Zoei Bonny was two days old when she died on Wednesday, August 10, 1994. She was the last baby to be registered as dying in the care of Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork and, almost 27 years on, her mother mourns her still.
“I think about Zoei all the time, every day,” says Cindi Bonny, who lives now in Carrigaline, Co Cork. “The years go by, but you never, ever get over the pain or the loss. You just learn to live with it.”
She is the mother of four children, three of whom are alive, and one who she says will live forever in her heart. Her sons are 28 and 22. Her youngest daughter is 11, and Zoei would have been 27 this August.
Bessborough was a place of rules and regulations, and Cindi was marked out for harsh treatment because she had tattoos and a shaved head.
“From day one, they told me that my baby would have to be given up for adoption, that I wasn’t a suitable mother. They groomed me for adoption, but because I’m a fighter, they didn’t succeed.”
Cindi Bonny’s relationship with her boyfriend was difficult. “While I was pregnant, I was put in hospital. This was then used against me as further proof that I wouldn’t be a fit mother.”
During her pregnancy, she vowed to keep her baby, despite pressure she says came from nuns and doctors. The delivery was difficult, and Cindi was left with permanent injuries. She wasn’t given an anaesthetic, something she feels was a punishment for her being an unmarried mother.
She says she received further mistreatment when it became apparent that she would not give up her baby, finding herself locked out of the nursery despite her desire to breastfeed him. She remembers two staff, a night nurse, and an older nurse from Ballinlough, who were kind and would let her into the nursery.
Cindi left the home, taking her baby with her, and moved in with her boyfriend. She became pregnant again but, because the relationship was difficult, she didn’t tell her boyfriend, and returned to Bessborough. There she found she faced less pressure to put her baby up for adoption, but she felt she was treated worse because she was seen as a repeat offender.
When she felt Zoei coming, six weeks premature, she says, nobody believed her, and she was accused of attention-seeking. She was soon rushed to hospital.
“Zoei lived for two days”, Ms Bonny says. “They didn’t expect her to die. She was very healthy, and she was over three pounds. She only had a wet lung at the time. I remember one of the nurses coming to me at 2am to tell me she hadn’t made it. The nurse was just shocked. Devastated.”
Cindi says Bessborough left her for years ashamed to be an unmarried mother, but looking now at her children she feels proud. “Knowing deep in your soul that you did okay despite the prejudice you suffered for most of their childhood, that’s priceless.
“It’s sad to know that I lost a daughter,” she says. “I have an 11-year-old daughter now, and I think about Zoei every time my 11-year-old achieves something in her life. I celebrate Zoei in my life, and on her 21st birthday, my sons and I got tattoos in her honour.”
Cindi says her wish now is that other survivors of mother and baby homes know that they are no longer alone, and that Irish people know now the pain and suffering that was inflicted on them, and that Ireland will never forget them again.