There’s a quote I’ve repeated to myself many times over the last few weeks, and it comes from an unlikely source. Those of you with young children may be familiar with the cartoon Daniel Tiger, and the wise oracle like figure of his mum. She has a song,
“ Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s OK.”
It has become my mantra.
On the night of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, the Irish Times released an exit poll which indicated a landslide for Yes. I was in bed at the time and saw the news on Twitter, ‘oh that’s really great,’ I thought and kept on scrolling. Given that the day had begun with me fighting back tears whilst I accompanied my husband to the polling station, and had continued on in that vein, my lack of emotion at this news was surprising to me.
As official results came in throughout the following day, it was clear the exit poll was correct, and Yes had won with a landslide. No one had allowed themselves to think this might be the outcome. We may have been hopeful of a yes victory, but only by a narrow margin. Perhaps this is why my feelings at the result were so unexpected, because the result itself was too.
In the weeks leading up to the referendum, like so many people, I found it increasingly difficult to think about anything else. I can’t think of a time when I was so engaged in a campaign, can’t think of anything I have ever been so emotionally invested in. Again, like so many other people, I pushed myself to do things I never dreamed I would, because I couldn’t bear the thought of doing nothing.
On the Tuesday before the vote, on my commute into work I passed three ‘Beep for Yes’ stalls – I beeped my horn enthusiastically at each one, culminating with simultaneous sobbing as I reached the last one, just before I turned into work. I attended my daughter’s graduation from Montessori on the afternoon of the vote, resplendent with Repeal and Yes merchandise. As I approached the building, I aw one parent recoil when she saw my badges, but was bolstered by other parents wearing their own ‘I voted Yes’ stickers. I assessed everyone I spoke to that day through the lens of their voting tendencies, were they ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ I suddenly wanted to tell all my Irish, women friends how much I loved them. I felt the power of the Sisterhood strongly. I whatsapped my peer mentor group to tell them. I posted in Facebook groups to tell friends how amazing they all had been – writing, canvassing, campaigning, and how proud I was to be an honorary Irish woman on that day.
In short, I was feeling all the feels, on Friday 25th May. But in the days following the win, I felt what I could only describe as flat. Had I used up all my emotions in the preceding weeks? Was I made of stone? A no victory, had been inconceivable, and yet it seemed that any outcome at all was inconceivable , so focussed had we all been on the fight. Many women in Ireland have literally been fighting all their adult lives for this. How are you supposed to feel, when you get the thing you have been fighting a lifetime for?
Then, around ten days after that historic win, I was at the Mansion House, with many others to welcome home the Magdalene survivors. Women who had been treated cruelly by the state, for no other reason than tragically misplaced moral guidelines and Church controlled misogyny. Being part of a group of like minded people, coming to bear witness to these brave women, before the survivors even arrived, I could feel the emotions of the 25th May begin to surge again. Because, of course, the line between the Eighth Amendment and the Magdalene Laundries is so incredibly short.
Amongst the crowd, were many faces I recognised as Repeal campaigners, faces also that I had seen in Dublin Castle the day after the vote, celebrating Yes. I hesitated to write ‘celebrating.’ It’s unseemly to celebrate Repeal, apparently, as if that isn’t a blatant and wilful misunderstanding of what the campaign was all about. It was distilled as ‘ the abortion referendum’, but it was never really just about abortion. It was about valuing women, trusting women, and acknowledging how awfully they had been let down by their country in the past. Any celebrating was tempered by relief, anger and sadness for those for whom the result came too late. Those same feelings were in evidence again at the Mansion House last Tuesday; joy at seeing these women finally receiving a welcome home from the country which had let them down so badly, anger that it had taken so long, that it ever happened in the first place, relief that at last, at last the veil seems to be lifting. Bit by bit, Ireland is telling the world, and its own leaders, who it wants to be. The conversations have started, the apologies are long overdue. There’s no going back.
And it was there at the Mansion House, welcoming these women home, that the emotions of the last few weeks finally emerged. It felt like a release, for me. It feels like the beginning of an atonement. It feels new. I hope the women we were there to support felt it too; that we were all there for them, supporting them, apologising to them.
I hope I can remember the emotions of these last few weeks, in Ireland, even if I can’t really make sense of them.