Lack of funds is making awful tragedies worse
Passing the first trimester and getting that little photo of the mini-alien is a moment of joy and relief for pregnant mothers.
Those first 12 weeks tend to be the time when things can go wrong. Then the tiredness and nausea subsides. People notice your bump, your skin is glowing and your hair shiny. You are engrossed in baby stuff and baby banter. Then something happens and that joy evaporates. There is a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
To make matters worse, if they could be any worse, you end up seated in a corridor waiting to be admitted after a miscarriage and there are women with big, healthy bumps sitting opposite and beside you. Beads of sweat pour down your face and you don't know where to look, afraid you will start to cry. You start to cry. I remember it well. It had not occurred to me that I would be in the same waiting room as the expectant mothers.
You don't think of the logistics of what will happen if it all goes wrong. The very idea that a woman should go through labour, have a still-birth and be placed in a ward with new mothers is beyond belief. That there could be visitors coming in with baby presents while another mother is contemplating a burial, is inhumane.
Yet it happens. Yesterday, at the Oireachtas Health Committee, Dr Sharon Sheehan, Master of the Coombe Hospital, spoke about the lack of maternity facilities appropriate to clinical needs. She cited the bereaved mothers sharing a room or even a ward with newborn babies and the mothers who are miscarrying waiting alongside mums with buggies. She said that this was happening to some mother as she spoke.
Addressing Jerry Buttimer TD, she stated that funding must be made available for infrastructure, so that maternity hospitals can deliver a humane service.
Is it too much to ask that there should be a separate entrance, waiting area, and some quiet rooms for bereaved mothers and fathers? When I was in hospital in Belfast in 2002, to have an early delivery, my baby was stillborn. I only discovered afterwards that I had been in a special sound-proofed area and delivery suite, so that I would not hear newborns cry. The suite even had a sofa-bed for the father.
At no point did I see another pregnant woman or hear babies. The nursing staff were trained to deal with situations that the mother would not have anticipated. They gave me his tiny footprints on a card, a crocheted blanket and a coffin the size of a shoe box. They made a tragedy almost bearable.
Maybe we should not be surprised that funding in the health service cannot be extended to such a tragic area of female health. Dr Sheehan asked that the National Maternity Strategy would not be left to gather dust with the many reports that have gone before it. When it comes to women's mental and physical health in this country, we seem to be lacking again.