'When my daughter was born, there were no congratulatory phone calls'
Referendum Insight: Amy Walsh has spoken to Sasha Brady of the trauma of travelling to England after receiving the heartbreaking news that the daughter she was carrying had developed a fatal foetal abnormality.
My first daughter Rose was born in 2015 and one year later I gave birth to her sister Alice. They were both born in February, one year apart.
I have found that becoming a mother has changed me in ways that I never knew possible. Although physically separate, your children are part of you. Even when they are not with you, you think of them, you feel for them and you always want to protect them.
I gave birth to Alice in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street under the care of wonderful midwives and doctors who had looked after us throughout my entire pregnancy.
When Alice was born, my husband Yousef rang our families to share the good news that mother and daughter were doing well. Over the next few days our phones did not stop pinging, vibrating and ringing as word spread.
That evening, our parents came to visit us at the hospital, laden down with cards, gifts and well-wishes for our daughter from neighbours, colleagues, family and friends. It seemed as if the whole world was celebrating Alice’s birth with us.
Similarly, when my daughter Rose was born, my husband rang our families to let them know that she had arrived and that I was being looked after. He also contacted our close friends. I don't remember what he said to them. I couldn't hear him over the sound of my own tears.
I remember the silence. Our phones did not ring, ping or vibrate. There were no congratulatory text messages. There were no new baby cards or gifts from well-meaning family and friends. Our families did not come to visit.
Yousef, Rose and I were in a hospital in a foreign country, in a city where I had never been before. Alone, together, surrounded by silence.
My pregnancy with Rose started off like any normal pregnancy but a scan at 12 weeks indicated that there was a problem. The scan showed that the placenta wasn’t working properly and the baby wasn’t moving the way a baby should be moving.
By 14 weeks it was clear that Rose had stopped growing. Her lungs and chest were comparatively smaller than the rest of her body.
I was told that her lungs would never develop and she would never be able to breathe. I was told that her heart would never survive the stress of labour. It was predicted, however, that her heart would most likely stop beating long before that moment.
Diagnostic tests confirmed that my daughter had a very rare chromosomal condition called triploidy. The severity of the variant was fatal. No intervention could save her.
Second and third opinions from consultants and professors of foetal medicine in the UK and Australia re-confirmed that our daughter had what is medically classified as a fatal foetal abnormality. She would never be born alive.
I was told that if I wanted to remain in the Irish hospital system and, under the care of the doctors and midwives who were looking after us, I would have to remain pregnant and wait for my daughter to pass away naturally.
I was overcome with grief but I knew that I needed my family to be with me when I lost my daughter. I wanted to meet her. I wanted her grandparents to meet her. I wanted to give our family and friends a chance to grieve for her with us. I decided that we would wait for our daughter to pass away naturally.
However, as my pregnancy progressed and her condition continued to deteriorate, I began to question if it was right for me to stand back and let the pregnancy continue.
Rose had begun to collect fluid on her lungs and her brain. She had also developed a large blockage in her colon and her growth was so restricted it was illustrated as a flat line instead of a curve on her growth chat.
I would lie in bed at night unable to sleep wondering if she was in distress.
It soon became apparent that my physical health was at risk. My blood pressure started to rise and I was at risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a complication associated with triploid pregnancies that continue into the third trimester. I was told, however, that doctors could not intervene and induce my labour because my daughter's heart was still beating and my life was not at immediate risk.
So at 24 weeks my husband and I made the very Irish decision ‘to travel’. We found ourselves on the ferry, with my hospital files, a maternity bag, a memory box, some sterling and directions to a hospital in a city where I had never been. Even though we were together, I felt alone and abandoned by my country. I was terrified.
However, when we arrived at Liverpool Women’s Hospital we were shown kindness, care and compassion in so many ways.
The midwife held me and told me how sorry she was for my loss. The doctors told me they were sorry that it was they, who as strangers, were now taking over our care. A priest held a blessing for our daughter after she was born.
After Rose was born, a midwife gave me a beautiful white dress and angel blanket to put her in. She also gave me tiny clothes for Rose, knitted especially for my daughter by a mother who lost her baby in similar circumstances.
As I washed and dressed Rose and held her in my arms, I realised I had become part of the group of mothers that nobody wants to be part of. The group of mothers that Ireland turns its back on. Mothers who are bonded through our shared experiences.
We were all pregnant with our much-loved and much-wanted babies who never lived. We gave birth and had to leave our babies in a hospital in a foreign country, while we returned home.
Some mothers had their baby's ashes sent to Ireland by courier, while others returned to the UK to collect their baby's ashes - those women then had to carry their remains through airport security. Others travelled to the UK by ferry so that they could bring their baby home and bury them in Ireland, travelling with their baby's remains in the boot of a car.
Yousef and I travelled to Liverpool by ferry as we had wanted to bring our daughter's body home with us. But when she was born she was very tiny and fragile and we were told that her body would probably not survive the journey home intact. We decided that it would be more respectful to our daughter to leave her body in the care of the midwife who delivered her and have her cremated in Liverpool.
Leaving Ireland pregnant and returning home without my daughter was one of the hardest and saddest moments of my life. Our family and friends didn't get to meet her. It felt as if my country had denied her very existence.
There is no etiquette for our situation and when the accepted mourning traditions of wake and funeral are removed, you are left with a vacuum of grief. We did receive flowers, sympathy cards and mementos and gifts and that acknowledgement. Most people didn't know what to say.
Now that Alice is two-years-old, I am usually asked if she is my first-born and I never really know how to answer this question. I can either lie and say 'yes she is my first', or I can answer truthfully and say 'my first daughter Rose was stillborn in Liverpool Women’s Hospital'.
This answer is usually followed by silence. Silence, so much silence. In Ireland we are good at brushing things under the carpet and pretending it never happened but I never want to deny my daughter's existence, even if we had to leave the country.
I'm still the mother of two beautiful daughters. My daughter Alice lives with me and I have the privilege of watching her grow and turn into to a smart, funny two-year old who loves dinosaurs, stickers and running. My other daughter Rose, lives in my heart and my memories.
While some women and couples will decide to continue with their pregnancies after receiving a diagnosis like mine, others find themselves in a suspended state of mourning, trapped in a pregnancy with no happy ending and they seek medical intervention to bring their pregnancies to an end sooner than would happen naturally.
Travelling to Liverpool was the right decision for my family. It allowed my daughter to pass away peacefully and it enabled me to protect my health and my ability to have a family in the future. Travelling to Liverpool allowed me to protect my daughter from what could have been a very traumatic labour and birth.
Amy Walsh is a member of Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland, a group that is campaigning for a change to Ireland's ban on abortion.