Monday 24 October 2016

I never dreamed I'd choose abortion until nightmare diagnosis

Senator Ronan Mullen argues against repealing the Eighth Amendment, yet doesn't understand the humanity of the situation, writes Dr Siobhan Donohue

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

MIXED EMOTIONS: Dr Siobhan Donohue’s child TJ had anencephaly. Photo: Steve Humphreys
MIXED EMOTIONS: Dr Siobhan Donohue’s child TJ had anencephaly. Photo: Steve Humphreys

October 1 was my third child's fifth birthday. An important and significant milestone. However, it was a day of mixed emotions as it was also the fifth anniversary of his death.

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TJ had severe anencephaly. The top half of his head never formed. There was nothing above his eyes: no brain, no skull, no scalp. We found this out at his 20-week anomaly scan. I will never forget the words of the sonographer. "I'm a little concerned," she said. "I can't see the top of the baby's skull."

In that moment everything changed. I am a GP so I knew what she meant. "Do you mean like anencephaly?" I heard myself say.

"Oh, you've heard of it," she said with relief.

She didn't need to explain that most babies with anencephaly will either be stillborn or die soon after birth. It did not take long for this to sink in and I was faced with a further 20 weeks of pregnancy knowing that my baby was going to die. I could foresee daily conversations with patients, friends and at my children's creche. The usual seemingly banal questions every pregnant women gets asked: When are you due? Do you know if it's a boy or a girl? What I would say? Would I play along and answer as if nothing was wrong or would I tell them that my baby was going to die but thanks for asking? I'd be in bits. They'd be in bits. Day-to-day living would become intolerable.

To me, it seemed a cruel form of torture that would affect my mental health as well as the welfare of those closest to me. So I made the decision to end the pregnancy. I never dreamed I would choose to have an abortion but here I was faced with two horrible options with no good outcome. For me and my family an abortion was the least worst option.

My husband and I boarded an early morning flight to Liverpool along with businessmen, hen parties and couples enjoying a romantic break. I remember thinking how surreal it was. How could life just carry on as usual when we were faced with such tragedy?

The light in the darkness was Liverpool. When we arrived at Liverpool's Women's Hospital we were wrapped in a blanket of care and compassion. Everyone we met treated us with kindness and told us how sorry they were that we had to be there. They gently guided us through the next few days. After a scan to confirm the diagnosis, I was given the first dose of medication to start the process. We then had 48 hours at our hotel before returning to the hospital to start the induction. I had never been to Liverpool before. I had a picture in my head of a grey, industrial city but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a bright, vibrant, beautiful city that took care of us that weekend as we counted down the hours.

And so on October 1, I was admitted for induction of labour. That's all it was: there was no drama, no blood and guts. I went through labour more or less as I had done on my previous pregnancies and late that night our little mite was delivered and, as expected, did not live.

But we still got to hold him and named him and I felt a sense of peace for the first time since we learned that he would die. The midwife dressed him for us, taking his hand and footprints as well as photos which they gave us in a memorial booklet.

The hospital chaplain came and blessed TJ for us. His kind words and compassion have stayed with me as the years have passed. They all treated him with respect and dignity. He was not treated like debris.

Every year, we remember TJ on his birthday.

We have a birthday cake, though we don't light candles, but we remember our son and the children remember the brother they never got to meet. And so it was last weekend. We had our cake and thought about the boy who should have been starting school this year.

The following day, I read Senator Mullen's article. How dare he suggest my baby's remains were debris and not the sort of thing I should grieve over. How dare he imply what I should have done in circumstances he has never personally experienced.

Instead of the compassion shown to us in Liverpool, we awoke last Sunday to words of disdain from a man who seems unable to understand the humanity of this situation and appears to be striving to keep the women of this country bound by the Eighth Amendment.

Shame on you, senator. Shame on you.

Happy birthday TJ.

Sunday Independent

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