A HANDFUL OF much-publicised maternal deaths and the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, particularly remarks made in the Seanad by Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh, have sparked fresh conversations about maternity care in Ireland.
Since details of Savita Halappanavar’s last days at University Hospital Galway emerged last year, Ireland’s high placements on various rankings of maternal care and mortality rates have been widely disseminated by medical practitioners, politicians and lobby groups.
As a counter to that argument, a number of women have started to share their personal (and not wholly positive) stories of pregnancy, miscarriage and labour.
“We keep being told that we have this wonderful system of care and low rates of infant mortality,” one mother, Jane Travers, tells TheJournal.ie. “But, hang on, where are these facts coming from?” she questions.
Travers, a mum-of-one from Kildare, is behind new Twitter account (@maternityire) which encourages other women to be open about their experiences of Ireland’s maternity hospitals.
“It all came about after Carol Hunt wrote a powerful piece about her miscarriage in the Irish Independent. It seems to have really struck a chord,” she explains. “When I read that, I thought – that happened to me.
“Suddenly I got angry. It wasn’t isolated. I wasn’t unlucky. It wasn’t my fault. This is happening to lots of women over and over again.”
The right to choose
Jane suffered two miscarriages in the space of six months in 2008. Following her experiences, she believes there is a lack of care and compassion for women who lose their babies.
She shared the story of her second trauma with TheJournal.ie.
“There were a number of horrible little stories within that miscarriage because it was drawn out with weeks of scans.
“The worst came when I refused the D&C [a procedure to remove the pregnancy from the uterus]. I had a number of reasons for refusing this, including the fact that I react very badly to general anaesthetic.
The pregnancy had broken down at 10 weeks and I felt I wanted to bring it into the world by myself and say goodbye. I got no support for that decision and was sent home with abortifacients, with direction to come back in a few days. I didn’t know what a miscarriage looked like. I passed blood and guts and thought that was it.
“When I went back the doctor told me my uterus was empty but there was something stuck in my cervix. She said she would have to remove it. The midwife held my hand but it was pain like I never experienced. There was no warning – just pain. They removed the pregnancy.
“The next thing that happened…it was the most shocking thing. She put the pregnancy in a kidney-shaped bowl with a massive forceps and she brought it around to the top of my bed. ‘That was decaying inside you’, she said, pointing out to me that I was being a ‘silly girl’. ‘Don’t you wish you had come in for the D&C now,’ she added. I was grieving. I was in a lot of pain and shock.
“The midwife had a look of horror on her face. The midwives are all wonderful, giving you smiles and winks but you could tell they have no power as the doctor waved the remains of the baby in my face.
“It has given me nightmares. I was on my own. My husband had to return to the UK for work. It was absolutely horrific.
“She made me feel that it was entirely my fault. And I never told anyone.”
The personal account, shared across Twitter last night, was met with sympathy and a number of similar tales.
“It is very liberating,” continues Jane. “This is the first step – letting women, like me, know that they aren’t on their own. Then we need to show medical practitioners that dignity and compassion is needed.”
According to the women who have discussed the issue, there is also a problem with language in maternity hospitals as the emphasis is often on what doctors “allow” or “let” pregnant women do.
“It should not be about being let or allowed,” says Jane. “These are our bodies. It is about time we stood up and said what we want to do.”
There is also a hangover of bygone times, according to some.
“A lot of the stories I am hearing, I think, ‘When was this?’ But they are coming out of the last few years. It seems very backwards.”
“It feels that the sole aim is to produce a living baby at all costs. In the case of miscarriage, there is no room for compassion and dignity. We are the vessels for the children…it is all part of a greater mindset, a nauseating attitude to procreate at the right time and in the right circumstances – and then keep doing it.”
Many of the women who have spoken out so far have discussed how they were told to ‘go home and try again’ after a miscarriage.
But Jane was “already 35″ so the advice was different. However, she did ask for probing tests to see if she could be successful in having that much-wanted second child.
“I was given the impression to go home and wait for my third miscarriage because explorations are only done when there are three miscarriages in-a-row. I had to ask myself could I bear to get pregnant and go through that again? Ultimately the answer was no. I have one child who is 11 years old now and I feel incredibly lucky to have her.”
TheJournal.ie has collected a selection of the experiences that have been shared through the MaternityIre hashtag and account. More can be seen here.
Three miscarriages. Two very close to 12 weeks. Sent home bleeding after being told ‘no heartbeat’ but couldn’t be 100 per cent…so was told to take paracetamol and come back after weekend. Miscarried in the bathroom with no clue what to do then.
I have a beautiful one-year old baby boy now and time has also eased the pain but felt attitude in hosp was ‘go home…Go home and then try again if you want.’ Like getting pregnant again was the answer to the pain of miscarrying.
We lost ours at 37 weeks due to medical negligence and systems failures in December 2007. Our consultant was ill, so workload passed amongst three others. Wife developed high blood pressure. Long story short, doctor recognised this, but gave wrong treatment.
Under civil liability act 61 ‘for the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that the law relating to wrongs shall apply to an unborn child for his protection in like manner as if the child were born, PROVIDED that the child is subsequently born alive’. Justice Kearns in 2004 said ‘the only interpretation, taking the words in their ordinary and natural meaning, is, that no such wrongful action is deemed in law to take place where the child is not born alive’. Stunned us!!!!!
All of my negative experiences related to lack of resources and understaffing.
I was rushed into induction on the first by doctors with limited time and ignored on second because there was no doctor.
On my second I was left to labour alone, partner wasn’t allowed in until doctor had assessed me but there was no doctor. I was told not to be bothering the nurses when I told them the labour was progressing quickly.
Interrogated by midwife who told me I was taking up a bed. Made to feel like I shouldn’t have been wasting time.
Almost gave birth on the ward in front of a stranger because there was no midwife available in the labour ward.
Also no labour ward meant no pain relief-5 ft me birthing 9lb 10 baby
I was afforded a total of three words during one scan, ‘there’s nothing there’
The fact is every Irish woman knows a woman who has had a horrific experience – men are mostly oblivious.
In another experience, doctor couldn’t find heartbeat so did internal ultrasound. After a moment, he said “Ah, yes, yes, yes.” I was thinking: “Yes, yes yes! He’s found a heartbeat!” when he finally said, “Yes, you can see there where the pregnancy…is breaking down. Yes, it’s gone.” He had NO THOUGHT for the effect of his words on me.
I’m just really shocked. I had a bad experience on my second pregnancy and birth…. but didn’t think the insensitivity and coldness would carry on over to women having a miscarriage :(
I had to go for tests and wasn’t allowed see my baby after them, my husband had to care for baby in the hall.
Woke up covered in blood, rushed to hospital, had c-section, bad PND for nearly a year after, no mental aftercare offered.
We NEED more scans for public patients. Anomaly scans need to be standard too. I found out at 28 weeks that I was having twins.
During miscarriage complications, admitted to ward with one woman in labour, five others having regular in-room heartbeat checks.
Hospital chaplain told by staff of my loss of first pregnancy. Came uninvited to my bedside and told me it was god’s plan.
After six years, two easy pregnancies and births, and at 8 months pregnant, it still shocks me how my loss was made even worse.
I should add that my prenatal and labour care during my son’s birth was, actually, very good. I quite enjoyed labour!
I was treated so badly during a miscarriage, that I actually changed hospitals and got great treatment and compassion in second.
My mother had two stillbirths. Both babies were taken away, without her even seeing them.
In 1993, seven months pregnant my baby died – I was sent away for two weeks until natural labour occurred – no care.
The Twitter account now has more than 120 followers after being set up less than 24 hours ago. It can be followed here.
First published 1.13pm