Sex in a Cold Climate by Christina Mulchauy
When I was twenty years old, I had a baby boy in a Mother and Baby home run by nuns. And he was so beautiful. I kept saying, isn't he beautiful? I was hoping to marry his father; he had come to see me when the baby was first born, and I thought -- I thought everything would be all right. But then, he was gone, and he wasn't answering my letters. Them nuns weren't sending my letters out at all. And I never got any letters from him. I would have married him. I loved him.
The nuns arranged for illegitimate babies to be placed in orphanages. They gave you no choice. But I had loved and cared and nurtured him for almost ten months when the nun came to me and said, "when you're finished in the nursery, come to my office. You're going home today." And I said, "can I go back and say goodbye to the baby?" "What does he know about anything? You're not going back, there's a car waiting." And I said, "But no time to say goodbye. No time to say goodbye." (nun's voice) " You're a disgrace, and you'll have your punishment."
My punishment was to be sent to one of Ireland's ten Magdalene Asylums, and I'll never forget that day so long as I live. Big, big gates opened, and all you could see were these bars on the windows and big high walls. Two or three nuns came out to meet me, and I was taken through this long dark corridor. My clothes were confiscated, and they gave me this drab uniform, you know, completely shapeless to make you look as ugly as possibly could. They called us penitents, and our penance was to work in the Magdalene Laundry for no pay. And we worked all of the time. We worked six days a week, fifty-two weeks in a year, from early in the morning till late at night. And the working was hard, because we had to bend over big sinks, you know, washing and scrubbing.
But you see, them nuns were like gods to you. You didn't dare question them. What they done was right, and you followed their instructions to the letter. They used to line us up every Saturday night. They'd have us strip naked for them, and they'd be laughing at us, and criticizing us. And if you were heavy, fat or whatever... they'd be shouting abuse to us a lot. We had to privacy with them at all, no privacy. We were enraged, but there was nothing we could do. There was just work, and praying,
or silence and atoning for the sins. How wicked you were. I reckon they told us very often that Mary Magdalene had been forgiven, so we should... we would be forgiven in time.
I was absolutely desperate to find out where my baby had gone, absolutely desperate. And when I did find out that he had been adopted... all you could do was cry. There was nothing you could do but cry. I stopped working. I went and I sat on the stairs, and that's when a sister came up to me and I said to her, "You promised me I could go see my child. You promised me. I go to work and you promise me I can go see my child. That's all I'm asking. I am not daft or crazy or criminal." And she was coming closer to me and I said, "If you raise your hand to hit me, I swear I'll kill you! I mean what I'm saying!" And I felt this surge that I would kill her.
That's when they took me to the reverend mother. She shaved my head and gave a severe beating. And then she made me look into the mirror. Absolutely devastating. Your forehead all swelled up. Under my chin all bleeding from where she stuck the scissors wide open. And there's blood running in your eyes and she's making you open them eyes. (nun) "You're not so pretty now, are you?" And all this was because I wanted to see my child. That was all. I said to myself, I have to get out of here, I don't care how. I will not stay in this place forevermore. But the walls were so high, you'd be cut to ribbons. There was like barbed wire and iron spikes sticking out of the walls. It had to be planned. You couldn't just spurt out "I'm going," and go.
But there was one way the girls would escape, and that was when the old lady was bringing in the cattle. And that's what I did. I snuck out one side, she on the other, and I slid onto the street and started running toward my friend's house and as soon as I got there, the bells started ringing. I said, "let me in, let me in, the police will be here any minute." And she's asking, "what is it? Were you in prison?" I said, "no no, I was in the mad house up the road. I had a baby and my parents they sent me there." All I could think about was my child. But I couldn't stay around because I knew that if they caught up with me, I'd go back. I had spent three years in the Magdalene asylum before I escaped. I wasn't going back.
The nuns had taught us that it was a sin to be thinking about your body, it wasn't right. And it had an effect, a terrible effect. I made my way to Northern Ireland and met my husband when I was 25. He was a very nice man, very patient, very patient for a long time. But I felt ashamed whenever he touched me, I felt it was wrong. The nuns had taught us that it was wrong to let a man touch you. They didn't prepare us for the outside world, and that was wrong of them. But I wanted to have children, and I did, beautiful children.
But I was always haunted by my first baby boy. I wondered how he'd grown. What he looked like. Was he well taken care of? The nuns, they worked to break the bond between mother and child, but it stayed with me. It stayed my secret... until now.