After the Eighth: A fatal foetal diagnosis, but too sick to travel

‘It was awful ... I was wanting something bad to happen to me so they’d induce me’

Aisling McNevin (26) was diagnosed with having a fatal foetal abnormality less than a week after the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment was passed.

She was 21 weeks pregnant, bleeding heavily and had high blood pressure. She was too ill to travel abroad for a termination but could not have one in Ireland because there was "still a foetal heartbeat".

It had “all started” the day of the referendum, she says.

Sitting in her parents' home in Templeogue, Dublin she recalls going to the bathroom and discovering she was bleeding.

She and her partner Michael went to the Coombe maternity hospital where a scan found the foetus was smaller than it should be and the placenta was over-sized. They went home “very upset”.

She started bleeding at home and returned to the Coombe.

“They scanned and said there was still a heartbeat. They said it could be the start of a miscarriage. I stayed in overnight, very worried.”

The following day, Saturday, the bleeding stopped and she was allowed go home.

“I had my six-year-old daughter, Kayleigh to think about.” She returned for a detailed scan on Tuesday.

“Professor [Carmen] Regan started to scan me and said, ‘Yes baby is extremely small.’ She was 99 per cent sure it was a Trisomy [where they are three of a particular chromosome rather than the normal two]. There was no chance of survival outside the womb. She asked had we any questions and I couldn’t even think. I was just in shock.”


Aisling returned, feeling unwell, to hospital on Friday, June 1st. "There was still a heartbeat. I had a temperature and blood pressure was up. They started discussing how high the blood pressure would have to go before they'd intervene. They said, 'We wouldn't recommend you going to England because you are such high risk.'"

She was admitted.

“They were scanning me twice a day. It was awful because I was thinking, ‘I hope there’s not a heartbeat’. I was wanting something bad to happen to me so they’d induce me.”

She was allowed home on Thursday, June 7th.

“I was home about an hour and I had a big bleed. I went back in then. There was still a heartbeat. I felt helpless because I knew that meant they weren’t going to do anything. At this stage I was roaring crying, saying ‘I can’t do this anymore’.” She was admitted.

Her mother, Margaret, called the hospital and asked to speak to the Master, Dr Sharon Sheehan. "I said: 'The law is protecting a life that was not going to live, against my daughter's life'. What about her rights?'"

On the Friday afternoon, Dr Sheehan met Aisling, Margaret, her partner and sister, in Aisling’s room.

“I couldn’t think,” says Aisling. “I couldn’t talk. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. They were very sympathetic but said: ‘We cannot practise medicine outside the law’.

“I kind of surrendered at that point. My partner was extremely scared for me . . . I was just determined that I was going to come through it and get to the other side.”

Shortly after 10pm the following night she had a “massive” bleed.

Thumbs up

“They brought me to the high-dependency unit and got me ready for transfusion if needed. The doctor came in, gave me thumbs up and said he’d induce. “They gave me a tablet to bring on the contractions. They started about 3am. I could constantly feel these gushes of blood and then I felt this really big one, which was the baby, a stillborn baby boy.”

He is buried at Bohernabreena Cemetery.

She is thankful she was able, in the end, to have the pregnancy induced in Ireland and relieved her health has not suffered long-term.

“But I had two weeks of the worst stress and trauma. The relief is because of that. I shouldn’t have had to feel relief. I should have been able to have the baby induced as soon as we knew he would not survive.

“The worst part for me was worrying about my daughter. I was terrified I’d have that big bleed in front of her, terrified she would be traumatised. I never feared death, but I did fear a hysterectomy if they couldn’t control the bleeding.”

Asked her thoughts, given that the people have voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment she says: “It’s horrific that it is still going on. It’s putting women through too much. The Eighth should be gone but this is still happening right now.”

The Government says legislation to give effect to the May 25th referendum result will be enacted by January 2019.

A spokesman said the Coombe could not comment on an individual case.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times