Plane interior with grey clouds outside

Carmel

Carmel’s Story

We were expecting our second baby and we were overjoyed. The 12 weeks scan had been perfect. My bump was getting bigger, I had moved into maternity clothes. I was over 21 weeks pregnant when we attended the anatomy scan. The previous day I had printed a list of what this scan measures and identifies. I half suspect the purpose of bringing the list was that if I expected the worst then it wouldn’t happen, my warped logic.

My name was called and we went to the little room with our sonographer. It didn’t take long for her to make some concerning comments about the baby’s head. A feeling of panic washed over me. I forced myself to ask her ‘is there something wrong or is it just the way the baby is lying?’. ‘There is something wrong’ she responded. At that point my husband was standing up holding my hand, tears were streaming down my face. A second sonographer was called in. She looked at the scan for barely a moment, put the transducer away, addressed us directly, compassionately and said ‘I’m so sorry, this is just the worst diagnosis, the little skull hasn’t formed.’ 

We were moved to a tiny little room to meet with the Fetal Midwife. I clung to my husband’s arm, tears steaming endlessly. I can’t recall when the word fatal was first used but it didn’t take long. Anencephaly…..it’s fatal…….a fatal fetal abnormality……there’s not a doctor in the world who can fix it….  Our baby would not survive outside of my womb. Before the midwife even had to say it I knew what our options were. I could continue with the pregnancy or I could travel to the UK for an abortion.

The word abortion was never used by anyone but it hung unsaid in the air. We had to wait for a Consultant to confirm the diagnosis. We took a walk outside in a garden and sat on a bench. I looked at my husband, I knew he was waiting for me to say how I felt first. I told him, fearfully, almost apologetically, that I didn’t think I could go full term, I just didn’t think I could do it. That was my instinct. I looked to him for approval. He nodded, ‘of course not’, he said with complete assuredness. We cried. We returned to the hospital where the consultant confirmed the diagnosis of Anencephaly. She also told us we were having a little girl. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scan, watching her kicking and tumbling.

When we got home our heads were still spinning. We decided to call our little girl Kate. Kate Annie after my Nana. We lay on the bed crying. We picked up our two year old daughter from crèche. We needed to hold her close. That evening and over the coming days we read every story we could find about parents who decided to go full term. We wanted to be sure we were making the right decision. Was there something we were missing? We came away from each story with nothing but respect for those parents. No matter what decision you make it takes such courage. But it also confirmed that our initial instinct was right: it wasn’t for us.  

Our hospital had given us the details for Liverpool Women’s Hospital in order for us to get a second opinion on the diagnosis. We made contact only for them to tell us they couldn’t accommodate us. They were full. At that point we were left alone. It was us and Google. We called several other hospitals and clinics in the UK with no success. I started each phone call by saying ‘I’m desperately looking for help, can you please help me’. We wrote out our questions. When can you accommodate us? Can our baby be cremated? If so can we bring her ashes home? No, said one hospital, the babies are cremated with other hospital waste, the ashes are not returned to families. 

Guys Hospital in London had a different suggestion. At 22 weeks gestation, a termination for medical reasons is a two part procedure. Part one is an injection that stops the baby’s heart beat. Part two is induction of labour. Come here for part one, they said, then go home and deliver your baby in your own maternity hospital.

Was it allowed? Would our hospital take us? Was it safe? We didn’t know who to ask. Eventually we spoke to TFMR who gave us lots of advice. We understood that if we go to an Irish maternity hospital and they find there is no heartbeat they will induce labour. We decided to go. Flights and hotel were booked for the next day. Family members were scrambling over who would look after our daughter, anything to help us.

So we travelled. It’s a verb that has taken on more meaning than I ever thought possible. It was so hard to comprehend how we had gotten here. Kate was kicking and tumbling inside me. Yet we were traveling for an abortion. It was surreal. We arrived in London like ghosts.  We were treated with so much dignity and respect at the hospital. It was nearly hard to bear. They confirmed the diagnosis. Even we could see it in the scan. We asked them so many questions as we didn’t know if it would be safe to ask anyone in our own hospital. We walked back to our hotel and we spent the night planning Kate’s funeral service and crying. I treasured every kick and bump knowing it would be my last night with her.

The next day we walked and walked. We had started writing a letter to Kate, it gave us a focus. We arrived at the hospital and I was terrified; I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want this at all. But we both knew it was the only option for us, for our family. It is the hardest thing we have ever had to do. I forced myself to breath in order to keep calm, to stay still for the consultant, the whole time with tears streaming down my face. I wept for Kate, for us. But at no stage did I feel this was the wrong thing to do.

We sat in a waiting room afterwards. Shock had set in. They scanned me again. ‘Your little poppet is asleep’ they told us. We left the hospital. It felt so strange to me that it was still daylight. We had a flight to catch. I so desperately wanted to get home. My husband guided me to the underground, to the Heathrow express, through the security check, eventually onto the plane. I cried silently the entire journey home, completely dependent on my husband to get me back. ‘She’s just asleep, she’s just asleep’ I kept repeating myself. 

Someone told us that after we did what we did in London we would have to ‘present ourselves’ at our own maternity hospital. Those words conjured up images of disobedient children who had broken the rules. And I suppose we had. It made me very fearful. Who could we tell the truth to? If they knew the truth, how would they treat us? Would anyone be unkind? I didn’t think I could handle it if they were. We talked through how we would deal with it if it did happen. Neither of us are naturally confrontational but we were under severe pressure and so vulnerable. 

We were honest about what we had done. It was suggested by the Consultant we met not to put our notes from Guys Hospital in our file as ‘you don’t know who you will meet’. In the end we were mostly treated kindly and with sympathy. The fear of how we would be treated was unfounded in our case but it had an enormous impact on us. I didn’t sleep the whole night before mainly because of it.  

The next day our focus was on delivering Kate peacefully, it was all we could do for her. We wanted to treasure the time we had with her. The induction finally started to kick in around 9pm. It was an easy birth and Kate arrived at 2.45am. I had been told to expect no joy in cases of still birth. But there is joy. It’s a different sort of joy certainly. A much sadder joy. But we held our baby Kate and marveled at her fingers and toes.  She lay in the cuddle cot in between us for the rest of the night. We took her out to hold her, to dress her, to kiss her. The midwife took her hand and foot prints for us to keep.

Later the next day we walked her to the chapel and we said goodbye to her. It was so painful but there was also an element of relief, we had come through it, she was here.

Two days later we held a service for her in the chapel, our families all there supporting us. The Celebrant read out the letter we had written to Kate, which celebrated her and told her how much we all loved her. We drove to the cemetery on that sunny morning and laid her to rest.    

We carry our grief with us every day. We go to support groups now and tell them ‘we travelled’. You don’t need to say any more, everyone knows what that means. It’s through attending those support groups that we realise how lucky we are. Yes, we travelled to the UK but we also got to come home to deliver Kate and that has meant everything. Had it not been for that our families could not have attended the service, she would not have been buried in the cemetery, a short walk from our home. There is so much healing in this. And I’m so sad that other families are deprived of that. So sad that they have had to leave their beloved babies in foreign countries, or have had to navigate airline security hoping they won’t need to explain what they are carrying, or await a courier to arrive at their doorstep with their baby’s cremated remains. Those experiences leave scars.

I believe that on receiving such a diagnosis you should fall into a supportive network driven by healthcare professionals where you receive judgement-free counseling to help you understand your options. But you don’t. And it’s a very lonely place where you have to make desperate phone calls to foreign countries, plan logistics, live in fear of how you might be judged.  I have nothing but respect for parents who decide to continue with the pregnancy after such a diagnosis. But parents like us who cannot, deserve to be respected too. Kate was very sick and that is no ones fault. We hope someday we will grow to accept our loss. However, we cannot and will not accept that in our time of greatest need our country turned us away, could offer us nothing. This needs to end now. The 8th Amendment must be repealed. Please support us and families like us in ensuring it is.

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A lone woman in an airport

Éilís

Éilís’ Story

 

My first pregnancy went really well for the first 21 weeks. We were just married & only delighted to be starting our family. That all changed at our anomaly scan when the consultant listed problems with every organ in our baby’s body; problems she explained were “incompatible with life.”

Our options were explained as (a) continue the pregnancy & wait for a still birth or (b) “travel”.

We travelled to Liverpool and at 23 weeks gestation our baby’s heart was stopped & I was induced. I don’t think a lot of people understand that termination at this stage is physically just like a normal delivery. My labour took nearly two whole days and when our little baby girl was delivered, I was shattered mentally & physically. She looked just like me & we called her Summer after the lovely summer we had with my bump.

For me the worst wasn’t over after the delivery. For me leaving that little baby behind & taking a taxi to the airport was the most horrendous part. Like most mothers after childbirth I could barely stand and was completely humiliated when my luggage (ie used hospital bag) was searched. I felt sick and panicky the whole journey home. It’s only now looking back on it that I realise the physical risk to my own health that the flight took.

Our experience was heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking. But having to go through that in a foreign country was the cruelest form of torture. I will grieve that little baby every day for the rest of my life, and would have regardless of the 8th, but the horror of that journey that was only necessary because of the 8th, will haunt me till the day I die.

A lone woman in an airport

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Laticia-Lisa

Laticia

Laticia’s Story

In August last year I sat with two pregnancy tests both scared and excited. It was all I had ever wanted but suddenly I felt so scared. The endless minutes waiting until the test showed 3+ weeks pregnant. I remember ringing my sister and talking about how I would share the news with my partner it wasn’t planned but then wasn’t prevented either. I set off to the doctors shortly after that who confirmed my wonderful news and then off I went home to tell my partner – who was shocked but quickly became as happy and excited as me.

The days ticked by and all the time I worried for our little one was he/she ok in there I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling but then close family advised this was just what a mother was constantly worrying about your little one.
Finally the 12 week scan arrived and although due to sickness and worry I had been scanned previously this was the one I was so excited about we would finally get to see our little one and then the secret could be out! We went into the midwife and she began the scan – there was our little bundle of joy waving back at us finally I breathed a sigh of relief… which was very short lived. The nurse turned to us and advised that she wasn’t happy with the amount of fluid she could see and was sending us up to a senior midwife for a second opinion.

The nerves as we made our way upstairs all of my worrying suddenly coming to a head. I lay on the bed while the second midwife scanned me – she didn’t need to say anything I knew by her face. I can barely remember much of the conversation other than we were to come back in an hour to see a doctor. I broke down as my whole world fell apart – calling my mam and even repeating the same words broke me to the point I don’t ever feel I will be the same again.

We went back to the doctor who advised she would need to perform an amniocentesis test that there was a risk of 1% higher of a miscarriage but that she did feel it was necessary I wasn’t given any time to think about it and was ushered into it very fast and was over very quickly. The doctor offered no information but instead instructed a midwife to talk to us. She told us that because our baby had so much fluid they were suspecting an extra chromosome and that depending on the results we would go from there. We were sent home and asked to wait five days for results.

Five days later, we got a call on the Monday evening from the midwife called and said we have the results and we also have the gender of your baby. I asked what it was and she confirmed a little girl but that she had Down syndrome. She invited us in to see her the following day. When I got off the phone we talked and didn’t feel so bad my partner turned to me and said ok well she may not be 100% healthy but she is ours and we will deal with whatever we have to.

We arrived in the hospital the following day and the midwife was so vague – we had prepared so many questions that she couldn’t/wouldn’t answer – what was our baby’s chances of survival? Out of all couples that have babies diagnosed with hydrops (excess fluid) and Down syndrome how many survive? All these questions we needed answers to for reassurance weren’t answered. In fact we were met with a surprised reaction when we told her we intended to continue with the pregnancy. She explained due to the abnormalities our little girl would not survive. We asked with regards our options and she offered for me to be scanned every week so in essence I would come in every week get scanned and hope our baby would survive. We were given no further information and left heartbroken.

I booked an appointment with the well woman clinic to speak to a counsellor she asked had the midwife spoke to us about all our options including traveling to end the pregnancy. She advised as we had not specifically asked about a termination they would not voluntarily provide these details due to the circumstances in the country. After leaving we arranged another phone call and asked about our options – we were given a phone number and advised Liverpool hospital would not see us until I was 16 weeks pregnant.

I phoned and spoke to the hospital in Liverpool and the kind nurse talked me through the procedure. From the start I knew it wasn’t for me I couldn’t travel and be without the support of my family. I couldn’t travel and have them remove my baby for me to never see her and never have her near me. Perhaps if it had been available in this country I would have considered ending my babies fight that was never going to end well but to travel to a strange place to people I don’t know a place I don’t know I couldn’t do it.

Laticia-LisaThe next night I lay awake so late thinking the decision I had was never really a decision. Travel to a country where I had no support and end our little girl’s life or stay here get weekly scans all the while hoping there will be a miracle but knowing we will have no support until her tiny heart beat stops and this and this may be after 20 weeks where she has nerves and starts experiencing pain. It was the worst and most impossible position to ever be in. That night I lay on my side as I thought of all of this and I rubbed my belly while I spoke to my little girl and I told her “mammy knows you are being so brave and you are fighting so hard for me but it’s ok little one if you need to go just go mammy and daddy will be ok we love you very much”
The next morning I woke and instantly felt different. I phoned the hospital and they arranged an appointment that day for a scan – which confirmed what I already knew our little girl’s heartbeat had stopped. It was only then we start receiving information support and what was to happen.

Two days later I was given tablets to induce labour and waited for our little one to be born. I know anyone reading this knows that this is not easy and I can only describe it as horrific and life changing. I got pains stronger than menstrual pains and suddenly my little girl was here I didn’t see her as this was my choice at first. The whole process and day was horrific and I don’t think I will ever be the same person but to have the support of my partner my mam and all our families was really the only thing that got me through that day. I experienced panic attacks chest pain and anxiety which I am still dealing with all due to this experience.
All I know had this been in another country where I had travelled without the support I had around me I really don’t know that I would have survived. It is unimaginable to think of having to go through what I did and then be expected to sit on a plane or on a boat and travel home. I know for me personally I couldn’t have done it.

A few days later we had a private funeral for our baby girl and got to say goodbye. I held her in my hand so tiny yet so perfect. Our whole family got to see her our perfect beautiful little girl. We had our family there and had a beautiful ceremony the last thing we could do for her. A few days later we got a tiny butterfly urns with her ashes – something that I will cherish forever and also something that never would have been possible had I had to of travelled for any type of procedure. That was our first baby and I am still nowhere near a place where I would be ready to try again but I know if the same situation was to occur again how different this story could be even the amendment was appealed to not only give women choice but to the freedom of information and discussions around these situations.

Laticia-Lisa

Artist: Lisa Hutchinson

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Tracey

Tracey and Grace’s Story

My name is Tracey. I was 22 weeks pregnant when we found out Grace was terminally ill. She had, after many examinations by professors of fetal medicine, Thanatophoric Dysplasia. This condition meant her long bones were measuring short – at 23 weeks Grace’s were measuring 12 weeks – and the fatal part of this condition causes the chest cavity to not grow enough for her heart and lungs. Ultimately upon birth when babies try and inhale for the first time, my baby girl would die immediately from respiratory failure as her chest cavity would crush her lungs. I’m sorry if this upsets anyone reading but unfortunately you cannot pretty up this condition.

I couldn’t bear this to happen to my baby. My dad died two years previous from lung cancer and I watched him take his last breath. How could I watch my tiny baby struggle to breathe and then pass away? I couldn’t.

I asked when I would be induced and my consultant sympathetically told me they can’t induce early if there is no risk to the mother as it’s against the law in Ireland. My baby was dying, her movements were weakening and she would inevitably die from respiratory failure, but this wasn’t enough to stop her hurting anymore. I had to be at risk. I was at risk everyday that I met people asking if “I had my bits bought for the baby”, “how long have you left?”, “the twins must be excited for a baby brother or sister…” I nodded and smiled knowing the baby in the bump they were admiring was not going to be in the pram I had my eye on, or sleeping in her brother’s Moses basket. Having spent 4 weeks nodding along to people’s excited questions I was slowly losing my mind.

Travel

Due to the fact I couldn’t be induced at home with my family around me, I had to go somewhere where they understand what me and my baby were going through. We travelled to Liverpool on Paddy’s weekend amongst hen parties and revellers. We arrived to Liverpool Women’s Hospital where the midwives took over my care – they were angels to me and my little girl.

I remember saying to my husband that morning, before the final scan to check Grace, that they may have made a mistake in the two hospitals we were in in Ireland; we might get good news, her chest may be growing, allowing her organs to grow.

The professor scanned me for over an hour and he confirmed the diagnosis along with the devastating news that Grace’s lungs were no longer in her chest cavity, he couldn’t find them so they were either crushed already or just didn’t develop. I knew having an early inducement was 100% the right thing to do for my tiny baby at that moment.

Labour

After 36 hours of an agonising labour – pain I would gratefully repeat over and over again – Grace arrived silently into the world at 4.45am. She was stunning – the most beautiful little angel with a button nose and chubby cheeks. She had dark hair and gorgeous plump lips. Her face was perfect and her body was tiny, she was so peaceful. I have never experienced feelings like that before, I was holding my child and felt content but she was never going to look into my face, or yawn or cry for food. She was still.

We held her all day long and talked about what life she would have had. A priest came and gave her a little blessing. We named her Grace Saoirse because she was free. We had a nap that day with her beside us and dressed her in a beautiful outfit the midwives gave us. The outfit that I had brought was far too big. She was wrapped in a teddy her sister gave her and a teddy Grace gave me.

Goodbyes

At 5pm we had to leave her, we were booked to fly out the next morning. The hospital had a little nursery made up for Grace. It had a cot and a dressing table, teddies and a beautiful mural of angels on the wall. After we said our goodbyes, gave our last cuddles and kisses to her, we placed her in her cot all wrapped up cosy with her teddy. My midwife came in and took over looking after her.

I sometimes can’t believe I actually had to do this, I had to leave my baby in another country. How cruel it is that we had to do this, it actually leaves me speechless.

We arranged Grace’s funeral from the prayers right to the music I wanted played. It took place in a church in Liverpool by the priest who blessed her and was attended by a midwife. We couldn’t go because we simply couldn’t afford to. I had to wait 3 weeks for Grace to come home. Her ashes arrived by courier. A man knocked at my front door with my daughter’s remains waiting to be signed for. Again I say I find it hard to believe this is something parents have to go through. Did I actually have to sign for my daughter’s ashes like an order from ASOS?

Next Few Months

The next few months were a blur; I can still feel the pain and darkness of those months. The feeling of drowning and anger. I can still feel them because I still go through these feelings, but I’ve learned how to control them and cope with them now.

Grace’s ashes sit on a shelf in our living room and we bring her to our bedroom at night. There are photos of Grace in every room of our house. I sleep with her teddy every night – I actually brought her teddy away to a hotel and it was taken to the laundry with the bed sheets. I was getting into bed at home when I noticed he was gone. Thankfully the hotel found him in the laundry and posted him home from Athy!

Grace is very much part of this house like any of the other kids. Unfortunately due to the cruelty of this country none of her family could meet her and say goodbye.  She blessed us with my son almost a year after she passed. She gave me love when I didn’t even realise I needed him. She’s my motivator, my gut, my soul, my heart, my courage, my bravery and my eyes. She’s changed the way I look at things. I’m not the same person I was before Grace, I miss that Tracey but I’m learning to love the one I am now.

This is Grace’s story – she was with me for just 28 weeks but she left me with a lifetime of love. Losing her could have been the reason I stopped living… But having her is the reason I get up every morning. If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever xxx

Pink Teddy Bear

Artist: Loo Hicks

Audio: Rita Evelyn Smyth

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Pill Packet with expiry date May 25

Sorcha

I travelled to the UK in 2016 to access abortion care. My contraception pill failed as I took other pain medication, for an ongoing problem, that made me violently ill and I found myself pregnant.

My decision was justified because it was mine. I do not claim to speak for the tens of thousands of women who have either travelled or taken pills illegally, but I know that the majority of them were, like me, already mothers.

On my previous pregnancies, I suffered from post-natal depression. At its worst, it took over two years to recover from. Postnatal depression has a massive impact on the whole family. There was no way that I could have put myself, my children or my husband through it again. I know myself well enough to know that another pregnancy and child would have been a very difficult tipping point.

In my last pregnancy, I developed a dangerous condition, which placed me at a greatly increased risk of a stillbirth. It was a traumatic and stressful time and it was very likely that the same condition would manifest itself in any subsequent pregnancy.

Alongside the practical ‘head’ reasons, in my heart, I just did not want to be pregnant. We did not want another child. I knew that we could not go through it all again. This feeling was the overwhelming one – the one I came back to again and again. The decision to have an abortion, was one grounded in the absolute certainty that it was, in so many ways, the right decision for me, for my husband and for our children.

In spite of this certainty, my heart was broken and my head was in a complete mess – caused by the anger and isolation I felt at having to travel. I researched ordering pills, but the uncertainty of a journey through customs, coupled with waiting time and the possibility of a 14-year prison sentence all combined to put me off that idea.

I searched online for ways to induce miscarriage and consumed thousands of grammes of Vitamin C– to no avail. I spent the days minding my children, speaking to my husband on the phone (he was away with work) and calling clinics, provisionally booking appointments and then checking flight times. The clinics I called required that you visit over two days in order to take the abortion pill.

An overnight stay was not an option, either practically, or financially. This meant that I faced the prospect of travelling, on my own, for a surgical procedure. The idea that I would have to do it without my husband (he would have to stay with the children) was traumatic beyond any words I could ever find to describe it.

At a time when I felt shamed, exiled and stigmatised by my own country, it was a wonder to receive the compassion, empathy, kindness and support of the British staff in the clinic. Their warmth, openness and expression of horror and quiet anger at what Irish women endure made everything so much easier to bear. I will never forget those wonderful nurses and how they supported me when my own country wouldn’t and didn’t.

There were six women from Ireland in the clinic that day. They ordered us for theatre so that our flight times would allow for the longest recovery time possible. We had general anaesthetics and got on a flight a few hours later, on our own – exhausted, bleeding, in pain and overwhelmed with relief.

In outlining some of the reasons for my decision, I want to share how I felt afterwards. My overriding emotion was one of relief not to be pregnant any more. I felt positively empowered in the decision I had made, knowing that it was the absolute right one for me and for my family. I felt enormous gratitude for my circumstances – that I had the legal right, social support and financial means to travel. My feelings haven’t changed.

Artist: Lisa Hutchinson @SheDrawsAnything

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A woman sinks into an abortion pill

Catherine

This story was submitted on January 11 2018

How was your weekend?

A fairly mundane question we all ask and are asked on a Monday morning in the office. “Oh fine, you know, had an illegal abortion on Saturday and did the normal Sunday afternoon visit to my parents the next day so as not to arouse suspicion.”

Not the answer you would expect to get is it? Especially from a mother of 3, with her own home, job security and a supportive and loving husband. But if I had answered the question honestly this Monday morning (I didn’t by the way) that’s the answer I’d have given.

There seems to be a misconception that women who have abortions are predominantly young, single and broke. But a crisis pregnancy can happen to anyone, and everyone’s perception of a crisis is different. To outsiders the news of my pregnancy would have been met with congratulations, warm wishes and perhaps the odd jibe about how our television mustn’t work, and how busy we would be with 4 young children. But my husband and I were absolutely devastated.

My Husband Became Ill

We were not irresponsible with contraception. I was on the pill. But life happens and 2 months ago my healthy, fit, 34 year old husband became seriously ill. It was a bolt from the blue, and as I was following the ambulance to Dublin, trying to arrange for our children to be taken care of, absolutely terrified at the prospect of losing the love of my life and the father of my children, my pill was not to the forefront of my mind. With the chaos of that week I missed a few pills. Hardly a crime. Except in this country as I was to cruelly discover, dealing with the consequences can be a crime.

My husband is fine, and the stress and emotion of that week is like a distant memory. But when I discovered 6 weeks later that I was pregnant I felt like I had been hit with a train. I didn’t even have to do a pregnancy test, I just knew. I had hyperemesis on my previous pregnancies, and as soon as I got that familiar feeling of nausea I knew. I also knew that there was no way we could have another child. It simply was out of the question. My reasons are many and complex and they are just that – MY reasons. They are none of anybody else’s concern, and every woman’s reasons are valid to them. Nobody has a right to decide what is and isn’t a valid reason except the woman herself. My husband agreed that ultimately it is my body.  I was the one who would have to go through with the pregnancy, the birth, and I would bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for a new baby, when I would be up round the clock feeding. He would be supportive of whatever decision I made. I was so grateful for his support, and I cried with relief as he held me and told me everything would be alright.

I was 5 weeks pregnant when I found out. Because of the total ban on abortion in this country I was trapped. The feeling of desperation was just horrendous. Each day I was getting sicker and sicker, vomiting more, eating less, all while having to keep the pregnancy a secret from my family and colleagues.

Traveling to the UK was out of the question. We simply didn’t have €2000 hanging around to spare on Christmas week. We also would have had to come up with an excuse for why we were going, and arrange childcare.

I am lucky that I am part of a Pro-Choice group on Facebook, where I had heard about several voluntary organisations who help women living in countries where abortion is illegal. They provide the abortion pill for a contribution of €70. I contacted Women Help, who after an online consultation with a doctor, despatched the abortion pill to me by post. I was petrified it would be seized by customs. It was posted on December 23rd. Christmas was hell as I waited. I avoided family as much as I could, although they couldn’t be dodged completely. It took all of my energy trying not to let people know I was sick, and acting like everything was fine. I managed to feign a stomach bug over New Years, which thankfully took the pressure off for a few days.

Plan B

I came up with a Plan B in case the pills didn’t arrive. I told my best friend who was home from London for Christmas. She was so supportive. She was incredulous that I had to break the law, and that I wasn’t allowed to make my own decision in this country about what was best for me. I decided that if they didn’t arrive I would have to miss January’s mortgage payment and travel alone on a Saturday in January to London, have the procedure, stay with my friend and her husband, and come home early the next morning so nobody but my husband would know where I was gone.

Thankfully on Wednesday January 3rd they arrived in a small inconspicuous padded envelope. The relief was overwhelming. I took the first pill on Friday morning and went to work as normal. By Friday night I was so sick that I couldn’t even keep water down, and every time I moved my head I vomited. On Saturday morning I went back to bed at 10am. I put the 4 pills of Misoprostol between my gum and my cheek and let them dissolve. I was so afraid to move in case I vomited, and when I swallowed them I managed to wait an hour before vomiting again. I was so terrified they wouldn’t work since I had been sick, but about 2 hours later I started to get some mild cramping.

Throughout the day I continued to have cramps and bleeding. I stayed in bed, and every time I felt a gush I went to the toilet where I passed some clots. By 5pm I knew the worst of it was over, and was relieved to find that I already felt better and was able to eat a small meal for the first time in weeks.

My decision is my own

I realise that some people will feel that I made a selfish decision. But it was my decision and affects nobody but me and my family. I had a “bad” abortion. You know, the type that people have when they aren’t raped, or aren’t faced with a devastating diagnosis. I became pregnant through consensual sex with my husband whom I adore. Some people will judge me because my abortion doesn’t match up to their moral guidelines on when a woman should and shouldn’t be allowed to end her pregnancy. They are more concerned with the type of sex she had to become pregnant than the effect being forced to continue with the pregnancy would have.  Other people feel that that abortion is morally wrong in all circumstances. That is absolutely their right and I respect their opinion.  People can have whatever moral position on abortion they wish and can use that to guide their own life decisions. But when they try to enforce that opinion on someone else by making it law, that’s where I have a problem.

Delaying the Abortion

I was 8 weeks pregnant. I could have ended the pregnancy at 5 weeks had abortion not been illegal. I have no regrets. I think this is very important to say, as lots of anti-choice advocates like to preach that they know what is best for women. I am sure some women do regret their abortions, just as some women regret continuing with their pregnancies. But women themselves are best placed to make their own decisions, and it makes me so angry when I hear the patronising drivel that abortion should continue to be illegal so that us poor silly women can be protected from ourselves. How dare somebody think that they know better than me what is best for me and my family. My main emotion now is anger. I am angry that I had to break the law in order to access Healthcare that is standard in most Western countries.  To think that I could go to prison for 14 years for making the best decision for me about my own body is like something from a dystopian novel.

I am still bleeding lightly 4 days later. My friend wants me to go to the doctor for a check up, but it’s not that simple. If I go to the doctor I will have to lie and say I had a miscarriage. I’m sure it would arouse suspicion to turn up at the doctor a week after a “miscarriage” I had at home, having sought no medical help at the time. So I will take the risk and assume that everything is fine unless I develop complications.  Women living in Ireland are being forced to take this risk every day of the week.

Look around you. Women who have had abortions are not “other”. They are everywhere. They behave no differently to you. They are your friends, daughters, sisters, cousins, colleagues, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, who have all made what they felt was the right choice for them at a particular point in their lives.

 The fact that in the year 2018 women need to ask to please be trusted to make decisions about our own healthcare is beyond belief. Yet here we are.

Artist: Loo Hicks


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Passport and boarding pass

Siobhán

Read Siobhán’s story in the Irish Independent here.

I am almost 70 years old. I got married when I was 19 and thirty five years ago I had four children aged 13, 14, 15 and 16. They were all in secondary school and working hard to get good exam results when I awoke one morning with an excruciating pain in my back. I went straight to my GP who sent me for an X-ray immediately.

The X-ray showed that my contraceptive coil had slipped out of position and my doctor told me if it was not in the correct position then it was not doing its job. He did a pregnancy test and confirmed I was pregnant. I was devastated and could not stop crying. He gave me an appointment to come back in a few days.

I found myself walking around knowing I was pregnant with a coil inside my womb. Best medical practice would have been to remove this coil as soon as possible to prevent serious complications and risks of infection to me. However, to remove the coil could have caused a miscarriage so this left me stranded in need of medical care which I could not access within my own country.

I was terrified that if this pregnancy continued I was going to die and leave my four children growing up without a mother.

I went back and told him I had decided to go to England to have an abortion. He unlocked a cabinet and took out a brochure which he gave me and said “if you are going to have an abortion I need to know that you do it safely.” I will never forget his kindness and caring for me without any judgement.

I had to do this alone; I didn’t tell my husband as I knew he’d never agree. I told him I was going on a ‘shopping trip’ and to see a show in London with some friends.

The only theatre I was in was the operating theatre and the only thing I bought while I was there was a tubal ligation to ensure this would never happen to me again. Why should I have had to make that trip all alone and live through all the lies for the rest of my life?

I had my four children all very close in age and I had spent years caring for them. I loved them all dearly, and still do, but I had never had any time for myself having been married at 19 years old. Now I had a chance to go to college and I was using contraception which let me down. I am a grandmother now and I never want any of my children or grandchildren to have to face such a lonely, heart-breaking journey as I had to face all those years ago. But you know, I look back and can see how brave and courageous I was to face and sort this on my own. I try not to judge myself when I hear people label me as a criminal and a murderer, I am not these things and never will be.

I would say to every Irish woman who like me had to make that tough lonely journey, Mná na hÉireann, be proud and may we soon not have to run away from our homes and country to seek the care and support we need.

Passport and boarding pass

Artist: Aimee Gallagher.

gumcollective.com/Aimee-Gallagher

Audio: Nathalie Clément


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3 abortion pills Mifepristone and Misoprostol

Anonymous 1

I had five children already when I found out I was pregnant. I was working a very low paid job and struggling to provide for my existing children. We would huddle under sleeping bags in winter, all sleeping around the range as I had no money for oil. It sounds desperate when I say that now, but I tried to make it seem like an adventure for my kids during those cold winters. We made the best of a bad situation. I would make excuses for why my kids couldn’t go to birthday parties, as I couldn’t afford a gift. Money was very tight. Poverty was one of the reasons I didn’t want another child. I have no family support as it is and I honestly didn’t think I had the mental strength to face having another child in the circumstances I was living in.

My boyfriend and I had never lived together, never planned to and he had always said he didn’t ever want kids so that was another reason. Neither of us wanted a child. (He had been on a waiting list for a vasectomy for over a year at the time).

We were using contraception when I got pregnant. I don’t know how it happened to be honest as I was very careful – I was so afraid of pregnancy.

Previous Pregnancies

My previous pregnancies had been difficult and had caused huge strain on my body. In the last two I had major problems with veins in my vulva, the veins were literally coming out of me, they looked and felt like a bunch of grapes, it was excruciatingly painful and made even walking difficult. My midwife said I really shouldn’t have any more children as it would be too great a strain on my body.

Because I was so broke and had no support there was no way I could travel to England. I ordered abortion pills online and spent a week freaking out about them being stopped at customs. It was terrifying to think that my entire life (and my 5 children’s) was hinging on one envelope making it into Ireland. Thankfully it arrived. I had to take time off work as I wanted to take the pills immediately. It was all pretty simple and easy as I was only a few weeks pregnant so it was just like a slightly heavy period.

I felt so relieved when it was over. Like I had gained control of my body again. I don’t trust Ireland with my body. If Irish politicians had their way I would’ve been forced to carry the pregnancy to term against my wishes. There’s something incredibly wrong about that.

This story was submitted anonymously.

3 abortion pills Mifepristone and Misoprostol

Artist: Gemma Cagney

Audio: Aimee Gallagher

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