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'It's time to vote Yes and bring compassion home'



Dr Siobhan Donohue. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Dr Siobhan Donohue. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Dr Siobhan Donohue. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Going into my 20-week anomaly scan, I thought I knew what to expect, as this was my third pregnancy. But I will always remember Thursday, September 22, 2011, as the day that everything changed.

The sonographer found the baby's heartbeat, but then went quiet. "I'm a little concerned," she said. "I can't see the top of the baby's head."

I'm a GP by profession so my medical brain took over as I tried to work out what she meant. Then the penny dropped. "Do you mean like anencephaly?" I said.

"Oh you've heard of it," she replied, with obvious relief that she didn't need to explain that the top of my baby's head had never formed; that there was nothing above his eyes, no scalp, no brain, no skull; that he would not survive and would not be coming home to live with our family.

My husband and I spent a weekend grappling with this information and its implications. I could see myself having daily conversations at the creche, the supermarket or at work, the usual happy things pregnant people are asked about due dates and baby names. What would I say? Would I play along as if all was well or retell the awful truth? I'd be in bits. They'd be in bits. Day-to-day life would become intolerable. So, we made the decision to travel.

We got an appointment with Liverpool Women's Hospital for the following Thursday.

We booked flights and accommodation and organised family to take care of our children.

We were "lucky" to be able to afford the considerable cost to access care in England; lucky to have in-date passports and be well enough to travel.

We got on that early morning flight leaving behind our own medical team and the care and support of our families, and travelled with businessmen and holidaymakers to receive care from a medical team we'd never met in a city we didn't know.

I had to go without giving my parents a hug before we left because they were away on holiday. But I couldn't stay and continue to grow my baby to bury it, because I knew in my heart and soul it would break me.

The beacon of light in this story is Liverpool. As soon as we arrived at the hospital there, we were wrapped in a blanket of kindness and compassion. Everyone we met told us how sorry they were that we had to be there.

They rescanned me to confirm the diagnosis and they talked us through what would happen in the coming days. We discussed what we would do with our baby's remains. It was surreal.

I was given the initial dose of medication to take and they sent us off to come back in 48 hours. We had a couple of days wandering around Liverpool looking like tourists but carrying our heavy secret in our hearts. We bought a small hat to cover the baby's head after delivery and I cried myself to sleep each night.

And so, on Saturday, October 1, we returned to the hospital and I was admitted for a compassionate induction of labour.

I'd been induced before and this was the same except they gave me tablets instead of a drip. I went into labour and eventually, late that night, our little mite was delivered and, as expected, did not survive. But we got to hold our son, we named him TJ, and we cried for his death.

The midwife took hand and footprints and photos for us. The chaplin, a man in his 70s, blessed him and spoke so kindly with us, and I was so grateful to be cared for by these strangers.

Then, we had to leave our baby boy behind and come home to get on with our lives. A few weeks later a courier arrived at my door with a package containing my baby's cremated remains.

I wish I could have delivered my baby in Ireland. I wish my parents and children could have been there. I wish I didn't have to think about logistics when I should have been starting to grieve for the death of my son.

The Constitution is too blunt an instrument to regulate compassionate healthcare. On May 25, let's change that. Let's bring compassion home, and vote Yes.

Dr Siobhan Donohue is a GP. To follow her on Twitter visit @SiobhanDonohue


Sunday Independent