‘My pe­riod was 10 days late. In Ire­land, you know what that means’

I ab­stained com­pletely from sex for years, thereby mak­ing my­self the most Catholic athe­ist in Ire­land

The Irish Times - - Lifefriday - Laura Kennedy

You make poor de­ci­sions when you are 18. Not be­cause you are lesser than older peo­ple, but be­cause you can’t get ev­ery­thing right on the first try, and in your late teens you have a lot of firsts to try. You are also highly ide­o­log­i­cal (grey ar­eas usu­ally come later in life), and have a high enough vol­ume of sex hor­mones cours­ing through your veins to blind and paral­yse a hip­popota­mus from the waist up.

I came late to things. A pre­car­i­ous up­bring­ing left me ner­vous of ev­ery­thing, par­tic­u­larly the op­po­site sex. When I first be­came in­volved with a boy, I was 18, try­ing to hold to­gether the torn edges of the hole blasted in me by my fa­ther’s dis­in­ter­est, and wholly with­out good judg­ment of the char­ac­ter of oth­ers. I did not pos­sess that qual­ity you might iden­tify as self-es­teem, and con­se­quently chose to as­sent to the ad­dresses of the sil­li­est boy in my school year. He was sim­ply 18 and a roar­ing ee­jit, and would, as your granny might say “get up on a cracked plate”. Hav­ing no model for how men and women in­ter­act healthily with one an­other, I em­barked on a bizarre and very un­healthy sort of re­la­tion­ship with him. With my full con­sent and with­out his re­al­is­ing, he did as much emo­tional harm as an ado­les­cent golden re­triever let loose in the din­ing room on Christ­mas day. It took me far too long to learn he could not be any­thing but what he was.

Preg­nancy test

Of course, I had fig­ured this out by the time I sat, crouched and hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing, on the lurid and filthy tiled floor of a public bath­room, a preg­nancy test pinched in my small, cal­low hand. Ten days late. In Ire­land, you know what that means. I was afraid to take the test at home in case it was pos­i­tive. I could not tell my mother. I didn’t want a baby; couldn’t have one. We didn’t have any money; my mother would try to bor­row it; the stress would harm her and there was no guar­an­tee she would be able to get it any­way. The boy had left me crushed, but even then, I could see there was some­thing very wrong with my thought process. I had al­lowed him to mis­treat me. Some­thing in how I thought about hu­man re­la­tion­ships was clearly very wrong. I’d have to fix that. I couldn’t be a mother.

I knew too I was the worst kind of per­haps preg­nant per­son who would need an abor­tion. I wasn’t mar­ried and un­able to af­ford an­other child. I wasn’t struck down with the ter­ri­ble luck of a fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­ity. I wasn’t a vic­tim. I had used con­tra­cep­tion but no one would be­lieve that. They would think I was reck­less, a har­lot, and that a life­time of moth­er­hood was ap­pro­pri­ate pu­n­ish­ment for los­ing my vir­gin­ity (in most dispir­it­ing fash­ion, I might add) to a com­plete asshat. That’s Ire­land. Or at least, that’s the con­se­quence of try­ing some­thing for the first time and mak­ing a mis­take in Ire­land.

I was too afraid to take the test. In­stead, I awoke the next morn­ing to the fa­mil­iar in­ter­nal grind­ing of dull knives and the low, tir­ing ebb of men­strual pain. I was just late. My fate was mine again, my body my own pri­vate ob­ject again. The ter­ror on that bath­room floor was so in­tense that, spurred by it and the lack of trust in my abil­ity to iden­tify and choose good young men, I ab­stained com­pletely from sex for years, thereby mak­ing my­self the most Catholic athe­ist in Ire­land.

A cou­ple of weeks ago Ir­ish peo­ple and their sup­port­ers streamed out onto the streets of Dublin and cities around the world in what I sin­cerely hope will be our last March for Choice. The Ref­er­en­dum on the Eighth Amend­ment to our con­sti­tu­tion, which places equal right to life on a woman and an en­tity wholly re­liant on that women to ac­tu­alise its po­ten­tial­ity to full hu­man life, will be next May or June. I of­ten think about what would have hap­pened had things been dif­fer­ent on the bath­room floor that day, but I shouldn’t have to.

‘‘

I of­ten think about what would have hap­pened had things been dif­fer­ent on the bath­room floor that day, but I shouldn’t have to

‘I was afraid to take the test at home in case it was pos­i­tive.’

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