Tuesday 17 September 2019

Kate O'Connell: 'Our foetus had a 10pc chance of being born alive... and my country couldn't facilitate our choices when we needed it most'

Kate O'Connell
Kate O'Connell
Pharmacist and Fine Gael councillor Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce, aged four. Photo: Damien Eagers

Kate O'Connell

Choice is great. Choice is considering what you want and making a decision, knowing that by doing so you're going one way and not another.

Post-choice, you have to live with that decision.

I benefited from a free education system in Ireland, and I chose to work hard in school and go on to college. At third-level in a UK university, I met a nice man and we chose to be together. We got married when I was 27, eight years ago.

My mother said: "If you wait until you can afford to have kids, you'll never have them."

We tried, and we failed. We cried and mourned the loss of what could have been, and then we resolved to try again.

I was 30 getting pregnant for the second time, in a stable relationship, healthy and employed.

Kate O'Connell
Kate O'Connell
Pharmacist and Fine Gael councillor Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce, aged four. Photo: Damien Eagers

When the 20-week scan showed the foetus had serious and visible birth defects, we cried again.

I remember walking out the door of The Coombe and my husband saying: "We can fix this, don't worry, we'll get the best help available."

I shook my head and thought, what choice do we have?

Our choices were limited. We could have a test to see if the foetus had any chance of survival. We could continue on for another 20 weeks and see what would arrive. If we wanted to, we couldn't get a termination in our home country.

We didn't expect to be googling images of birth defects and researching UK hospitals, but we wanted to know our options and what we were dealing with.

We made a choice.

We had the test, which had a 20pc chance of spontaneous miscarriage. When we discovered that the foetus had no genetic defects, just a physical one, we considered survival rates, possible health outcomes and the quality of life the foetus could expect should it survive the pregnancy, the birth and the complicated surgeries.

We also considered our own situation. Would we be able to cope if all the things that could go wrong went wrong?

We contacted experts in surgery, paediatrics, neonatal clinicians and gastroenterological specialists. Our foetus had a 10pc chance of being born alive, surviving surgery and living a normal, unaffected life.

We chose to continue.

The hardest part was dealing with people, well-meaning, excited and happy people, who smiled fondly at my bump and asked had we chosen a name, or what sex the foetus was.

Every day, on my way home from work, I'd pull in to a housing estate in Rathfarnham and sob hot, bitter tears over the steering wheel. Then I'd collect myself and head home to my husband, not wanting him to see my weakness and my fear of the unknown.

We chose a name.

Pierce was born on September 2, 2010. He spent 31 days in Crumlin, the first week with his guts outside his body, as doctors attempted to fit them inside him and close the hole in his abdominal wall.

He was released to our care and we took him home. He is starting primary school next month.

All of our lives are shaped by choice, and the choices we make, to choose one road or another.

Pharmacist and Fine Gael councillor Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce, aged four. Photo: Damien Eagers
Pharmacist and Fine Gael councillor Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce, aged four. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kate O'Connell

I had all of the things I needed to make the choice to continue with the pregnancy.

I had a good job, a loving and stable relationship. I had a good education, a large group of friends and family and I had support.

I had excellent contacts across many medical fields, both in Ireland and abroad. I had enough money to help make my choice easier, whether I had chosen to stay pregnant or not.

If it had been the case that the foetus had serious genetic as well as physical defects, meaning it had zero chance of survival ex-utero, I would have chosen a different path.

We wanted to have a baby. We didn't want to have to make difficult choices, but we had to.

One of the worst parts of the whole experience was realising that when we needed it most, our country couldn't facilitate our choices and support us through them.

When my husband said "we can fix this", he genuinely thought that we could do that here, close to our families and with the help of our trusted and caring doctors.

It was only when we sat down at home and talked about it that the incredulity set in.

What hope is there for other people, in similar or worse situations than us? What would you do if you were the victim of sexual violence, or incest, resulting in a pregnancy?

My husband, the smartest and most considerate man I know, realised the full weight and inequality of these questions with a heavy heart.

The arguments against "allowing" terminations in Ireland are fraught with emotional and hysterical statements from people who fail to consider the reality: that personal and incredibly difficult situations arise here on a daily basis.

For too long Ireland has had a culture of secrecy and shame, surrounding this island like the cold and miserable waters that so many of its women cross.

We condemned our "fallen women" to church-run (and state-subsidised) prisons, punished them for the sin of sex and the flaw of being female.

We sold their children like puppies to foreign homes, or enslaved their "bastard" offspring in industrial schools to be preyed upon by the power-wielding authority.

Thousands of lives destroyed, for generations - and these are people who are "pro-life"?

It is time for the men of Ireland to stand with their sisters, their wives and girlfriends, their mammies and their daughters and say: "We've had enough."

It is time for the women of Ireland to stand with each other and say: "We want a choice."

Choose life, and choose choice.

Kate O'Connell is a pharmacist and businesswoman and the only female Fine Gael member of Dublin City Council. She was selected last April to contest the general election in Dublin Bay South. A mother of two, she is expecting her third child this autumn.

Irish Independent

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