The Loss Of My Babies

baby sleeping on white cotton
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In my adolescent years unwanted pregnancies were a problem.  Ireland had no contraception easily available. Even if it was, I doubt my mother would have allowed it as it would have contravened her religious beliefs. The irony is not lost.   Nothing else she did seemed to provoke a crisis of conscience. I never realised I was pregnant, miscarriages and abortions performed by the local doctor were a total mystery. I would have cramping pains and between my legs would appear a rat like structure attached to a piece of meat by a slippery tube. I knew no more than that.  My mother or the housekeeper gave me pads until the bleeding stopped after a couple of days. There were visits to the doctor for injections and these alien creatures would come from my body that night or early the next day. I would sit on the toilet and experience atrocious pain, heavy bleeding and inexplicable fear. No one explained anything.  I did not know what blood was except that it was something that came between your legs and the legs of the children. Something else to be cleaned up. The doctor was a gruff man called Dr O’Doherty, a golfing partner of my father’s.

His surgery was in the nearby town of Gurrah near the Protestant Church. Though smaller and fewer in Catholic dominated Ireland,  Protestant churches are nonetheless imposing buildings, often patronised by the wealthy landowners of large inherited estates dating back to the English occupation of Ireland in the fifteen hundreds. Wealthy Catholics and landed Protestants were frequently friends. Dr. O’Doherty was a Protestant and mixed in the same circle as my parents. He obviously had no ethical or religious conflict with inducing abortions and miscarriages carried out swiftly, clinically and without reference to me.  His large room with an imposing desk had two plush chairs for patients. On the desk was a silver writing set of three pens sitting in neat holders. There was a pile of books on the left of the table and on the right a gold filigree painted China teapot on it, accompanied by a matching cup and saucer. Clearly, a gentleman refined tastes whose sensibilities did not extend to the welfare of teenage girls

On the pale, grey painted walls hung certificates of various kinds, all seemingly very auspicious, judging by how my mother always looked at them.  There were two windows in the room covered by brown Venetian blinds for privacy. These he opened and closed depending on the time of day and the “business to be done “. When we entered he and my mother always exchanged a kiss on both cheeks along with convivial conversation ranging from business at the Hotel or which yachting visitors were coming to dinner that night to his most recent golf game with my father. No conversation or words passed between him and me. I never remember talking to him, not even in the bar of the Hotel when he would join the other conspicuously influential members of the community in the window seats.  Clearly he missed the Hippocratic Oath lecture at University, as no such ethical code applied to his treatment of me. He absolutely colluded in the cover-up of the abuse of both myself and the other children. He had full knowledge of what was occurring even though not an active participant. Priests participated, that I personally knew. Two; Father Ford and Father Daley and they too drank in the window seat. The protectors of the community were the betrayers of the innocent.

Dr. O’Doherty wore tweed jackets rather than suits. Black, brown or grey, razor-sharp pressed trousers with impeccably polished shoes, precisely matching the trousers. White shirts with ties emblazoned with the logo of the golf club on it. A loyal Club man like my father.  Good upstanding community man supporting many local charities. My parents always had local and national newspapers available for patrons to read in the men’s bar and often I would see Dr. O’Doherty’s face on the front page. I did not know why as I could not read well enough but it must have been important to be on the front page. I would fixate on the embroidered golfer, taking a backswing as he approached me as I lay on the bed.  

The bed was quite high and narrow and had a white towel laid across it. It was raised at the head so you didn’t lie down flat. He would get me to roll up my sleeve so he could give me an injection in my arm. Then he would lift my top or dress, press and feel around my tummy. His hands were always freezing and he was very rough. Sometimes, as well as giving me the injection he would tell me to take off my underwear and bend my legs up and spread my legs. I was mortified with embarrassment but as usual had no choice. I would just bite down on the side of my hand to stifle the urge to cry out.  He would insert a cold metal implement into my vagina put something on what I now know is my cervix and wait a few minutes, then he callously inserted cold metal into me and moved it around. It was agonising. The towel would go red and he would just leave me lying for a while. Then he handed me a large pad and told me to get dressed. Without a word to me, he and my mother had their usual social chat before we left. We usually stopped at the local Chemist on the way home to buy me a packet of pads so I could manage any further bleeding alone.

My mother routinely took me on these visits to the doctor throughout those years with no explanation. This in a country where you can still receive a jail sentence for having an abortion and be struck off as a doctor for administering one.  Even though against catholic teachings the contraceptive pill was allowed in Ireland as a menstruation cycle regulator in 1963, so it is a complete mystery to me that she did not put me on the pill but did agree to abortions.  The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

On one occasion I overheard my mother saying to the Bolger’s housekeeper when she came to collect me, “Come now Mrs. Johnson.  It’s time” I was about fifteen and she brought me to the room. She made me undress and looked at me with those piercing, hawk-like brown eyes. She gave me a bottle of Vodka and said, “Drink this,  you’ll need it”. Then she just walked out of the room. Later that night two different men came to see me. I knew them. Their visits were uneventful and I lost myself in the world of roses and it was over soon.  Immediately after the second man, Mr. O”Ceallaigh, left, my parents, stormed in. My mother pulled me off the bed and threw me to the floor calling me horrible names, “harlot! devil’s child! whore! little bitch on heat!” The tirade continued in conjunction with a vicious beating consisting of repeated kicking to my stomach and back. When she stopped to draw breath my father handed me the bottle of Vodka and forced me to gulp it down without stopping before my mother’s frantic and determined kicking to my stomach continued. I passed out, unable to bear the pain any longer and when I regained consciousness they were gone and the room was locked.  I couldn’t move. Every bone and muscle ached but most of all my lower back and stomach were cramping in ever-increasing waves of excruciating pain gaining in intensity. The pressure in my lower stomach was incredible.

Between my legs was wet as if I had gone to the toilet and there was a large puddle of water on the ground. I gripped onto the side of the bed, kneeling down as the spasms came closer and closer. I could not hold in my screams and yells. Then from between my legs, a head appeared covered in white sticky goo. Two more urges to push I knew not what, could not be averted and out slid a perfectly formed head, body, arms, and legs. Blue, silent and motionless. Another spasm and again there was tubing attached to a piece meat. I sat up and there was red fluid and water surrounding me and this thing lying motionless on the ground in front of me.  I did not touch it. Did not know what it was. What was it? What had happened? Why did a beating make this come out of my body? I was totally mesmerised by this doll-like, perfect blue, still, creature lying prostrate between my legs. I was terrified. What had I done to cause such an event and why could I not move? All I could do was cry uncontrollably in heaving sobs. I was shaking and shivering like I was cold but I was not. It was as though I had lost control of my body. The door opened and without a word, my mother reached for a towel and scooped up the ‘thing with a face, tube, and lump of meat’ from between my legs and wrapped it roughly in the towel and left the room saying “Get in the shower”. That is all she said to me. No explanation of what had happened. I passed out again and when I awoke it was morning and the sun was streaming through the window onto the floor.  Someone had pulled me to one side and covered me with a blanket and all the blood and fluid had been cleaned up. Clean clothes were laid out on the bed and there was a sandwich on the table by the bed with another bottle of Vodka. I greedily reached for it and drank a large gulp. Everything hurt. My body was bloodied and bruised. I wanted to shower and wash it all away it but still could not move. My legs would not hold me up and my back and ribs were aching so much it was still hard to breath. I must have fainted yet again because the next thing I knew the room was dark. I was still in the same position on the floor unable to manoeuvre my body or limbs in any direction.

This continued for three days and three nights. The only liquid I consumed was the Vodka.  I became desperately thirsty and eventually, that is what drove me to drag myself up off the ground and to the sink and using the plastic cup there, drink copiously from the tap marked H with its beautiful cold water.  My legs were still unsteady and my breathing still short but I felt like I would be strong enough to go to the shower. I sat down in the shower just letting the water run over me in total disbelief at what had happened. I had no explanation for it. I had no reference for it. No story I could attach to it to give it meaning. I just sat under the riverlets of water streaming from the shower and cried copious tears until I thought I could cry no more. I ached for the ‘doll’ between my legs. To hold it. To caress it. To understand what it was.  I stood up after a time and took the soap and gingerly ran it over my bruised and blood-encrusted carcass. It was some time before the running water ran bloodless and all that was left were black, yellow and purple marks.

I went back to the room got dressed and waited, greedily gobbling the by now very stale sandwich. I lay down on the bed in the grey morning light, a fine mist of rain was leaving a film of water on the window panes.  I was in disbelief and confusion about what I had experienced. Later that day I was taken back to the Bolgers. Cieran was home from school and I remembered once again where I was and who he was. He ran and eagerly grabbed a book for us to read.  I said nothing to Mrs. Johnstone nor she to me. I went directly up to my room, clutching Cieran’s hand and lay down on the bed with him and we read his book. We read it over and over again until the housekeeper called Cieran down for his dinner. I did not go down but fell asleep, only to awake sometime later to find yet another sandwich on a bedside table with a cold cup of tea. I drank and ate and went back to sleep. There I stayed for two days. The housekeeper must have been looking after the boys because all I did was read books to Cieran when he came home from school and I did not come downstairs.   When I finally reappeared downstairs the housekeeper asked, “You right now Erin ?” in a kind tone. I replied, “Yes Mrs Johnson” and no more was said except for me to go to school that day. Life continued as normal as there was never any mention by anyone of what had taken place.

The same silence prevailed two more times when I was fifteen and sixteen and a “thing” came out from between my legs in the room. No beatings this time. Just being locked in the room to go through the spasms and pains and the eventual arrival of, this time, a pink, open-eyed mewling body with arms and legs covered in white mucous.  Wrenching paroxysms of agony ran through my lower body to produce a black haired, doll-like creature with wide open blue-grey staring eyes, beseeching me to pick it up. I did not know why but the almost overwhelming desire to pick up this creature competed with the fear of breaking it or causing it to fret and scream even louder. Again blood ran across the floor mixed with fluid.  In came my mother again to wrap it up in a towel with the lump of meat, except this time the face peered out of the towel crying. By now I knew it was a baby I had had. I had seen pictures of Cieran as a baby in the Bolgers and put two and two together. I still didn’t know how though, I could have gotten pregnant. That part remained a mystery to me. It broke my heart that my Mother took those babies from me and it does to this day. I have done everything in my power to try and find them but with no joy.

3 comments

  1. Your personal accounts leave me speechless and… have to admit… tearful. You do not cease to amaze me by your courage. Wish you all the best Erin.

    • Thank you Zara for such touching words. I appreciate it. I wish you all the best too. Hope you are well. Erin

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