‘When the doctor saw two babies in the scan I began to sob’- Irish mum on why she considered the option of termination at 40
At 40, Jeanne Measom was a mum-of-four and breastfeeding a new arrival when she fell pregnant unexpectedly with twin boys. Here the Dublin-based mother, now 51, writes honestly about the options she considered at the beginning of her pregnancy when her young family was already stretched to the limit.
While breastfeeding my fourth child, I became pregnant. My first reaction was, I won’t be able to cope with another pregnancy and baby. I then asked myself, What are my options? For me, adoption was never an option. So, it was either keep the baby or not. My heart was heavy with the thought of a termination, but equally, I could hardly wrap my head around another pregnancy. Not to mention we lived in a two-bedroom house.
If I decided to terminate, I realised, living in Ireland, that I would have to order an abortion pill online, with instructions regarding complications where I would need to lie about having a miscarriage. There also was the option of travelling to England on my own with the baby I was breastfeeding. It was a difficult decision with a time limit. Neither option seemed ideal. In the end, I decided to continue with the pregnancy.
As time went on, I became comfortable and at peace with my decision. That is, until a routine scan at 20 weeks, when the doctor said, “I see two babies.” I put my arm over my head and began to sob.
Then, the doctor proceeded to tell me that they were identical twins so, if one was Down Syndrome, the other would be, too.
At the age of 40, the risk was high. If I was pregnant with Down Syndrome twins, my decision to continue with the pregnancy needed to be revisited. I needed this information ahead of time to make an informed decision either way. Discontinuing or continuing the pregnancy would require extra mental preparation, as well as getting supports in place. The results turned out negative, so I continued with the pregnancy. This left me with the daunting task of learning to love and accept the reality of having two babies at the same time. I would now have six children, with four under the age of four.
After pushing out two babies, they wheeled the twins in, placing one on each side of the bed. That is when it really hit me... How was this going to be physically possible?
The day after my twins were born, I got a call in the hospital that my father had died. I was sobbing silently, and my babies were crying, with just a curtain separating me and the other mothers. I was desperate to go home and grieve in private, but I was terrified of being unable to cope, knowing I had no extended family, and I would be under intense pressure.
For the first three weeks, I was able to afford help for three hours each weekday. I remember watching the clock, waiting for her to arrive, then immediately handing her one baby before she could get her coat off, and dreading when she had to leave.
While sleep deprived, breastfeeding two, changing nappies for three, and my part-time help long gone, life was close to impossible. There were days I never got dressed, never mind left the house.
With my singleton babies, bonding came while lying in bed breastfeeding them. The skin-to-skin contact and peaceful one-on-one time drew me to love like never before. But, this special time was not possible with my twins.
One day, I was in the car with the kids, waiting on my oldest son to finish his football practice. It was raining, two were fighting, and the twins would not stop crying. For the first time, I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure if I could do this. So I again considered my choices: adoption, killing myself, running away and leaving them with my husband, or getting on with it. I chose the latter. For me, there is something very powerful about realising I had options in a situation where I felt hopeless and powerless.
The next day, I went to a nearby community crèche and tried to explain to them how I wasn’t coping. I cried so hard they had trouble understanding me. Starting the next week, my twins and the one-year-old were in the crèche for three hours a day, five days a week. They got their dinner, and I got to breathe.
No two singletons, no matter how close in age, can compare to twins. Now that they are older, it is easier, but it has never been easy. I can still have resentment that they don’t get the attention they deserve, that I don’t have a career, that I cannot clone myself, and that the work is still relentless.
I will continue to muddle along doing the best that I can, making mistakes along the way. I don’t regret any of my decisions, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity and right to choose what was best for my family and myself.