Friday 25 May 2018

Here are 18 heartbreaking reasons to vote Yes

The Eighth Amendment added to the pain and grief we suffered on losing our baby, writes David Hanlon

Stock photo
Stock photo

David Hanlon

This is a short account of how the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution affected my wife, our baby and me.

We lost our baby at 25 weeks gestation one year ago at a hospital in England. We have never known such pain and grief, and we hope you never will.

We received the news at our 20-week ultrasound scan that something was wrong. Our baby was too small.

Over the next two weeks we learned of several complications. Blood flow was restricted, seemingly due to placental insufficiency (a failure of the placenta to deliver sufficient nutrients to the foetus). Our baby had Down syndrome (trisomy 21). There was a problem with his heart. He was not going to make it.

Of course, had Ireland never passed the Eighth Amendment, we would still have lost our baby. Our hearts would still be broken and our lives would still be scarred. Our faces would still feel stained from so many tears.

Had Ireland never passed the Eighth Amendment, we would still have protected our baby from pain and distress. We would still have made that agonising decision to seek a medical termination rather than wait an unknown period of time, during which he might suffer, for him to pass away.

We would still have held him and talked to him when he was born. We would still have told him we loved him; how much we wanted him; how sorry we were that we would never get to watch him grow up. We would still have sung him a lullaby and tucked him in on that final day when we had to leave him.

We would still have cremated him with his teddy bears, his home-knitted baby blanket and my shirt. We would still have written his name in pebbles on a lonely beach, and scattered rose petals in the surf.

We would still cry and wish we could just have our baby.

The Eighth Amendment was irrelevant to these things. It was, however, directly and painfully relevant to many others.

But for the Eighth, we would not have had to:

1 Arrange our own medical care over the telephone at a hospital in England at a time when we were bereft, confused and vulnerable, and had no professional support. Our medical team could not advocate for us.

2 Worry about whether any clinic or hospital would even take us. They are under no obligation to do so. Several clinics declined us on the basis of the complexity of the health problems involved. One hospital was oversubscribed with Irish patients.

3 Visit our Irish hospital every few days while waiting to fly out (on the advice of our medical team) to see if our baby's heart had stopped - in the surreal hope that his suffering would have ended and that he could be born in Ireland with the support of our families and friends.

4 Leave our medical team in Ireland and place our trust in a team in England that we had never met. Leave the professionals we knew and who knew us; who knew our medical history.

5 Travel to England and leave behind our families and friends - people who would have rallied around us in a heartbeat. Stay in a strange city for several days; book flights, exchange euro for pounds sterling, pack suitcases, borrow money, get to the airport and navigate a foreign city - so many administrative tasks to do when we could hardly take care of ourselves.

6 Pay a lot of money for medical care, despite paying taxes to the Irish State for many years.

7 Arrive at an unfamiliar clinic on the morning of the termination. Be surrounded by a team of healthcare professionals we had only just met, during a profoundly sad procedure.

8Wait around a strange city in a state of shock for two days after the termination for the inducement pill to work.

9 Give birth to our beautiful baby boy as exiles. England took us in and gave us the treatment that we needed for our baby when our own country refused to do so. We do not know what we would have done without the compassion we were shown.

10 Register our son's death in a foreign city in a council register office on an unknown street in a borough we will likely never see again.

11 Arrange a cremation funeral in a foreign city.

12 Leave our son in England while we flew home to await a slot for his cremation a number of weeks later.

13 Struggle through the airport while my wife was still bleeding heavily and having strong spasms of pain, and while our grief was almost unbearably heavy.

14 Explain at the security checkpoint that an inkpad that had shown up on the security scan had been used to take our stillborn baby's tiny footprints and handprints.

15 Return to England one month later for our son's funeral, officiated by an unknown priest in an unknown crematorium chapel.

16 Fly home with our son's cremated remains and again explain our circumstances at security: the tiny box that we carried contained our son's ashes.

17 Suffer protracted emotional and psychological pain. Had we been able to procure the care that we needed in Ireland, the procedures would have been over in a matter of days. We would have had the immediate support of our families and friends and a timely funeral for our baby. Our grieving and healing could have commenced; instead, it was stymied and delayed.

18 Deal with the fallout of medical care that straddled state borders and was entirely disjointed. This seriously complicated our bid to understand what had caused our baby's illnesses and affected our decision whether to try to get pregnant again.

All of these things are a direct consequence of the Eighth Amendment. We were rejected by Ireland and forced to seek compassionate medical care abroad. There have been so many others like us.

Unless the Eighth Amendment is repealed, suffering and indignity will persist - it could be someone you love next.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News