Just shy of the 12 week mark, Aoife Lowry was so excited about her second pregnancy that she began telling people her happy news.
Aoife’s partner, Paul, and her toddler son, Oscar, also couldn’t wait to see their family grow.
“I had already imagined him and Oscar being best buddies, and excited to see how they got on, and what Oscar made of this new little person,” says Aoife.
And understandably, Aoife was distressed and worried for her baby when she fell ill. Her temperature shot up and she started to pass blood clots. Several visits to the hospital later they admitted her.
“I was told I had a bacterial infection – haemophilus influenza – in my blood. With this, most pregnant women suffer a miscarriage, but the fact that the baby was still there with a good strong heartbeat was promising. However, I was told to prepare for a very early delivery. Paul and I cried… it was a lot to take in.”
After a few days in hospital Aoife was discharged and told to return in three days for a scan – which she anxiously did.
“My consultant met me at the scan, and pointed out the baby’s heartbeat (relief!) and then asked had I had any gushes since being in the hospital. I said yes, but I’d been bleeding so much that I didn’t think anything of it.”
The consultant told Aoife that the membrane around the baby had ruptured and there was no fluid supporting the baby.
“My heart fell to the floor. I had been on such a high after seeing the heartbeat and had convinced myself since being discharged that I was going to be one of those lucky people that beat all the odds, and that this little boy and Oscar were going to be best of buds. The consultants face said it all.”
Aoife was told that without the fluid the baby’s lungs wouldn’t be able to develop and that she too was now at risk.
“There was a considerable risk of infection to us both as the baby was now exposed. As the baby grew there would be more pressure on him and muscles wouldn’t develop properly and there was the possibility of organ damage. Basically, the baby would not develop in the current environment. But the baby was still attached by cord so his heart was still beating away.”
Aoife was told that there were three possibilities ahead of her: her baby’s heart could stop and they could induce labour; she would display signs of having an infection and they could intervene, or she could travel to England for a termination.
“Here I was, with an awful decision to make having just been told that our son wasn’t going to make it. Our baby was perfect, but everything around him wasn’t; he needed support systems and my infection had corroded those. It wasn’t fair! What did I do wrong? How did this happen?”
Aoife was admitted to the hospital again so that she could be monitored. Over the next few days, the baby’s heart continued to beat.
“I broke down. It’s something you should never have to want – your baby’s heart to stop beating, and yet, here I was. I didn’t want to go to England, so what could I do but hope he’d pass away quickly.
Ultimately, Aoife and Paul decided that waiting in a hospital for their baby to die was cruel – and so they travelled to England to end the pregnancy.
“I made Paul ring the agency because I just couldn’t. They were very kind, took our details and said someone would be in touch in 48 hours, and average waiting time was 2-3 weeks. I really didn’t want to have to wait that long. I wasn’t sleeping, I just wanted this to be over. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I got an appointment for nine days later.”
Aoife had two scans prior to travelling. The second scan was just before she was due to leave.
“I was really hoping not to have to travel. I talked everything through with my consultant, just to reaffirm to myself that there was no possibility for this baby. I didn’t want make a selfish decision.”
Aoife says she found the travel to Liverpool very distressing and that she worried that everyone knew she was there for a termination.
“I worried the taxi man on the way back to the airport would figure it out and judge me. I wondered if the group of girls that were on our flight that had gone on a day shopping trip, recognised us from that morning and figured it out. I felt like I had just done something wrong. I wanted to shout from the roof tops, he wasn’t going to live, you don’t understand!”
Aoife says she feels that being cast out of her country added to the stigma and distress of an already upsetting situation.
“I hate that my country has made me feel like a criminal for ending a pregnancy early that was not going to produce a baby that could survive outside the womb. If I had to wait until the baby’s heart stopped my mental health would have suffered hugely. I couldn’t have done it. I was already a mess.”
“I know that deciding to have an abortion was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I haven’t even started to process and grieve yet. But right now, I’m angry that I had to travel to a foreign country, away from my family, friends and home to get the treatment I should be able to get here. I’m angry that I’m made to feel shame at a time when I really don’t need that added to the sadness I already feel.”
A few weeks prior to her experience Aoife had been at the March For Choice. While she at that time considered herself to be pro-choice she also had reservations about abortion access. Aoife says her own experience and that of other women have changed her views significantly.
“I joined a Facebook group called Parents For Choice and I felt like I was getting great information on many of my concerns that I would have had about abortion. The crux of it is that we have to trust women. We have to trust women to know when they are ready for a pregnancy, and for a baby. It is a huge responsibility and not one that anyone should take lightly. And just because you would make one choice, does not mean that is the right choice for the next person.
“If you were pregnant and got some bad news and decided that you would prefer to hold onto that baby as long as you can – then that should be your choice. It should also be your choice to end it, should you decide you’re not able for it. People need to trust women to make the correct decision for their situation. Nobody wants an abortion, I am not pro-abortion, I am pro-choice.”
Aoife became pregnant again and now has a healthy 12-week baby girl. She says that during that pregnancy she was very worried as she “didn’t want to have to make that awful decision and journey again, should something else go wrong”.
Finally, Aoife concludes that she feels that because of the 8th amendment pregnant women in Ireland are simply treated as second class citizens.
“I have always been aware that when you get pregnant here, you come second. To be honest, I would hesitate to get pregnant again.”