Cork City Councillor speaks about her experiences in a mother and baby home

A WELL known local councillor is opening up about her experience in a mother and baby home to make others take a stand against proposals for the new National Maternity Hospital. SARAH HORGAN speaks to city councillor Marion O'Sullivan about her life in a Mother and Baby Home.
Cork City Councillor speaks about her experiences in a mother and baby home
Cllr Marion O'Sullivan at her home in Bishopstown, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

THE revelation that the Sisters of Charity will be given ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital has sparked outrage across the country. 

City councillor and Ballyphehane native Marion O'Sullivan, who attended St Patrick's Mother and Baby Home in Dublin back in the '70s, fought to be able to keep her baby after a taking a stand against those in authority.

Now she is encouraging others to do the same, albeit on a mass scale. She recalled her reaction after hearing about proposals for the new facility.

“I was filled with rage,” she said. “I kept asking myself 'how can they do this happen again?' The sisters say they can't have input into the running of this hospital. Nonetheless, after their failure to pay redress money we can't believe what we're being told.

“We are seeing this happening in America - a far more liberal country - so there's no telling what could happen if we don't make our voices heard. With this in mind, we can't be sure the hospital won't have to adhere to a Catholic ethos.”

She urged people to take inspiration from the women of yesteryear who refused to bow down to the church. Looking back at her time in the mother and baby home, Marion recalled how some women refused to stay under the control of the nuns.

“There were women just walking out with their babies. Unlike a few years earlier, the Gardaí weren't finding them to bring them back. The nuns were finally losing their power. Things were changing and women were supportive of each other. If one stood up to the nuns then others were more inclined to follow their lead. I reached a stage where I said, 'yes, I have rights and I'm not going to take this lying down'." 

So much progress has been made since the '70s but successive governments are holding us back, trying to stop the tide of progress.” 

Protesters outside the Department of Health against the decision to grant ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity. Photo:Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Protesters outside the Department of Health against the decision to grant ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity. Photo:Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Cork woman detailed her story from the very beginning.

“At 18 years of age, I was going around in overalls for seven months to try and hide the signs of pregnancy. When it became obvious I told my family my stomach had swelled as a result of a kidney infection. One of the older girls in the shop where I worked figured it out and told the owner. 

"I was asked to leave there and then. One of my most vivid memories is of another girl I worked with hugging me in the toilet. She told me not to mind them and that everything was going to be okay.” 

It wasn't long before Marion's parents became aware of the situation.

“I could hear my mother moving about at 5am the morning I left. Before dad drove me to Dublin I apologised to my mother for hurting her. She said the important thing now was that I get through this. Knowing that I'd hurt my father brought me a lot of sadness as up until then I had always been his little girl.

"My dad was a very compassionate man. If a drunk at the side of the street fell over he was the one to go over and pick him up. However, you didn't go against the beliefs of the Church.” 

Marion, still only a teenager, refused to let anyone break her spirit.

“There was talk of me giving up my baby. The social worker told me I was too young. At that stage, I had already dreamt about him and knew what he looked like. 

"There was no way I could part with him. When I told one of the nuns that I was keeping my baby she reminded me that this was meant to be a place for women in distress. ” 

Marion described the treatment she received during childbirth.

“17 years ago I attended the birth of my grand-daughter. I saw how the midwife talked her through what was happening and reassuringly wiped her brow. When I gave birth I received none of this kind of care. When groaning in pain I was told to keep my voice down. I can't remember any pain relief, except what I think was a paracetamol.

“I remember another girl who was in the home helping me drink a cup of tea just after Liam was born. She was a beautiful person and didn't care what the nuns thought. My hands were shaking but, little did we know, I was actually going into shock from the huge loss of blood. 

"The only thing I was given were incontinence sheets to absorb the blood. A few hours later another nurse was starting her shift who recognised the seriousness of the situation. She immediately called the doctor and I was given 11 internal stitches. If it wasn't for the actions of that nurse I'm not sure how things would have played out. I never looked for an apology or for my medical records. We felt we were worth nothing.” 

Marion said she felt for other women in seemingly hopeless situations.

“Some were nurses who had to come home from England after falling pregnant. There was no sex education back then, which meant they were easily manipulated. It was alright for a man to go and sew his wild oats but things were different for women. A few women in the home had intellectual disabilities. They were definitely not in a position to give consent yet no efforts were made to track down the fathers of their babies. I myself was able to leave the home to marry the father of my child.” 

She emphasised her gratitude to young people staging protests throughout the country.

“Young people are wonderful, but they aren't given half the credit. Even young teenagers aren't accepting this. 

"Paul Weller from the Style Council once said, 'you may think we're weak but together we are strong' and this couldn't be more apt at this moment in time. We need to push from the bottom up. The reason I'm telling my story is to encourage people to fight. The church played a horrific role in keeping women down.

"They were denied any rights and not treated as human beings. It was only later on that people became educated and aware of their rights.”

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