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A Young Irish Mom's Painful Decision

Sian Cullen and her daughter Aine. Cullen was a teenager in Dublin, Ireland when Aine was born. They now live in Seattle.
Courtesy Sian Cullen
Sian Cullen and her daughter Aine. Cullen was a teenager in Dublin, Ireland when Aine was born. They now live in Seattle.

I was 16 and going to school; I lived in Dublin and was infatuated with this older fellow who was a jack-the-lad kind of fella.

We met and had a relationship and it was brief. And I got pregnant.

After my parents absorbed the information, and I couldn’t get away with hiding myself in a school uniform, my parents had to tell the head nun. I remember her saying, “Pregnancy, it looks contagious. So maybe it would be a good idea if you didn't stay at this school because other girls might think it's OK to be pregnant." They put it delicately, but that was then telling me that I that I needed to go somewhere else.

And of course they knew a place where I could go to – the Good Shepherd Convent in Dunboyne, County Meath – it was about an hour away from where I lived. There were 28 other women and girls there. They were between 14 to 42 – all pregnant.

Even though we were all together and going through this experience, it was lonely – a lot of us suppressing these emotions around being pregnant, because we didn't want to get attached to the joy of being pregnant, because we didn't know if we were going to give our babies up.

There was that feeling of just, like, “I'm a vessel.” But all of us did share in feeling each other stomachs and feeling the kicks and where we were in our pregnancies, talking about stretch marks and how big we were. 

I kept thinking something was going to tell me if I was going to keep her or not. I just didn't know.

When I gave birth to Aine, I had pink hair. The nurses were slagging me, “We'll see how this baby turns out.”

But she had red hair. She had this bald sheen – you could just tell it was going to be red. And she had the most beautiful eyebrows.

Yeah, she was really perfect.

I remember being in the car; we had this Audi 80. I remember my mom and dad were in front. I remember my brother sitting beside me. I remember there was tension from everybody and sadness. But this was my next step to help me make the decision of whether to keep her.

I remember holding Aine. I remember what she was wearing. I had her in my lap, and I held her close. I mean, I ached. I remember thinking that this is what heartache feels like. And it just, you know, went through my whole body. I felt numb. And I knew that I loved her so much just in those few days.

Two weeks later, I went out to the pub with a friend. When I came home, I was a bit drunk. I think I said to my mom, “I’m going to keep her.” She said you should sleep on it and make a decision another day.

I met with my counselor in the next few days and then I decided I was definite.

We drove to the foster home. I went in and just got her. It was quick.

I had her, her baby bottles. I had a bag and a baby still in her snuggie – the same little outfit she was in when I left her. I just remember having her in my arms and just like, “OK, I have her. She's mine.”

Sian Cullen and her family moved to the U.S. two months after getting Aine back. Sian is a hairstylist in Seattle; Aine is married and lives in Ballard. This interview, aired originally on Mother's Day 2014, has been edited and condensed.  

The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at throughout December. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines. To submit a story - or note one that deserves more notice - contact Isolde Raftery at or 206-616-2035.

Originally published 12/4/2014.