answers on topics and issues) ahead of the General Election last year, I was shocked at how almost none of the candidates’ views reflected what I thought was a given pro-choice position. All the candidates from major parties that were pro-choice had said they were in favour of abortion “When the mother’s life is at risk, and in certain other cases such as rape or fatal foetal abnormality.” None, for instance, had picked, “Abortion should be freely available up to a certain number of weeks in a pregnancy,” as it has been in Italy, France, and Germany since the 1970s! Talk to anyone who understands these things and they will tell you that “fatal foetal abnormality is the way to get this over the line.” But we don’t simply want this over the line. We want this to undo the dishonour and shame Ireland has been living in.
I don’t want to campaign, march, protest, and fight for a cautious and politically prudent change to Irish laws that will still fall short of rectifying the enormous harm the Irish state has done to its women. I want abortion services that meet the standards that the rest of the world has accepted for over forty years. I want us to make more radical demands and for our politicians to reflect those demands. Otherwise we will have sold ourselves short.
I want my dream sequence to become reality.