Tragedies won't end until we stop judging single mothers
Published 10/05/2016 | 02:30
Over 30 years after Ann Lovett gave birth and died along with her baby son on a cold January day in a graveyard in Longford, 29 years after the status of illegitimacy was removed in Ireland, and over 40 years after the 'unmarried mothers allowance' - now the 'one-parent family payment' - was introduced, we still have young women giving birth in secret and abandoning their tiny newborns.
Exactly a year ago, baby Maria was found on a roadside in west Dublin. Thankfully, she survived and has just celebrated her first birthday with her foster parents.
On Wednesday of last week, the body of a newborn baby girl was found in a recycling plant in Bray, Co Wicklow.
How can this still be happening?
In Ireland of the 21st century, an Ireland that voted to give full marriage equality to same-sex couples, are we still a country where some young women cannot face the prospect of raising a child alone?
Is Ireland such a hard place for single mothers? And, yes, I say mothers, because I think that a man who chooses to parent alone is lauded as being a great man altogether (rightly), whereas women who make that choice are not celebrated in the same way.
Oh no. Single women who didn't plan to become pregnant but did, and who opt to continue with the pregnancy, face a life that is full of stark choices as they try to provide for their child by working hard and alone attempting to shoulder the financial burden of rent or a mortgage and one of the most expensive childcare regimes in Europe.
It's time we in Ireland started to join the dots as regards our attitude to lone mothers.
Take the Magdalene women, for example. We had the tearful apology from Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2013 but that came on foot of a report that largely ignored the voices and the stories of the women themselves.
They have, in my view, still to get the proper recognition and recompense for the fate they suffered here in Ireland.
It's so very easy to lay all the blame on the religious congregations and the State, both of which are clearly culpable, but remember that it was society - us, the people - who were complicit in the incarceration and slave labour that these women endured because they had 'fallen pregnant'.
Many of these women now lie in unmarked graves, a situation that is slowly being rectified by the work of the voluntary Justice for Magdalenes Group. Their shame continues.
Another dot is the removal of the lone parent allowance from parents whose youngest child turns seven.
This was one of the cruellest cuts of the so-called austerity budgets and one which threw many families into real poverty. Most of these families are, of course, headed by a lone woman.
So, really, is it any wonder that a young woman who becomes pregnant cannot face the trauma and the real difficulty of trying against the odds to raise a child alone?
Without the means or possibly the knowledge of how to secure a termination in the UK, is it any wonder that some vulnerable young women take the appalling decision of possibly concealing their pregnancy and giving birth to a baby they abandon?
Over the last few months, we have seen some testimonies in the media from women - usually educated, middle-class women - who experienced stigma and judgement when they became lone parents.
It hasn't gone away you know. It's just there, right under the surface, and we all have to take responsibility to change it.
We not only have to repeal the Eighth Amendment, but we also must work to repeal our judgemental attitude towards young women who experience unplanned pregnancies.
All babies should be celebrated and their births should be a cause for joy.
But it is up to us, the people, to work to ensure that the lone mother is given every support - practical, financial and emotional - to parent her precious baby.
And to that woman whose baby was found in Bray - I hope you get the help you need.
I hope no one judges you for the decision you took. I understand it.
But, most of all, we need to hear your story, your voice.
Unlike poor Ann Lovett, maybe by hearing your story, you might help to finally smash the patriarchal, judgemental attitudes that have ruined so many lives.