‘How on earth did that happen?’
‘How do you think, Mam?’
‘No, I mean, how on God’s earth did your girlfriend get pregnant in this day and age?’
I was red-faced and in shock. I was in every mother’s nightmare: teenage son about to enter final year in school with important exams and all of a sudden his equally teenage girlfriend is pregnant. My brain went blank and then exploded like fireworks. Denis cowered in front of me but I wasn’t angry. I was just terribly upset. Why? Why now? How on earth? How on earth had this happened in Ireland in 2013? How had this happened to my beautiful baby?
Later I spoke with Trish. ‘Are you sure?’ she said. ‘Sometimes kids get it wrong. They miss a period and panic.’
‘I don’t know for sure,’ I said. ‘Denis says she hasn’t even told her mother yet. He was just upset and wanted to talk. It’s not something he could share with his friends over a pint.’
‘He’s only just old enough to drink a legal pint,’ pointed out Trish and then said the obvious: ‘He’s still a baby himself.’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘Denis did talk about it. Deirdre is on the pill and has been for the past year. He even contributes to the cost which impressed me, it’s not cheap. She reckons she had a tummy bug and that was why it wasn’t working. She is only a week late but she said that never happens.’
‘Why didn’t they think of the morning after pill?’ said Trish.
‘They didn’t know there was a problem until she missed her period,’ I said. ‘I know, it’s just one big nightmare. I don’t know what to do.’
‘Don’t the pregnancy tests show from within a week of conception nowadays?’ said Trish.
‘Do they? I thought you had to wait two weeks. Feck, that’s what I told Denis. That’s how it used to be.’
‘That’s how it used to be sixteen years ago Aoife for God’s sake. You can tell after a week without going to the doctor now.’
‘I’m not sure I want to know for definite,’ I said. ‘I know that sounds stupid, but I don’t want to have to make any decisions.’
‘It’s not for you to make decisions,’ said Trish quietly. ‘It’s for that poor girl. How would her folks take it?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said honestly. ‘I don’t spend much time with them, the ole single conundrum thingy strikes again.’ Trish nodded her head. She knew only too well from my experience that being a single woman curtailed much of my old or even new possible social interactions. The fact that my ex-husband had left me, found a new woman, and then done a complete runner, skipping the country and any financial or parental obligations to the two boys was somehow viewed in certain circles as my fault: I must have driven him away. Until recently I’d had a plus-one but now I was in a limbo land of singledom again. Chris and I had parted while we took stock of our new relationship, ironically one that had also entailed babies, or rather Chris’ desire to have them and my refusal to go there again.
Babies were rearing their ugly heads all over the place and I wasn’t a happy camper.
I spoke with Denis afterwards. I explained that I was still living in the dark ages and that apparently the pregnancy tests could tell them now if Deirdre was pregnant or not.
‘Mam,’ he said. ‘Could you get one?’
I looked at him and numbly nodded, feeling as if even by buying the test I would be contributing to the likelihood of creating a conception; of making it real. Denis explained that during the school week it was hard for Deirdre to go into town and there was no way she was buying a test in the local chemist. The owner knew her parents. She would be killed.
‘Have you talked about what you might do if,’ and here I swallowed. ‘If she is pregnant?’ I said. Images tumbled out of the sky at me of my baby boy pushing a pram or rocking a child to sleep and I felt physically ill. It wasn’t that I was anti the idea of a baby, just not yet. Not my tousle-haired child.
‘No,’ he said miserably. ‘I don’t know how I feel to be honest.’ I started to cry. All my dreams for my child... and now this huge worry reared up its head. ‘I do love her, Mam, I know that, but a baby?’ The words hung in the air. For all that I worried about my son, for all that I had tried to lecture him on being safe, on taking precautions, this had still happened and had happened in way that was unpreventable. It wasn’t stupidity, it wasn’t a one night stand, my son and his girlfriend were in a committed if young relationship and if it held true, then they were unlucky, bloody unlucky.
‘Would she consider a=’ and here I struggled for a word that might be kinder than the act. In the end I settled for ‘termination’ but it wasn’t much better than abortion. I wasn’t sure how I felt myself. If she did want one then somehow we would have to travel to England, but what if she wanted it but her parents refused? How could I intervene in this other child’s life, even if it meant protecting her wishes? Oh my God, we had just witnessed the most painful debate in Ireland on bringing abortion into law, but only where the mother was at risk of death following the terrible and unnecessary death of a young Indian woman in Galway. The resulting outrage had forced the government to being into law limited abortion which included the threat of suicide based on a High Court case from thirty years ago. During the debate I’d had fixed liberal ideas. I was fully pro-choice and pro- women. I was disgusted that as a country we continued to say that abortion was a sensitive issue for us, whereas in fact it was a sensitive issue for every person, every community and every country. And while we argued about whether we would allow women to avail of abortions in Ireland, some five thousand still travelled every year to the UK where it was legal. We were effectively exporting our problems without any due regard to the trauma those women faced, having to make that decision and then having to travel at emotional and financial expense to another country.
The law, being a clumsy instrument in the working of human beings, was magnified by the innate complexity of our desires and wishes. But an inflexible law only made things worse. As I held my son who was now also crying, I grieved as much for the passing of his youth as for the unholy quandary we might find ourselves in should the egg prove to have been fertilised. For that was how I viewed it now, but I doubted I would be joined by Deirdre’s parents in this perspective. It was I, after all, who had been deputised to buy the pregnancy kit, not her mother.