Ahead of the March for Choice next week in Dublin, there was a Repeal Not Replace demonstration in Cork City on Saturday 23rd September. I was asked by the organisers to be one of the speakers at this event. Initially I was hesitant to speak, feeling like my story wasn’t as relevant of that of many of the women who have suffered greatly under the 8th Amendment to our constitution. However, on reflection, I realised that as a woman who has gone through pregnancy in Ireland, I do have my experiences of maternity care under the 8th to speak about. The 8th Amendment is about so much more than abortion and it’s availability in our state, and I hope that I got that across in my speech. Here’s the full text of the speech, I’d love to hear what you think.
My name is Lisa. I’m a 26 year old woman, mother to a three year old boy, happily living together with him and his daddy. I’ve never had an abortion. I was lucky enough that my pregnancy didn’t endanger my life, and that my baby was perfectly healthy, and that circumstances fell together so that my unplanned pregnancy at 22 wasn’t the catastrophe it could have been. Sheer dumb luck has me in my current circumstance. I chose to have my baby. I had the means available to me to travel had I needed to. My Irish passport granted me right of entry to the UK, and a method to get out of Ireland. My employment meant that I could muster together the funds for a termination if I needed it. I had a supportive family and friend structure that could have been called on if need be. But I chose to stay and continue my pregnancy, this was my choice. This is a choice taken away from women unable to leave the country, unable to get the funds together to travel, unable to cross the sea to end their pregnancy.
My experience of maternity services in Ireland is one where I consider myself lucky. I was a patient of CUMH during my 2013/2014 pregnancy. I did not receive an anomaly scan at 20 weeks. I was advised that they were not the norm in CUMH at that stage. At my 22 week appointment, I received a two minute scan which showed the heartbeat. The doctor told us “I don’t see anything, it must be a girl”. A few days later, I was involved in a road traffic accident, and from this point on my unborn son (who I found out was a boy at our 31 week 4d scan) became a regularly photographed being. This wasn’t down to the car accident, though this definitely made me a whole lot more nervous about my baby, but rather to my high blood pressure, which became pre-eclampsia.
I was kept as an inpatient from 32 weeks until delivery at 37+3, and for the most part felt vastly uninformed about why I was there. For someone who had sky high blood pressure, having to consult Google to be given a proper answer for what pre-eclampsia entailed instead of being told the blunt basics by my doctor was very frustrating. At all times, the midwives, in particular the student midwives who worked tirelessly, were incredible. However, the communication between them and the doctors was not consistent, and many times it felt like their concerns were not being listened to. A comment made upon my moving to the High Dependency Unit during my induction from one midwife to another stated that she (the midwife who had been treating me for the past four weeks) had told the doctors I “needed to be brought down a week ago”. I had spent that same week questioning my doctors at every rounds as to what the plan was with regard to delivering my baby. Much as I did not wish to have a premature baby who would be facing health difficulties unnecessarily, having seen so many news reports during my pregnancy about mismanagement of difficulties in pregnancy, I was scared.
I was taking the highest doses of blood pressure medication and still watching it soar. At one stage I was banned from playing cards with my visitors, as my excitement at potential of winning pushed it up further. Google and Downton Abbey were my only frames of reference for pre-eclampsia. At the time, the 42 weeks campaign was happening in tandem with my pregnancy. I learned about other women’s experiences with losing bodily autonomy crossing the threshold of the maternity hospital. I hoped my case would be different.
My induction experience isn’t one I would ever seek to relive. At 37+3, I wasn’t favourable. I’d done my research in all that bed rest time. I knew this was more likely to end in a c-section. I had made my peace with it. So, when at 24 hours into gels being applied nothing was happening, I asked to be placed on “the list”, added to the next morning’s c-section queue. I was laughed at and made to feel stupid for asking. I was told it would be something I’d regret, and that it would affect any other pregnancies. My comments reflecting my reluctance to have another after my experience during this pregnancy were met with laughs and disbelief, which made me feel spoken down to. I was instead told they would break my waters. I agreed to this, having been told I wasn’t allowed to put myself on the list.
It all happened quickly from there. They started me on a Syntocinon drip – I asked not to but was told I had to in order to progress. I’d seen reports of several cases of foetal distress caused by the Syntocinon which had led to tragedy and was concerned. As it turned out, my fears were grounded – the foetal heartbeat monitor and my blood pressure both went mad, and we wound up having an emergency c-section. The epidural, the only thing I remember signing for, didn’t take. It just made me shaky, but able to feel everything. Not ideal when they’re cutting into you. I shouted to tell them this and was told “discomfort is normal” – thankfully my next shouts that it was pain, not discomfort were listened to and I was put under general anaesthetic.
I am lucky. My requests may not have been listened to by those in charge. I was laughed at. I was not listened to when I was in distress. I was made to feel little and stupid when I was at my most vulnerable. But. My baby was healthy. I was healthy. We left the hospital six days later. My baby came home with me. I am one of the lucky ones.
It shouldn’t be down to sheer dumb luck, this lottery of who gets to win and lose when it comes to maternity care. My path through motherhood has not been smooth. I’ve suffered from postnatal depression for much of the last three years. I’ve been lucky enough to have a GP who is understanding and compassionate. Regardless of her compassion, she is restricted in what she can do if I were to fall pregnant again. The Irish constitution tells her she must value the life of the foetus over the quality of life of her patient – unless it’s life threatening, there is nothing she can do in the woman’s favour. No woman walks into her doctor’s office and says “I don’t care what you do to the foetus, treat me”, but we would all like to assume that when it comes down to it, our lives do matter more than what is in many cases, an unviable life without an incubator.
Removing the 8th Amendment is about so much more than the abortion issue. The removal of it from our constitution won’t make abortion legal. Instead, it will stop criminalising women for taking back control over their own bodies. It will take away the fears doctors have when it comes to treating pregnant women, that if something happens to the pregnancy that they and the woman will face up to 14 years in prison. It will take away the feelings of shame and degradation that women feel when they’re violated with unwanted sweeps and cervical checks without their consent, as they’ll no longer be able to say “the law says I have to make sure that the baby is alright”. As mothers, we aren’t deliberately out to not do the best for our children. But there must be a balance, and that balance can only be corrected by repealing the 8th Amendment, and letting the women of Ireland have control over their experiences in pregnancy.