Charterhouse Chronicle, Catholic Herald, 8 March 1991
Our fantasies come in all shapes and sizes. A win on the pools, a face to launch an entire navy, fame so notorious the wires hum from ‘Frisco to Sydney.
I have toyed with dreams of fluke fortune, but for many years cherished a more modest fantasy. I open the door of a morning to take in the milk and find this baby in a basket on the doormat alongside the pinta. The scenario develops to find me haloed by TV lights, cuddling the tiny bundle.
Mysteriously, the authorities take no steps to remove the cuddly bundle, and of course all live happily ever after. Such is the stuff of fantasy: fabulous, extreme, absurd.
Desperate mums do not leave their babies on total strangers’ doorsteps. Concern prompts them to leave the little creatures outside hospitals, police-stations or churches. Desperate is not too strong a word; even the secure and happily married may find a pregnancy a matter of anguish.
Multiply the anxiety a thousandfold if the mother is young, single, homeless, unemployed or unable to face her family. The temptation to rid herself of what she may feel to be an unbearable burden can be overwhelming.
And it’s so easy to do away with the problem. Make no mistake about it. Nine out of ten will advise such a young woman to have an abortion. And if she so decides, she will have the support of the law, of the majority of the medical profession, and the approval of most of her peers.
On the face of it a simple decision. Brave is the woman who goes against the tide, chooses the narrow gate, and decides to carry her baby full term.
A friend in need
Desperate mums-to-be find their way, if they’re lucky, to one of the many Life pregnancy care centres dotted throughout the country. The one that I visited was reassuringly informal, like someone’s sitting room, with plants, pictures, toys and magazines.
The centre is open every morning and something like 350 women passed through it last year. I met three Life counselors – Paula, Irene and Eileen – friendly and approachable women as ready to mop up the inevitable tears as to sit patiently and listen.
The aim is to create an unhurried and sympathetic atmosphere in which women, suffering distress, panic and a turmoil of conflicting emotions, may reach without pressure their own decision about their pregnancy. The skilled counselling is available for every woman; it is nondenominational (like the Life organisation itself), and nondirective (no-one is told what they ought to do), free and, of course, confidential.
If a woman decides to have her baby, Life can help in many practical ways. Reconciliation with families is easier now that the stigma of being an unmarried mother has been virtually removed. (We are a more compassionate society in that sense but, paradoxically, this same compassionate society tolerates the abortion of an increasing number of babies every year).
Life counsellors will help with DSS claims, employment protection and continuing education.
One of the most immediate needs may be housing. Life counsellors (and members) will take young mothers-to-be into their own homes if necessary, or place them in one of the nationwide network of Life houses, which will often become “home” for months or even years.
Eileen took me to the Life house where she is a regular caller; it is home for the time being to four young women and three babies. Each has a room to herself and all join in to keep the house clean.
A cheerful clutter of pushchairs and toys greet the visitor and the house is kept extra-warm for the babies’ benefit. Not only the basic furniture, but cots, maternity and baby clothes are provided if needed.
These days very few girls offer their babies for adoption so planning for the future is essential.
We met another counsellor at the house, Christopher. He was sorting through DSS forms with one hand, and arranging for the fridge to be repaired with the other.
Eileen sped off to visit a girl unexpectedly admitted to hospital; the positive air of mutual support between the girls and counsellors is very striking. A far cry from the initial despair so often heard in a Life centre: “It’s not that I want to murder a baby, it’s just that I don’t want to be pregnant.”
Which brings me to another aspect – education. Despite some opposition, Life is succeeding in taking its message to youth and women’s groups, and into schools. Trained speakers give a talk, answer questions, show a video.
This is important work because the peddlars of the opposite, negative point of view have already secured access to many schools in this country. Of course our children should receive “sex education” but not in isolation. Parents must make it their business to find out what, and in what context, their children are taught.
I was interested to know how Catholic schools approach the whole question of sex education. With the ready consent of the head, I sat in on a lesson for 10 year-old boys and girls at a local primary school.
What did they tell you about sex when you were at school? We were given a very dead and smelly rabbit to dissect. By this means we 15 year-olds were supposed to deduce the mysteries of reproduction!
Not surprisingly some of us got a rather confused idea – was it this greenish gall-bladder that was the cause of all those sniggers in the cloakroom?
Years of miserable speculation could have been avoided if we had been given the straight forward account these 10 year-olds receive. I particularly liked the emphasis placed on respect not only for oneself and one’s feelings, but for others, girls and boys. The speaker, a jolly nurse, didn’t mince her words, made good use of humour, and kept the subject within the bounds of a ten year old’s experience.
It was an impressive introduction and I hope to follow it up with an older age group in a different school. Dissecting a dead rabbit is obviously a thing of the past.
You may well be thinking that the fourth week of Lent is a curious time to talk of such things, and that Virginia could have used her precious space on something at least above the belt, if not definitely lofty. But we are fashioned in mortal clay as well as immortal spirit and the behaviour and well-being of one of very much bound up with the other. Body and soul he made us. And that’s no fantasy.