I have always been a pro-choice woman. As a teenager I knew that if I had a crisis pregnancy I would need options. As a pregnant woman I wanted to choose what happened to my body and to my unborn child. As a mother who had a miscarriage I needed the choice to allow me to gain control of the uncontrollable and let me be a mother to the daughter I already had.
Irish law forbids me from doing any of these things to their fullest.
Last September my husband and I got the much-dreaded news that our one-year-old daughter was going to need surgery to fix a heart defect that she had had since birth. Surgery had always been a quiet option lurking in the background, but a routine check-up revealed that her heart was starting to show strain. Schedules were consulted and she was earmarked for a slot five short weeks later in Crumlin. As the lady on the VHI ad says, “whirlwind doesn’t go there”.
All conversations about whether or not we would try and give our daughter a little brother or sister were immediately put on hold; little did we know that the decision had already been made for us and I had fallen pregnant about two weeks earlier. The news came as a mixed blessing – of course this was a wonderful development, but my little girl was about to have an operation to mend her heart, we had enough going on for now. Reticence quickly turned to joy though, and we quietly celebrated this new development in our family and started to plan accordingly.
At a private scan around the seven-week mark, five days before the scheduled heart surgery, we were told that our second baby’s foetal heart rate was significantly lower than expected. Optimism was offered, but so was advice to prepare for the worst. A follow-up scan was scheduled for ten days later.
We spent the October Bank Holiday Weekend facing into a week where our big baby’s heart would be operated on in surgery, and our little baby’s heart was failing. As a parent I have never felt more powerless. As a mother I was conflicted and angry. My big baby’s prognosis was good; while no-one wants to see their toddler undergo invasive surgery, it was a highly successful procedure. This was something I could get behind, something we could hang our hopes on; in all likelihood she would be absolutely fine and I could hold her and hug her and help her through this. But following some very blunt conversations with maternity health professionals we knew that our little baby’s life was due to end in a matter of days, and there was damn all I could do about it. And here’s the truth of it – I wanted to put my big baby’s life first. I am her mother, she is here, she is alive and she is my priority. But my body, my heart and my brain were being torn apart by the conflict of where to focus my energies. But I had no choice in this conflict. All I could do was wait.
So what if the 8th Amendment did not exist, what if I had had a choice as to when the inevitable demise of my baby was to happen? Let me make that very clear: the foetal heart rate shown on our scan was indicative of total foetal demise; although it wasn’t a done deal this was highly unlikely to ever have a happy ending. Still, I can’t say with any certainty of hindsight what I would have done had I more options available. All I know is that I didn’t have any choice, at a time when every fibre of me as a woman and a mother felt helpless I was not given the choice to take back some tiny part of control in what was happening, and allow me to choose to be there for my one-year-old little girl who needed me. Instead I had to wait, wait until “things took care of themselves”, until my little baby’s heart pumped for the very last time.
Once the confirmation of miscarriage was made I finally did get a choice – how would I like to manage to dispose of the “products of conception”? I opted for medical management, which involves taking a drug called misoprostol. You might have heard it being lovingly referred to in the media, and by law, as the abortion drug. And that it is, it causes abortions, and women around Ireland are given it routinely every day as a method to manage their miscarriages. It is not a poison, but it is called such by the law because it is illegal for the purposes of ending a viable pregnancy.
It was only when I got home and took the first of my two required doses that I realised what these drugs were. They weren’t dirty, back-alley bought narcotics, these were medicines deemed vital by the WHO, drugs that were freely and easily provided to me by my maternity unit (but only once the foetal heart had stopped). I was angry and frustrated and disappointed to realise that the air of dirtiness and illegality that surrounds these medicines is so utterly and totally pointless and unnecessary. My government trusts me to take the drugs with little supervision as long as I’ve already suffered a loss, but not enough to trust me when it might be to give me the control of my body to provide for my living, breathing, little girl?
I am a mother trying to do my best for my family every day, please trust me to do what’s right for my body and my mind too. Please #repealthe8th.