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'One of the most horrible experiences of my life': An Irish woman on travelling for an abortion

One reader tells us her story about having to travel to the UK for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a debilitating illness.


THIS IS BY far is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Three days ago I had to terminate my much longed for and loved pregnancy. Seven days ago we found out that the baby was sick, and it wasn’t fixable.

One week earlier my world started to fall apart, and things became like a dream. A routine scan in Holles Street to confirm my dates was going perfectly until the midwife said, “hang on a second”.  She had noticed something.

She immediately ran upstairs to the high-risk unit and managed to get me an appointment. As I sat waiting for her to come back, she had given me leaflets to read. I looked at them all but couldn’t tell you one word that was on them. I have been working in medicine for the last 14 years. I knew what she had found, I knew what it meant, and I knew what the outcome was.

She came back in panting from running from the unit, an effort I didn’t appreciate at the time due to my dream-like state. She had an appointment for me in an hour’s time.

I left her office spinning. I walked around the city and ended up in a park. It was raining. People were going to work, and I sat alone beside a tree and cried and cried. After about 45 minutes of sitting at this tree, I got in touch with my partner and explained what was happening. He was in shock.

I headed to the appointment, and I waited in a waiting room with all the other pregnant women. The midwife came up to reassure me they knew I was there, and it wouldn’t be too much longer.

When I went to see the specialist, he saw exactly what the midwife saw. Not a surprise to me, my untrained eye could see it.

They explained my options. It was a bad sign but not necessarily the end of the line. These things can disappear.

But I knew for me it wouldn’t. My heart knew. I just needed the confirmation that would come from a blood test. So off to another waiting room I went. With the bloods done, I rang my partner and headed home.

In three and half hours my brief stint in Holles Street was over. I was never going back.

I couldn’t fix it

We tried to be positive as we waited for the results, but again no amount of hope quenched my gut instinct.

Six days later I got a phone call, and it confirmed what I had been waiting for. The baby was abnormal. She had always been and will always be. I couldn’t fix it.

We had made a decision the day of the scan that if the baby was sick and was going to have a life of hospital visits and no independence, we would terminate.

I rang my partner and talked about this and we still both agreed that this was the right choice.

‘The lady said nothing, only apologised’

I started the process. This would now involve taking a trip to another country as my apparent first world country could not help me. My country was happy to provide me with the worst news about the most precious thing but then say ‘you’re on your own now’.

The same cannot be said about a country in which I have never lived nor paid any tax. They welcomed me with kindness and dignity. They sent me to an appointment in Dublin the next morning for a very different scan to the ones I’d had up until then. The screen was pointed away from me.

The same day the week before in Holles Street, I had watched my baby kick about and move around like my wiggly little worm. She looked so comfortable, and I was so proud of myself for providing such a warm and happy place for this little life. I had wondered who she would look like, what parts of us she would get. Would she have the same interests as us? Where we would take her? What we would teach her?

Now the screen was pointed away, and I was looking at the ceiling. The lady said nothing, only apologised and told me she would be as quick as possible.

I started to cry. The whole situation hit me hard. To go from staring in wonder at my growing baby to not being able to see her was horrific.

After the scan, I broke down. This poor woman did what any good Irish person in a crisis would do and got me a cuppa. We chatted about the future; that this was tragic, but we could try again.

‘There’s no baby anymore’

I now needed to ring the UK again to make my appointment. I was going to wait until I got home but I couldn’t. As I waited for my train, I made the call.

They like to get the Irish girls in early so they have recovered enough to fly back the same night. I was booked in for 9.15am the following Saturday. Two more days of having the baby in my belly.

I didn’t know what to do. I thought about bringing the baby to see my favourite places one last time, but that seemed too upsetting. The thoughts of saying goodbye and doing something for the last time was too much. So I stayed at home and hid. Hid from reality, hid from what I had to do.

I kept the lines of communication open with the family and friends we had already told. I had to tell all of them what was happening.  I used it as a way of telling myself that this was real. This was my life.  This was happening. I couldn’t escape it.

Every day was a different letter about appointments, about fees. I had to cancel my scans. This took the most strength. When I did they asked me why I was cancelling. What could I say? I just said, “there’s no baby anymore”. It wasn’t true but it was going to be.

At 4.30am on the Saturday my partner and I woke up to head to the airport.

We knew this was our only option and it was neither of our faults. We have a special bond which is rare and the strength and love I got from him got me through. We used comedy as a coping mechanism. Whatever we needed to survive.

‘Hell on earth’

Arriving at the airport on the other side, we had a taxi booked. It was free of charge – a service they provide for the Irish clients, most likely because they feel bad for us coming from an archaic society.

We weren’t alone in the taxi – two other Irish ladies were with us. The feeling in the taxi was one of acceptance, but there was the shame. It was there throughout the day. For whatever reason each of us were there, none of us deserved to feel shame at any point.

The day went by in a blur, from one waiting room to another. There were more scans where I wasn’t able to see my baby.

They talked to me about what was happening my baby. She was going to be sucked out of me over about 20 mins, just because she was unlucky. A spontaneous random moment in her creation signed her life away before she had chance at an independent life.

There was nothing we her parents who created her out of pure love could do. And we loved her so much. Out of this world love. Maybe that’s why this happened. The world wasn’t ready for her perfection.

They gave me lots of tablets to relax my cervix. I had to wait for two hours in a room that, despite the staff’s best efforts, was hell on earth. A conveyor belt of women being looked after the best they could be. But why we were there was always with us. An instant bond and understanding occurred. We were dealing with this the best we could, women from every background undergoing the same experience.

‘One of the most horrible experiences of my life’

When my time finally came, I was made wait outside the operating room in a hospital gown. I could hear them talking about me. Preparing to suck my baby out of me. I wondered where she would go and tried not to think about it. I told myself to be strong. Deal with the present and worry about the grief after.

After about 10 minutes of me listening to them, I was called in. I was introduced to the team. The doctor didn’t look up from his screen. I had no interest in being introduced to him and he could sense that off me. He never looked at me which I very much appreciated, although that sounds odd. I just wanted it over. I wanted to be back in the arms of my man, where I felt whole and safe, so our healing could begin.

They told me to get up on the table. I had my legs strapped in with my knees behind my head. It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. The nurse held my hand and I must have squeezed it harder than I’ve ever done anyone’s before.

The next thing I knew I was being woken up in recovery and it was over. My baby was gone.

In one way I was relieved it was over. I hoped my baby wasn’t in any pain anymore. I just wanted to start my life again.

My recovery took about 30 minutes. More painkillers were prescribed and antibiotics for any infection. A cup of tea and some custard creams and I was on my way. I headed upstairs to my man. I needed his touch and to see his face.

The staff in the clinic were so helpful but nothing or no one could have made that day less horrific for me. But they tried their best to make it as comfortable as they could.

‘You let me down’

I am someone’s daughter, sister, cousin, niece and friend. I am your family and your friend.

What I want to say to every person in Ireland is you let me down. Every single one of you turned your back on me the second my plane left the ground in Dublin.

You let every Irish woman down by allowing this to happen, for not talking about this, for not demanding that your sisters, daughters, nieces and friends be treated with dignity and respect in their own country during the worst time in their lives.

For the last few months all I have heard about is the 1916 celebrations and how proud everyone is of Ireland. How our fans at the Euros were such great representatives of our wonderful country. For me, I don’t feel that.

We have come a long way in the last few years, but for women not far enough. I would ask people to not think of termination as something any woman chooses easily. We need to provide our women with the choice to have these procedures at home, surrounded by support and without shame.

It’s not like it’s not happening. In one waiting room, four out of seven women were Irish. All were forced to leave Ireland.

I hope my experience opens minds and lets people know what’s going on. Many people, men and women alike, were shocked I had to go through this and presumed when they heard my news I would be looked after by my own health service. Not the case.

The shame is on you Ireland, for letting this happen day after day.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous.

This article was originally published on 7 August 2016 

Read: ‘My sister was failed in life and in death’: We need to restore the bereavement grant

Read: ‘One way of healing yourself is to own your story’: Growing up in an abusive home

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