What is bodily autonomy?
What does it feel like when it’s taken away?
This is a women-led collection of stories, poems, memoirs, essays and more exploring what it means to have bodily autonomy.
Read it if you don’t understand why no-one should ever be forced to stay pregnant against their will. Read it if you do understand, and would like to be part of the change.
I’ve been attending pro-choice street stalls for years now. It’s changed so much: I’m hardly ever verbally abused any more, people want to know how they can help. But there are still too many people not thinking: not thinking about the real live women whose oppressed bodies surround the foetuses that seem to float independently on their banners.
As a writer and an editor, I wanted to do something creative to help. Stories can change minds where admonishments and even facts fail, and I thought about a book of stories. Women-led. Anything you want to say about what autonomy means to you. It’s a complex concept, and a collection of unique human experiences might make it easier to grasp.
New Binary Press agreed to publish the book, and when I put the call for submissions out I was overwhelmed by the response. Not just stories about abortion, though there are many – stories about all of the ways our bodily integrity can be attacked, and how we can rise up nonetheless and speak out for ourselves and others. Contributors wrote about sexuality, ability, belonging, violence, mortality, compassion, support, celebration. People sent stories, memoirs, poems, scripts, blog posts, articles, reflections. It was – is – so moving to be trusted with their words, and to be working with them to help Repeal happen.
I’m proofreading the book right now (writing this article as a break!) and hope to send it to the publisher this evening. Contributors around the country and further afield are working together to organise launch events with readings and discussions through April and May. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to support those working to ensure that all women have access to the full range of reproductive healthcare, including safe legal abortion. And together, we will repeal the Eighth Amendment. Kathy D’Arcy
A selection of the work:
Women This State Hates Us.
In case you had managed to misremember
how much our country hates us
along comes another woman needing shelter;
because someone transgressed against her
she needs help from us,
just for the moment
until all this is behind her,
and do we make her welcome?
Does she get the help she needs?
Ah you know the answer, does she hell-
this country hates the likes of her
this country rapes the likes of her,
we will leave her with her bodily integrity in tatters
while psychiatrists fight it out about her psyche
and no-one will ask her opinion
on what’s to be done
she is not considered sentient
and our state penetrates her
over and over and over –
she will be incorporated as evidence
in a poisonous debate that skims over how
very many ways the state we’ve built
is willing to degrade us, she’ll get a code name
and become a touchstone, something not someone
that we can talk about in concerned tones
on Marion Finucane and we’ll shake our heads
and say it’s clear now that our state hates us
as if we hadn’t always known it
as if we haven’t always felt it
as if it hasn’t been the subtext of our paths
through life to womanhood
and men friends it’s clear now too,
that if you’re so inclined you can rape us
and in all but a few cases you’ll serve no sentence
not only that but if we stay on this little island
you could make us pregnant
without our consent and just wait
for our institutions to force motherhood upon us
and they’ll do it- they’ve proved it
even if they have to perforate our mouths with tubes
and force feed us, even if they have to sedate us
then slice our wombs open with surgical knives,
they can and obviously will do it,
in this state of ours medical professionals
daub make up on our dead faces
to make us presentable
so that our state can pretend we’re alive
and make us have babies-
see ? Even death doesn’t end it
and deep down we always knew this:
we knew Savita Halappanavar
we knew the Kerry Babies
we knew of lonely deaths on wet days in Granard
and the A,B, C, and X cases
and the fortunate amongst us,
the ones with resources know what ferry terminals
look like at night time and how much it costs
to raise a child in all sorts of currencies,
we know if we are or aren’t up for it
there should be no shame in that but here, well,
we must keep it secret because of how much
our state hates us, when we have sex with men
we take the risk of ending up in hospital
in a country where if you’re a pregnant woman
‘state care’ is an oxymoron,
it’s a shame to say that as long as we have the capacity
to bear children, Ireland is not safe for us;
women, rise up, this country hates us
it’s long past time we changed it-
this time let’s not rest until we’ve changed it.
all it takes is a look.
go back in on yourself
a Matryoshka for every event,
size independent of proportion;
a good way to measure self-esteem, nonetheless.
Every woman has this list.
Some things seem trivial:
your dad’s business partner
insisting on being kissed goodnight
eight years old, in your nightie,
wishing mom and dad
would let you off the hook
some things are bigger:
the first time your boyfriend
his burning penis in your hand;
when he waits until you are
to teach you the ways of men
pats you on the head, afterwards,
calls you a “good girl”
each moment on its own:
it’s the mise-en-scène
of a whole lifetime,
where events cup each other
like chips in a tube
strip layers down
to find that
the kernel is
a grain of rice,
that one’s whole life
being a vessel
for a tinier, neater version
that one’s whole life
can be measured
by the hands
All creatures good, small and Irish
Bury my bones in England.
That’s where they’ll send me
when I’m no longer good and Irish,
a history of all our violence
red and kicking in my swollen belly.
Watch my sisters flock
and point at those painful bright lights
crossing the short sea
like counting birds against the sun.
What’s a life worth
if it doesn’t do what it’s told?
All our fathers’ faces growing longer
with more daughters and no sons,
the worry of raising a woman
colouring their necks like love-bites
red and swollen, one hand on a kicking belly.
We are born young and blue like afternoon light,
playing to crowds,
the earth-keeping, earth-shaking mothers
of an island;
a nation built on dead children
but none of them ours.
Raise us well,
teach us needlework,
guide our hands through soapy water,
feed us doctrine,
and when we stray
lock us up windowless with the rest of the dogs
wheezing away all summer long,
skin blistered with our new names.
Bury us good and straight and right,
grieve us devoutly,
and from the depths of a mass grave
I’ll mourn the life I thought I’d live,
wish that my bones were in England
for the land I’m in is no
longer good and Irish.
Countless feet treading so softly
on my sisters and I
shouting out a history of all your violence.
Autonomy is published by New Binary Press: pre-order copies and find information about launch dates near you at newbinarypress.com