Manifesto: I believe my life is important – more important than that of another life that hasn’t been born yet – not equal to, MORE important.
Now let me break this down for you, because I am a mother of 10 children, both living and dead. So I feel that when it comes to bodily autonomy, childbirth and death i feel I bave a thing or two to say on the subject.
All of my children were planned, my husband and I were ‘childhood sweethearts’ we married young and we were keen to start a family early. I actually didn’t realise how good I was at being a mother until I had my first child and I loved it, still do, I would have babies until the cows came home if I could. I come from a long line of women who had typically Irish huge families my dad is the 11th in his family, my paternal grandmother by all accounts a tiny powerhouse of a woman and I like to amuse myself by imagining she was a little tiger between the sheets too her and my grandad were known to be very much in love for all of their marriage.
My maternal grandmother was no less formidable. She delivered many children alive and unfortunately many dead and many to die before too long. Only 3 eventually lived past infancy. She was rhesus negative – as am I – and unfortunately most of her losses occurred before the discovery of Anti D. Her babies were known as ‘blue babies’. My mother was one of the first generation who lived because of Anti D. My maternal grandmother suffered terribly with mental health issues her entire life which may or may not have been related or exacerbated by her traumatic birth experiences. She did however thankfully have a very happy marriage and a loving husband.
My first pregnancy happened a few months before my wedding (whoops) I had come off the pill as I wanted to be ready to go from day 1. We just didn’t realise how easy it can happen so soon after stopping contraception! We were delighted, ok I’d be drinking oj in my champagne glass on the big day but hey this was bigger. I miscarried at week 11. It wasn’t traumatic, I just started to bleed and cramp and by the time I got to the hospital for a scan there was nothing left. Home you go, so sorry, try again. Take these tablets they’ll help you expel everything and take some paracetamol too if you need it. I slept for a few days and then I got up because that’s what you do.
We got married and I was pregnant again in no time. Delighted with life. This one didn’t get past week 8. Same deal, just started to bleed and cramp out of nowhere. This was scary, two in a row? Would we ever have any children? What did it mean? Were we heading down a long road of loss and infertility? How come I get pregnant so easily? Why do they die? So many questions, no answers. Home you go, so sorry, try again. Take these tablets, they’ll help you to expel everything and take some paracetamol too if you need it.
Third time lucky. And we were lucky, beautiful healthy baby girl born at term. The love of our lives. Our past misfortune a distant memory, a blip. I remember being constantly worried throughout that pregnancy that loss could happen at any moment and feeling that I couldn’t let go and love this child until she was in my arms, self preservation.
A year later I was ready to go again we loved being parents and this child was the delight of our lives, she needed a sibling and I was addicted to oxytocin mad for another baby. Our bad luck returned. Week 10. Home you go, so sorry, try again. Take these tablets they’ll help you expel everything and take some paracetamol too if you need it. No answers – it’s just bad luck. Isn’t there some testing to do to figure out why this keeps happening? No, you’ve delivered a healthy child which means you can conceive, carry and deliver. There’s nothing wrong just bad luck.
Fifth time lucky. Beautiful baby girl #2 delivered perfectly. No drama in the pregnancy just creeping anxiety and obsession with hearing baby’s heartbeat. Queues were long and medical staff were under pressure nobody has time to analyse, a kind nurse once gave me a leaflet and told me that after the third miscarriage investigation does begin so maybe ‘next time’ I might get some answers.
Next time was two years later. 13 weeks. This one was physically tougher, it started like all the rest, cramps, bleeding, dread, disappointment, grudging acceptance. I had a D&C this time. I remember the surgeon accidentally knocked on the ‘hoover’ machine while I was still awake. He nearly died, he leaned over me in his gown and hairnets and said I am so sorry, and then I was out. I woke up back upstairs on a gynae ward with a curtain pulled around me in a room full of women with curtains pulled around them, all crying quietly. A few weeks later a report revealed that what had been removed from me had been examined and suggested Trisomy 14, not compatible with life. So sorry, home you go, try again. I googled Trisomy 14 for some answers.
Pregnancy number seven happened not long after and from the start was very different. I was now officially ‘high risk’ and as such attended the EPAU at 5 weeks to monitor the situation. It was at this visit that we discovered not one or two but three foetuses!. Triplets! I nearly fell over with the shock. And apparently a good many follicles left in the ovary indicated more than 3 eggs had been released. A nurse asked me how long I had been having IVF. When I told her I hadn’t she went to get her manager. ‘Mary’. Mary had one look at my file and decided I was a crack pot. She very kindly suggested to me that a lot of women who have experienced loss like mine might be inclined to buy medication online ‘from Canadian pharmacies’ in an attempt to become pregnant quickly one such drug is called clomid and if I would just tell her how much I’d had and for how long it would be very helpful. This was the first time I ever realised that medical professionals treat pregnant women like livestock rather than people. I was to be ‘managed’. Not taken care of. They didn’t believe me.
I came back a week later and we were down to two foetuses, one hadn’t ‘hung on’. Triplets turned to twins. I was offered a course of progesterone in an effort to swell out my womb and encourage the other two to life. Apparently that’s what all the women on IVF get. They still didn’t believe me. Another week later another little sac gone. We were down to one. The progesterone therapy was merciless. I thought I would lose my mind. I had two babies at home whose mother had turned into a nervous, exhausted, aggressive monster on the edge of sanity. But that one little last one held on and another beautiful baby girl arrived at term. Albeit with a slightly unhinged mother in tow.
Where are we now? 7 pregnancies, 3 babies, I lose count myself at times!
They say you lose your mind after baby number 3 and it is true. I was never right after the torture of 9 months of hormone therapy and worry. I fainted outside the door of the EPAU on one visit because I worked myself up so much about what the scan would reveal, I had regular panic attacks at the thought of another D&C and nightmares about rooms full of curtained beds and quiet weeping. I started a course of anti depressants at 12 weeks post partum and struggled for the first year to keep a lid on my sanity. But we survived. My marriage survived. The kids survived. I was changed but I survived. Mental illness is transformational. A different woman came out the other side. I was woke. I started to think about my poor maternal grandmother. No answers, no pain relief, no options, no support. No wonder she lost her mind. She didn’t make it back, not all of her anyway.
Two years later I realised I wasn’t finished. I was terrified but Mother Nature is an opportunist. She caught us at a good moment, and bam! Pregnancy number 8, baby number 10. A beautiful boy. Happy and healthy. This pregnancy was different. I was not sleepwalking from appointment to appointment, I was not blindly following instructions from doctors I was asking questions and looking for clarity. And I was starting to notice things.
It was in this pregnancy that my right to bodily autonomy was brought into question. It was in this pregnancy that the right to life of my unborn child threatened my right to life. It was in this pregnancy that I was denied access to free, safe and legal medical care.
I hope up to this point that I have demonstrated how very wanted all of my pregnancies were. I wanted this baby so, so much. I had overcome PND and PTSD to try one more time to bring the joy of life to our family. I was willing to put up with ALOT to carry this life. And, this was our boy! Finally a blue babgro, and a little man to carry on his daddy’s name. A little willy! We wanted this child badly. But I did not want to die in order to bring him.
I developed crushing headaches. Pain like I could never describe. Not migraine, I’ve had migraine, I know it, it wasn’t this. I felt I was being stabbed in the head. Off to the hospital. They scanned the baby and traced the baby and took blood and measurements and eventually after hours of queueing and worrying and waiting with no pain relief I was told ‘the baby is fine, you can head Home’. The nurse who told me this actually looked like she was giving me great news – your baby is fine! You must be relieved!. Um yea I’m relieved my baby is ok but what are we going to do about the blinding pain I’m in? I’ve got 3 small kids at home and I can’t see?. Blank stares all round. Oh, we don’t know what’s causing that / but your baby is fine! And that’s the important thing. Can I get some pain relief? Oh no, that wouldn’t be good for the baby – maybe drink some warm water. WARM WATER.
My husband, he of calm disposition, lost his shit. Are you having a laugh? You cannot leave her this way? You are a doctor what is wrong with you? INVESTIGATE THIS! This could be something more serious! He couldn’t believe how invisible I seemed to be.
We were informed that as the baby is ‘fine’ I wasn’t classed as an emergency. And as I have a headache and this is a maternity hospital there’s not a lot could be done. ‘Fine then, if you want to go further into this you’ll have to transfer over to the nearest general hospital’. And so over we went to A&E. following triage and a parade of doctors all of whom scratched their heads and pondered what to do with me I eventually procured some pain relief. Somebody realised that I was in distress. A bed was found and I was for MRI the next day as a bleed on the brain was the worry.
Now here is where the whole thing became dangerous. A neurologist visited my bedside to explain things. Basically, we’re worried that you’ve got a bleed on your brain and this bleeding is going to cause a stroke or worse. We think it’s caused by high blood pressure from the pregnancy. Any questions?
Yes. We have questions. If it is what we think it is and I’m only 18 weeks along can we expect this to get worse? Yes. This pregnancy is not good for you. Ok so if we think this pregnancy is threatening my life shouldn’t we end it? Awful and all as that may be? Well now we can’t do that because right now at this moment you are not dying. …. sorry? Doesn’t it make more sense to stop this now before it kills me? Yes it does. But it’s against the law, your baby has a right to live until the moment it starts to kill you, it’s not killing you now, it could, but it’s not right now. Ok if this bleeding does start to kill me how quickly will it happen? Hard to say, but most likely pretty quickly, minutes. And then you’ll act? Yes we’ll whip you up to surgery and attempt to save your life. If there’s time. IF THERES TIME.
Husband: woah woah woah are you telling me that she just has to sit here on a ticking time bomb, in agonising pain hoping that something doesn’t happen? That’s ridiculous we’ve got 3 children at home who need a mother, my wife doesn’t want to die! but your going to risk waiting and her and the baby dying because it has a right to life? Don’t get me wrong we love our baby and god knows we have endured enough loss but for gods sake it’s 18 weeks it’s not viable doesn’t my wife the person who is actually BORN have some kind of right to a chance herself? were not talking about livestock here this is a Person! This is beyond fucked up, were his exact words.
That was the moment my husband became woke. He was incredulous that a woman could be left life hanging in the balance because of a law that prohibited me from endangering the life inside me. He was shocked that it was out of my hands. My life, was out of my hands. I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t protect myself, I wasn’t being given a chance. And now, he realised, we were in the system, now even if we were to travel to take matters into our own hands I could end up in jail! It is a beautiful thing to be in the presence of a man who in front of your own eyes sees his privilege for the first time in his life. The realisation of how different we are. And how lucky he is. The young doctor, in fairness to him, was as incredulous, he apologised, he sympathised and he reiterated that his hands were tied by the law. And then he left us to be alone with the enormity of our situation.
The MRI revealed a bleed which responded well to treatment. So in the end the risk became lower and lower and baby carried to term. My headache never fully went away but it was manageable.
That was our last baby. I had a tubal ligation after delivery. I was willing to endure so much because of my natural urge to procreate but my natural instinct to live has outweighed my reproductive needs. That is a dark chapter in our lives and the horror of what could have been for my family never leaves me. You think that after a traumatic experience like that you can just walk away, close the door and never look back at it again, draw a line, say phew! We dodged a bullet! And get on with life but I can’t. I have 3 daughters. Who all have my genes inside them. My eldest is 10 now. It won’t be long before that organ in her belly kicks in to life and she becomes a ward of the state herself.
My poor husband looked haunted the first time I said that to him.