This blog post is a bit of a departure for me – it is intensely personal and provoked by the tragedy of the death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital following the miscarriage of her 17 week foetus. I don’t usually post on personal issues but Savita’s tragic death has provoked me to reflect on my own experiences. It’s not up to me to pronounce on Savita’s medical treatment – I’d rather talk about the mother’s voice in this.
I grew up in a Catholic family in the North East of England, encouraged to form my own opinions but with the expectation that I would retain the family faith. As I grew up, I found myself to be increasingly sceptical about the totality of Catholic doctrine – a pick and mix Catholic. By the time I started my own family, I had worked out that although I was entirely in support of contraception and the availability of abortion, I would be very reluctant to have an abortion myself and, having discussed this with my husband, hoped that we could bring up a child with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida.
32 years ago in 1980, I was pregnant for the second time. As with my previous pregnancy, I had declined an Alpha feta protein test because of our willingness to accept a disabled child (and the AFP test might have indicated problems or multiple pregnancy). I had (as was typical for that era) a 12 weeks scan that showed one healthy foetus. At 30 weeks in 1981, I had another scan and discovered I was pregnant with twins, one of whom had a serious neural tube defect (described to me initially as microcephaly) that was incompatible with life. Naturally, whilst I was very sad that I was carrying a foetus that would not live beyond a very short time, my attention focused on the twin who could survive (he did and is a great contributor to our family and society in general!).
My twins were born – one thrived and Martin lived for only four days, having a peaceful death in our presence.
There is no teacher like experience. What became blindingly obvious to me was that had I had been carrying a singleton with the same neural tube defect diagnosed at 30 weeks, I would have requested an induction of labour so that I could have said hello and goodbye to my child that had no chance of prolonged life. That early induction of labour may be regarded by some as abortion. All I know is that forcing me to carry that foetus to full term would have seemed to me like an abomination.
What if my pregnancy had not been twin and the neural tube defect had been identified at the 12 week scan? I honestly don’t know what my reaction would have been but I know now that I would have come to the right decision for me and for my family.
So the message of this post is – listen to the mothers. Don’t make laws that stop women from making their decision about the viability of their foetus. And don’t jeopardize mother’s lives – they should live for their own sakes and they may have others who depend upon them.