I fell pregnant with our first baby in June 2009. As the months went by (and after weeks of very bad pregnancy sickness) we got used to the idea and started to really look forward to our new arrival in March 2010.
I remember a class I taught, buying us little baby-grows as a thank you and myself and my husband laughing that these little things would be hanging on our clothes-horse soon enough – very weird but very exciting!
I was attending one of the Dublin maternity hospitals under a semi-private team. I was given a high-tech scan on the 13th week and sent off with little pictures of the baby to show my husband. Over the coming months, I gradually grew bigger and my checkups with my GP and the consultant in the hospital passed without any problems.
Over that time the consultant scanned me twice using an old-fashioned smaller machine and both times said the baby was fine and had a very strong heartbeat etc. Everyone was saying how great and healthy I looked and my baby was kicking very often at this stage. I never, however, throughout this time was offered the ‘big 20-week scan’ that everyone talks about. This is the half-way mark of the pregnancy and looks at the full anatomy of the baby to check that everything is okay. My friends were all asking me why I hadn’t been sent for one.
On a visit to the consultant on 6th December 2009, I was at week 26/40 of the pregnancy (6 1⁄2 months). My husband came with me for the visit as we wanted to find out the sex of the baby and also he had never been to a scan with me before and was very excited. At this appointment, again the doctor told us all was okay with the baby and she told us that it was a little girl – we were thrilled! My husband asked her why I had not been sent for the elusive big 20-week scan and she said that ‘a moratorium has been put on scans as they are very busy in that department’. However, she followed that up with asking did we really want that big scan?
We both answered ‘yes’ and she said that they have been told that they can now send mothers as they are not as busy as they were. This struck us as a bit confusing. Was she covering up the fact that she had not sent me for the scan at 20 weeks? We left her then and went home. I was lecturing that evening so didn’t answer my phone or listen to the messages until I got back. There was a message on my phone from a doctor in the hospital saying that she had an appointment for me the very next day at 2.40 p.m. in the scanning department. I have to admit I became a bit anxious that the scan was so soon but tried not to worry.
So, the next day I drove into the hospital and our lives changed forever. The sonographer scanned me and became very silent and kept zooming in on a particular area of our little girl. I became very anxious and asked her was there anything wrong. She then asked me did my husband work far away. I told her, Citywest, and started to cry. She told me that something was fatally wrong with our baby and that she would call my husband to get him to come in. She then went and got another doctor to give a second opinion – I sobbed the whole time still not knowing what was going on. The doctors spoke in code and the second doctor seemed to agree with the doctor that was scanning me.
The two doctors then set me up on the bed and sat down. They told me that my baby had a condition called ‘anencephaly’ and could not survive outside the womb. Anencephaly is when the baby’s little brain and skull don’t develop properly because the neuro-tubes don’t close correctly when the baby is forming – we’ve learnt since that it is a very rare condition and happens to 1 in every 1,000 babies. I was absolutely devastated and cried until I felt sick. My husband then arrived and the scan doctor explained it all again.
I kept thinking that someone was going to tell us this was a big mistake and that she would be fine. The doctor explained that our baby would be perfectly formed except that she would have very little or no brain. I swear to God I thought I would burst with emotion and sadness in that scan room. I asked her why my baby was kicking so strongly (hoping she would say she’d made a mistake) and she answered that the baby doesn’t need it’s brain in the womb to kick – that the baby kicks from reflex and her heart.
Eventually my husband asked the doctor ‘what now?’ In the shock, I presumed they would take me in straight away and perform a c-section or induce me. Then, the doctor hit us with something I never imagined I’d ever hear in my life. She said that under catholic law they could not induce me in Ireland until I was at least 37 weeks gone. That would have meant me walking around for another 11 weeks knowing that my baby was going to die. People asking me when she was due? Are ye all set? Have you got the nursery organised? To be honest you would have found me under a bus if I had to go on carrying her knowing what we knew.
The doctor said the other option was to go to England where they would induce me early because of the condition. We were floored. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. That the hospital would do nothing for me unless I waited another 11 weeks letting my baby grow bigger knowing that she could not survive outside the womb. I asked the doctor what she would do in my position and she said, ‘I would travel’.
I was finding it difficult to process all that was being said and really was waiting for someone to tell me that this was all a big joke or indeed that this had all been a bad dream. Eventually, we left the doctor and went home. She told us to come into her the next day and let her know what we had decided. I can not describe what it was like leaving the hospital and going home. That evening we were shell-shocked and started to question why this had not been spotted earlier and tried to get our heads around the fact that we would have to go to England to have our baby induced early. The whole time feeling absolutely devastated that our little girl could not survive.
The next day we met the doctor that had scanned us (there was no sign of my consultant who had missed our daughter’s fatal abnormality). The doctor asked us what we wanted to do and we said that for my mental well-being we wanted to have our baby early and mourn her now instead of waiting full-term. What a choice to even have to make. Although this doctor was really lovely and on our side, we were floored again when she told us that we would have to organise everything ourselves. She said she wasn’t allowed to give us any information on travelling. She did however recommend Liverpool Women’s hospital and told us that that’s where many others have had to go in our situation. She also gave us the number of the Irish Family Planning Association and told us to call them. We did and they were very supportive.
We left the hospital that Wednesday in complete shock and despair – not only were we trying to deal with the fact that our little daughter was going to die, but we also had to go and organise the birth etc ourselves in Liverpool. My husband thankfully was very good at trying to organise everything – God love him. His wife was on the bed in absolute bits and he was on the phone to the midwives in Liverpool organising for us to go over the following week, organising flights for us, the boat for our parents so they could drive me home and accommodation for us all etc. Thankfully, my dad (as my mum is dead) and my husband’s mum came with us and were a great support.
We were to go to Liverpool the following Monday 14th, December. Looking back I don’t know how I survived those days waiting and carrying my lovely little daughter around knowing that she was going to die. Eventually, Monday came and we arrived in Liverpool Women’s Hospital. We were brought straight to the Fetal Abnormalities Unit there and met a lovely professor who scanned me and confirmed the condition. He said that it should have been spotted at the scan I had at week 13 and said it was a disgrace that I didn’t have a 20-week anatomy scan also. He said that they have people like us travelling to that hospital usually on a scale of two couples per week suffering like our baby with what is known as a Fatal Fetal Abnormality, i.e. where the baby will not survive outside the womb.
He said that he couldn’t fathom the Irish system at all that would not look after people like us – it’s own citizens – where it is clear that the baby will not survive. As I’m writing this I still can’t believe as an Irish high taxpayer that after hearing such a body-blow about our little baby that the hospital and the Irish system effectively turned their back on us. Apparently, in Ireland the only time that they will induce a woman early is if she is in danger, i.e. if the mother is suicidal.
The hospital started to induce me on Wednesday and labour began. Eventually, our little daughter Molly was stillborn on Thursday 17th, December 2009 at 10.31 p.m. She had lived in my womb at that stage for 27 1⁄2 weeks. She was perfectly formed and beautiful except for the head area (which the nurses covered very sensitively with a lovely little woollen hat). Molly stayed in the room with myself and my husband the night she was born, which was really surreal but comforting. We held her and kissed her little hands and feet and face – thank god she had not suffered. Thankfully, the midwives and doctors in Liverpool were absolutely lovely, really supportive and so caring to us suffering our loss.
The next day, Friday 18th, a lovely priest came to bless Molly and we prayed over her. I was then released. I can not describe how it felt to watch the midwife wheel little Molly’s cradle out of the room to go to the mortuary. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to see our little daughter leave knowing that we would never see her again.
Because it was so close to Christmas we could neither bury nor cremate her before the holidays. Can you imagine this happening to you? Our baby was dead and we were devastated. Our parents were in bits and we are all in Liverpool, away from the rest of our family and our own surroundings – having to go back to Ireland and leave our baby in a hospital mortuary over Christmas all because our own country had turned it’s back on us??
As you can imagine, Christmas passed in a blur of delirium and tears. Our family were a great support thank god. On 28th December, together with some members of our family we flew back to Liverpool and Molly was cremated the next day. We did have the option to bring her body back to Belfast that week but decided after all that had happened to have a service for her in Liverpool and then fly her ashes home. To be honest, all the organising with Liverpool is a blur now as we were completely in shock still.
We now have Molly’s ashes with us in Dublin, in what would have been her little bedroom. Sometime in the future, we will bury them. I’m not ready for another ceremony yet though.
Well why I am writing this? The main reason is to highlight the absolute lack of care there is for parents who discover that their baby has a fatal fetal abnormality. I can’t believe the hold that the Catholic Church still has over hospitals today. The reality is a little baby is fully formed in the womb from week 24 (after that the baby is just growing bigger and stronger) and after that no matter what the circumstances, it is known as the delivery of a baby.
Why then would my own country, which I have always been extremely loyal to and paid huge amounts of tax to, not allow my baby to be delivered here after they gave me the devastating news about her? No matter when Molly was born she was not going to survive. Why make mothers wait until 37 weeks, letting your baby grow bigger and bigger, knowing that your baby can not survive?
We have been left absolutely heartbroken. It’s hard enough grieving our lovely little Molly and the loss of all the hopes and dreams we had for her. Anything that we had got for her my poor husband has hidden away from me until I am ready to see and touch them again. What made it much more hurtful was the fact that we had to leave the comfort of our own country and travel.
My husband and I would never have known that any of this was possible only that it happened to us.