There are many different reasons women terminate their pregnancies, or continue with them in challenging circumstances. In advance of the referendum on whether to retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment on May 25th, The Irish Times has asked readers (women and men) to share their personal experiences. This is one of the stories we received.
The picture above is me with my now 18-month-old son Conor, the boy doctors told me would not live.
In April 2016, at just under 12 weeks pregnant during a routine scan in Abu Dhabi where we were living at the time, my doctor bluntly told me my baby more than likely had a chromosomal abnormality. I left the hospital absolutely devastated, as I tried to come to terms with what I had been just been told.
I already had two healthy children, I was only 29. The news floored me. This couldn’t possibly be true.
Discussing our options with our doctor, we were offered a Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) test, which diagnoses chromosomal abnormalities. This was not without its risks however, and a 1 per cent miscarriage rate was cited. During the procedure a needle is inserted into the placenta and a sample is taken. Lying on the bed watching my little boy on the scan machine was horrific.
Initial results came quickly and we were told our baby was ok and there was no sign of T13 (Pataus Syndrome), T18 (Edwards Syndrome) or T21 (Down Syndrome). We were so relieved. The lab was to finish the results but they didn’t expect anything else.
A week to ten days later, while my husband James was in Ireland, I was visiting friends who had just had a baby and the phone rang. It was the hospital asking me to come urgently.
During the visit I was told that my baby had Trisomy 2, a condition so rare that the doctors had no idea what that meant for him. They just knew it was bad, and that he would more than likely not survive the pregnancy. If he did live, it would only be for a short time. To say we were devastated was an understatement.
In the Middle East, termination is illegal. Thankfully “choice” was not an option for me there.
Over my next two appointments, doctors discussed my options. The favoured option by my doctor, who was British, was a termination, which I would have to travel to England for. It would be kinder for me, they could not tell what difficulties my baby would have, and by the time an amino came back it would mean a late second trimester termination, which she said would be too difficult for me. She detailed the process and made a case for how a termination now at 15 weeks would be more compassionate, as he was never going to live.
It is difficult in this position, when you are at your most vulnerable, not to trust and listen to a doctor's advice. She said she would contact her colleagues at the Foetal Medicine Unit at Liverpool Women's Hospital to arrange everything if I decided to go ahead.
Genetic counselling had been suggested, so my husband booked an appointment with a genetic counsellor in Dublin. As I sat with my doctor discussing termination, James was sitting in Ireland speaking to a doctor who gave us hope, one who never offered termination as an option, but went through our case and made the informed decision that we must do an amniocentesis, which involves testing the amniotic fluid. We were young, had two healthy children, and I had made it to 15 weeks which to him meant that this issue was more than likely placental. He couldn’t guarantee a happy outcome, but he was 80 per cent sure our baby was ok. We proceeded with his plan and had the test.
At almost 22 weeks pregnant, 10 weeks after being told my baby had a fatal condition, we finally got the news that he was going to be ok, and his condition was indeed placental. We moved back to Ireland, and while I was monitored carefully, our little man was born healthy. The devastation and the stress followed me throughout my pregnancy and for a long while after his birth. The “what ifs” haunted me for almost the first year of his life.
So while my story was really difficult for me, it and other difficult stories like it really have nothing to do with the current referendum on the Eighth Amendment as it is proposed.
I have heard people state they are voting yes for choice, yes to 12 weeks, yes for rape victims and yes to those who have FFA diagnosis that need to travel. But this is not what we are being asked to vote on.
I know there is a need for terminations at times. I know some women would have taken a different path to me. I know we need to do better, to support those who have been raped and find themselves pregnant. I know we need to look at how we educate and empower women. But we are not being asked about the hard cases on May 25th.
We are being asked to remove the constitutional right to life of all unborn babies. Those that are wanted, and those that are not. We are being asked to remove the Eighth Amendment and replace it with: “provision may be made for the regulation of termination in pregnancy”. There will be no limit in our Constitution. By voting Yes, we hand the power to legislate for terminations in pregnancy to this Government and all future governments. They can change the limit without our say. If a 12-week limit was written into the Constitution there would be broader consensus. They wrote a four-year limit in for divorce.
Read the Referendum Commission’s independent booklet, and inform yourself on what it is we are actually voting on. You certainly won’t find a 12-week limit there.
We need to amend the Eighth, not repeal it.