Frances Black, the singer and independent senator, has spoken openly about the shame and stigma she felt after becoming pregnant as a teenager, and her parents said she could no longer use the front door of the family home.
After an emotionally charged journey back to the places that mean the most to her, Ms Black reminisces in the latest episode of RTÉ key to my lifehow pregnancy in her teens tore her family apart.
“I knew Daddy was devastated. It brought great shame to the family,” she says. “He couldn’t bear to even look at his beautiful daughter and think she was pregnant. He was really, really struggling with that. And I carried a lot of shame with me.”
She secured a job at a daycare center to save money for the baby’s birth, but was told she would no longer be welcome at the front door if the neighbors saw her. When she comes home at the end of each working day, she says: “I would have to go around the back so the neighbors wouldn’t see me.
“I remember feeling this strength, ‘I’m going to do this and it’s going to be okay no matter what.'”
Despite her difficulties, she considered herself one of the lucky cases in 1980s Ireland, having been allowed to keep her son Eoghan.
“I remember another young girl got pregnant around the same time and just disappeared. She was in one of the Magdalene laundries and when she came back there wasn’t a baby. I remember thinking, ‘I’m so blessed’.”
The pregnancy resulted in a hasty marriage that was over in five years. Black then became a single mother to two young children after the birth of her daughter Aoife. She faced homelessness but was saved when her friend offered her a spare bed in their Dublin home “for very little rent…it really saved my life”.
After returning to the property for the first time in 30 years, Black recalled that it was also where her addiction began to take hold after putting the kids to bed every night.
“It was loneliness, I suppose, and then it just escalated. Once I started drinking I couldn’t stop until I passed out to numb the loneliness to numb whatever was going on. The insecurities, the low self esteem, the “not being good enough”. All. The children were small then, but it must have been very difficult for them.”
Eventually, she stumbled across a newspaper article detailing the story of a woman with the same toxic drinking patterns. She realized she needed help.
“I will never forget going to the counselor and realizing the impact my drinking was having on the kids. I said, ‘I’ll never touch a drink again’. That was in 1988 and I haven’t had a drink since.”
As part of the RTÉ programme, Black also visited the home on Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, where she spent idyllic childhood summers that brought temporary relief from bullying at school and the poverty of life in inner-city Dublin.
The 62-year-old also visits the Victorian home on South Circular Road that her parents bought for just £13,000 in the late 1980s. It resulted in an inheritance that funded her education in addiction studies and put the singer on her way to Leinster House.
“I think that would have been the proudest moment ever for my parents. When I was elected to Seanad Éireann, I felt so close to the two of them. I get emotional now just thinking about it.
“Here I was, walking into Leinster House, and all the ushers were there and I was convinced they were going to say, ‘Excuse me, what are you doing here?’ I was like, ‘I’m from Charlemont Street, how did that happen?’”
Meeting Brian, her 27-year-old husband, was one of the major turning points in her life.
“From the moment we met, life just got better and better,” she says.
“The Keys to My Life” with Frances Black, RTÉ One, tonight at 8.30pm
https://www.independent.ie/news/id-have-to-go-around-the-back-so-the-neighbours-wouldnt-see-me-how-a-teen-pregnancy-tore-frances-blacks-family-apart-42032962.html “I’d have to go around the back so the neighbors wouldn’t see me” – How a teenage pregnancy tore Frances Black’s family apart