C-Case mum: I grieve for my lost baby every day

Gemma O’Doherty talks to a woman who, almost 16 years on, seeks answers from the State about her abortion and the time she spent in care

Gemma O’Doherty with Mary (not her real name), the C-Case mother.

Gemma O'Doherty

On a dark December day in 1997, Mary (not her real name) boarded a plane to England with a social worker and her foster mother.

Her 13-year-old body was gripped with nausea as she switched on her CD player and tried to sleep. A song that would become an emblem for the rest of her life began to play.

This week, almost 16 years later, Mary recalled the moment vividly as she sat in a Dublin hotel murmuring the words of the song in a poignant whisper.

"'I'm leaving on a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again.' I'll never forget those lines. Part of me never did come back again after that. I didn't know that the next day my life was about to change forever."

Today, Mary is a 29-year-old mother of two, but 16 years ago she was the teenage Traveller at the centre of the controversial C Case who was taken to the UK for an abortion by health board staff after being brutally raped.

This was permitted by the High Court under the earlier X-Case ruling because the court heard that Mary was suicidal.

The abortion led to a spiral of depression and chaos in her life.

But today she has turned her life around. A bright, beautiful young woman with gleaming black hair and a smart dress sense, she lives in a perfectly kept house with her loving boyfriend and her two children.

Sipping a cappuccino as she speaks of the joy in her life now, she scrolls through pictures of her little boy and girl on her phone, her face beaming at each one.

Christmas, birthdays, family gatherings, but always in the back of her mind someone is missing.

Now Mary is seeking answers from the State. She has acquired a legal team and is waiting for her medical records to be released.

In the days after the rape, social workers arrived at Mary's caravan in north Dublin and took her away. She believed she would be home again in 24 hours.

She was taken to Mullingar and placed in foster care with another Traveller family. Slowly, the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. Before long, she realised nobody was coming to take her home.

Around this time, she developed severe hunger pangs and frequent vomiting. She had no idea what was wrong until one day her foster mother took her to the local GP where she was asked for a urine sample.

The next morning, she was told she was pregnant. She was bewildered. "I said: 'What's pregnant?'" she recalls. "They said 'you are having a baby'. I didn't understand how I could be. A few weeks later, they came and took me on a plane to London.

"The next day, I was taken to a building. All I remember next was being wheeled on a trolley and screaming with the pain.

"They gave me an injection, and when I woke up, the pain had gone. Eventually they told me the baby was dead."

In the days before her abortion, her parents had taken a legal action against the State in a bid to stop their daughter being taken to England. A psychiatrist for the Eastern Health Board insisted that Mary would kill herself if she did not have an abortion. The couple, however, failed in their action and the abortion went ahead.

Today, Mary has launched her own legal inquiries to find out why the abortion left her so badly damaged. She is also seeking answers as to why she was put into care after the abortion.

"I wasn't educated about these things. I was 13, the eldest girl of 12. I barely got to school at all because I had to be at home to mind the kids, and cook and clean.

"In the Travelling culture, suicide and abortion are completely frowned upon. In those days, they were never even spoken about.

"When I was taken into care, I was so shy. Most of the time, I was drugged up to the eyeballs in a room on my own.

"I remember they would come in with a silver tray and a syringe on it. The drug was Largactil. They would offer it to me in a brown sticky liquid or in tablet form. I would say no to both.

"Then four of five staff would come in, hold me down and give me an injection in the bum. That was horrific because it brought back memories of the rape. Eventually I ended up taking the tablets because I didn't want to be held down any more.

"I still have dreams about a little girl with blonde hair running around a field and asking me to play with her. She is my lost daughter. I called her Shannon. I eventually got a death certificate for her. That was my way of proving that she existed."

On her 18th birthday in 2002, Mary packed her bags in her final care home and demanded to be released. A taxi was called and that was the start of her long journey of recovery.

"My name – the C-case girl – is brought up on radio and TV all the time these days as if I'm an ad for abortion. The X-case girl never had an abortion in the end so we don't know how it would have affected her, but, for me, it has been harder to deal with than the rape.

"It only really hits you after you have children. You never forget your missing baby. It plays on your mind every day. Any woman who has an abortion and then goes on to become a mother will know all about it afterwards.

"I didn't want to become a mother at 13, but I realise now that baby didn't deserve to die. I would have loved to give her up for adoption to somebody who really wanted kids and couldn't have them. She'd be a teenager today and maybe we could be friends, even if she didn't call me mammy."