Three years after Repeal, Author of In her Shoes – Women of the Eighth Erin Darcy looks back on the campaign, and considers the power and the toll in sharing women’s stories.
It has been three years since I stood packed into an auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with strangers and newfound friends as we took a collective inhale in – silence – and then the woman at the podium spoke, rambling incoherently in Irish and then English. My ears were ringing in this feeling of delirium as my heart galloped away from me, unable to distinguish the words vibrating around the room from the main stage.[restrict]
The final announcement was made and if I’m honest, I have no idea what she said, what percentage of Yes votes – the auditorium erupted with howls of joy and relief, deep felt sobs escaping from our bodies as we clung to strangers all around us.
The sudden impact of that moment, time stood still, and everything moved in slow motion around me.
We all had our own reasons for diving so heavily into the work of Repeal – I can’t find the words to describe why it felt so good and hurt so much. This duality of experience when we are begging strangers for the rights to our own bodies with a smile on our face.
In that time, I have grown closer to women that were packed into that auditorium with me. I have lost myself in depths of depression, and I climbed back to myself with the help of medication, time, and support. Everyone I know has been changed by Repeal – and as I sit here searching for the words to talk about the experience, the growth from, and what happens next – there’s a weight in the pit of my stomach, it’s still so raw.
We are still healing.
Creating space to share social taboo as a woman has always been a passion of mine. To talk about our experiences of being in a body that bleeds, births, grieves and so on. It was always a privilege to be entrusted with a person’s story, to hear them and hold them where they are at – but their stories never left me. Each one took up space beneath my ribs. The urgency and responsibility with something so important, bigger than myself – and then what?
The impacts of the campaign, and specifically cataloguing traumatic stories is now being researched as the stories from In Her Shoes become preserved in the Digital Repository of Ireland. How do we hold the space for others and ourselves? How do we ethically and holistically sit with trauma and be a conduit for its sharing without it negatively impacting our mental health? The research will help to shape models forward for other activist movements in protecting and managing their mental health. When we know better, we do better.
Each anniversary from Repeal has brought moments of reflection – what we did, what we could have done better, what do we still need to do. There is no closure, and maybe that’s what I was looking for all along.
In September 2020, the third anniversary of losing my mom, I published the book In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. I wanted to enshrine this project into something tangible that could last forever, something that would speak to the importance of this movement – of these women, of their vulnerability and power. I wanted to create something beautiful, and let the reader know that they too can do something in the world around them. I wrote this book so that this could not be conveniently swept under the rug like so much of women’s history, and in particular, Irish women’s history.
Women gather naturally…
When our history isn’t important enough for men to write it down in ink, we take to needle and thread, sewing ourselves into the quilts for our daughters and sons, telling stories in embroidery. When our histories are not safe to voice aloud, we ensure they are folded in the hems of skirts, sharp daggers tucked in hats. We will not go silently. We write our own history into legislation, into the Dáil, in poems and books, in music and art. Our stories keep us alive.
…we wait. For centuries, we wait.
Repeal has uncovered a lot of trauma and power, empowering us to continue searching for the truths and the untold stories. While the State threatened the erasure of personal accounts of abuse by the Mother and Baby Institutions, Caelainn Hogan published Republic of Shame : Stories from Ireland’s Institutions for ‘Fallen Women.
When Covid shut down our borders and locked our partners from the labour ward, two Irish mothers, inspired by In Her Shoes, started the project ‘In Our Shoes – Covid Pregnancy’ (@inourshoes_covidpregnancy) telling the anonymous stories of what pregnant people are facing alone at their scans, in labour, postpartum. Stories of women finding out that their baby has died in the womb while their partner sits in the parking lot. Stories of assault, abandonment, and isolation. Highlighting a need for change to our government, and highlighting the continued erasure of women’s healthcare and the lack of women in the decision-making process for managing a pandemic.
Three years on and women are still travelling alone for terminations during a pandemic. Travel restrictions, time, money, fear of a slight Covid symptom to put a stop to it all, fear of coming into contact with Covid, the repercussions for families with someone already vulnerable. Not to mention the most pressing issue; the grief of carrying a wanted baby that will not make it, facing this on your own, in a foreign country, surrounded by masked faces.
It’s not just terminations for medical reasons that must leave – it’s those that didn’t find out they were pregnant until 12 weeks gestation. I digress.
It feels like a lifetime ago that we could stand shoulder to shoulder in a packed auditorium, let alone embracing anyone outside of our bubble. How can so much have changed in three years, and also almost nothing at all?
This year the legislation that was placed three years ago will be reviewed – we’ve come so far, we haven’t come far enough.
The stories from the women in Ireland continue to be read across the globe, activating change and recognition in the power of storytelling. From being studied in Trinity College on social change, to being held by women in Texas who are now fighting some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Our living stories continue to make impacts in the world. We are mighty, and fierce, and powerful. And we are not done.
Erin Darcy is an artist, author, and mother of three living in Galway.
Buy the book HERE.[/restrict]