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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Column: Ireland shows no love to babies dying in their mothers’ wombs

I cried all day at the thought that I would have to go to a clinic in London and endure people throwing holy water and condoms at me because my nation would not help me when I needed it most.

Anonymous

I READ RICKI and Niamh’s story yesterday in TheJournal.ie after browsing through the TFMR (Terminations for Medical Reasons) website, a site that has helped my sanity over these last few weeks and made me not feel so alone.

I am Irish and my beautiful baby girl arrived peacefully into the world on the 18 March in a hospital in Vienna. Why Vienna? Two weeks previously myself and my husband went for a scan at 13 weeks in Dublin. We had already passed the 12 week mark and had started to tell family and close friends the good news. I had started to get the spare room ready for our baby’s arrival.

As the gynaecologist studied the screen I knew there was something wrong but as her words came: “I have some concerns with baby, there is a large hygroma at the back of the head …” my world started to fall apart. I had declined getting a chromosomal test done previously, as my husband and I had agreed we would love and adore any baby that was given to us since we had had miscarriage and we wanted a baby so much. A larger scan confirmed our baby had a 10mm hygroma and fluid in all her organs as well as her belly. A PCR test confirmed a chromosomal defect which also informed us it was a girl.

Her heart was beating but the doctors informed us that she would not survive until birth. They couldn’t say for sure but she would most likely die sometime during the late 20 weeks of pregnancy. Our hearts broke.

Due to the laws in Ireland they could not help us

The hospital were very sympathetic and supportive and informed us of our options but unfortunately due to the laws in Ireland they could not help us. They said that Liverpool hospital was sympathetic to Irish women in this situation. We went home with our news and sobbed and talked for a week, deliberating our dilemma. Do we leave our little girl continue while her organs continue to fight under her physical condition? How do I walk around pregnant and heartbroken with my baby growing bigger just to die, and face people’s questions on my pregnancy? I was full of ‘whys’.

I did not in principle agree with termination but I had remembered discussing this situation with my mother during the previous abortion debate following the death of Savita Halappanavar, and we had agreed that women should have a choice in these situations where a baby is not going to survive. I never, ever would have thought that I would be one of these women faced with this decision.

Only the week before, we lay in bed smiling about baby names

People forget about the fathers in this scenario. I was crushed to see my husband breakdown periodically during these discussions, when only the week before we lay in bed smiling about baby names and he had some girls names. One of the biggest ‘whys’ that kept coming up was: why does Ireland not help couples and babies in this situation? Why do they insist we leave our baby girl suffer a slow death and wait until her organs can no longer maintain the fight that she is already undergoing and her little heart gives up? Why would they make a woman continue with a non-viable pregnancy? What type of a government in a Christian country denies their women and babies compassion? Are the men in government so afraid of the pro-life vote that they cannot and will not discuss this scenario? My family felt so angry with our country.

A week later we had made the decision that we would terminate the pregnancy. Our next blow came when we were informed that Liverpool could not support us, as they were already overburdened for the coming weeks. I cried all day at the thought that I would have to go to a clinic in London and endure people throwing holy water and condoms at me – like others in this situation have unfortunately had to do because their nation did not help them when they needed it most. I thought that I would just leave work and continue with the pregnancy until the baby died.

I felt no pride in being Irish

My husband, who is Austrian, was a wall of strength and wasn’t prepared to see me do either. His family made enquiries in Austria and eventually a friend of his put us in touch with a gynaecologist in Vienna. The standard process in Austria with termination is a review from the ethical committee is required. When we sent the diagnosis of our baby to the professor in Vienna he confirmed a possible termination due to the severity of symptoms, but he would need to confirm this himself by a scan the following Monday, 17 March – St Patrick’s Day.

We arrived in Vienna where pubs had shamrocks and other paraphernalia in celebration of Ireland’s national day. The world seems to love us but Ireland shows no love to babies dying in mothers’ wombs or mothers’ arms after birth. I felt no pride in being Irish, I was embarrassed to be Irish and I was ashamed of the men and women in government who support this cruelty. We waited for the doctor for three hours on the morning of the 17th in a room surrounded by other pregnant women. By the time I was called I was choked with tears, I couldn’t talk to the doctor. He was gentle and kind and spoke to me in English. He scanned our baby and took her measurements. Her dimensions showed her to be below the average growth expectations.

They couldn’t believe a European country would treat women like this

He looked at me and said, gently: ‘Your baby is going to die inside you’, I nodded while tears flowed. The process was agreed and we came back to the hospital to start at 8am the following morning. We were treated with such compassion and kindness, the staff could not have been more supportive. They thought Ireland was stupid and couldn’t believe a country in Europe would treat women like this. They told me it was absolutely the right decision. They apologised to me for being so angry with my country and for their comments, but I could not accept their apologies because everything that they said was true.

It’s been six days since the termination and we are waiting for our baby’s body to come from Vienna so that we can bury her with her Austrian great-grandparents. She should have been an Irish girl but she is now Austrian, and I’m happy for her to have a nationality from the country that helped her not to suffer and die a slow death in an Irish mother’s womb.

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

Read: Irish laws ‘forcing us to go to Manchester for a termination this weekend’

Read: Ireland’s abortion laws to be challenged at the UN for a second time

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