I was petrified

“Can I have the next speaker please?” … a first-time speaker at UNISON’s national women’s conference shares her experience

As a shy, ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’ kinda girl, I’ve kept relatively quiet since joining UNISON nearly two years ago.

Being selected as a delegate at the women’s conference gave me a voice and reading through the agenda I decided to use it.

Motion 32, Pro women – pro choice, was close to my heart. Conference called for support to the Back Off campaign, which would hopefully put a stop to groups such as Abort 67 protesting close to the clinic, ensuring the safety of women who use the services provided, and the staff who provide it.

Sitting in the ‘for’ seats hastily writing a short speech, trying to make sense of what I’d written and hoping I could get my message across clearly … I was petrified!

Feeling sick to the stomach, I heard the famous words from the chair: “Can I have the next speaker please?” Suddenly it was my turn. Eeek!

My shaky legs got me to the podium somehow and I made a start:

“Conference, Chair. Laura Bailey, District health and community. This is really scary!”

Thankfully this got a few laughs from the 800 strangers sitting patiently before me: “I have had to make the difficult decision to abort and not just once.

“My body was not strong enough to carry to full term. I live with this every day. It was hard enough knowing what was going to happen without being verbally abused going into the clinic.

“Having to battle through hoards of judgemental protestors, hearing their angry shouts of ‘Baby Killer’ and ‘Murderer’, will haunt me just as much as the heart-breaking procedure I was about to undergo.

“Even after taking my seat in the waiting room, I could still hear their chants as the doors opened and another panic-stricken woman came in … I knew what she was feeling!”

However … I didn’t actually say all this, I couldn’t get my words out. I managed to say just enough before I broke down.

I was led away in tears, almost unable to walk unaided to a seat outside of the hall, it must have taken a good 20 minutes for the violent shaking to subside … I didn’t even see the final vote!

But, oh my goodness! What a rush! To feel the waves of support from the room was immense; the women of UNISON really are a union!

I’d like to say that it wasn’t that bad … But it really was THAT scary.

Would I do it again?

You bet!