'It hit me then, I would not be coming home next February with a little newborn'

Grainne, mother of three living in Galway, endured the tragedy of a fatal foetal abnormality. She talks to the GALWAY ADVERTISER about her experiences.

In May 2014, my husband and I were delighted to be expecting our second baby. Like most women trying to get pregnant I had been taking my folic acid and on getting a positive test I stopped drinking alcohol and booked an appointment with my GP. She confirmed the pregnancy and we went about organising my pre-natal care. She was thrilled for me too as she knew we wanted another child as our little girl would be three the following September.

I can't put my finger on the reason why, but I was very uneasy and nervous about the pregnancy. My husband being the eternal optimist assured me everything would be fine. We received our appointment for our consultation. I would be 13 weeks plus six days. As we were going private I knew I would have a scan then also, but as the weeks passed I found it hard to hide the bump and by 10 weeks it was clear to people I was pregnant.

When I reached the 12 weeks we decided just to tell everyone as we were over the so called '12 week risky time'. Our friends and family were delighted for us and I started to get very excited about bringing home our new little baby. Our consultant appointment was at 5.15pm on Monday August 11 2014. We went into the nurse first, she took a medical history and some bloods, and then into the doctor.

I was chatting away, so excited to see my baby and she said, 'Pop up on the bed and we will scan you.' As the doctor started to scan, I could see she was looking very intensely at the screen. She quietly asked, "Are you very sure of your dates?" My heart skipped a beat as I answered 'Yes' instantly. She said, "Baby is measuring a little smaller than it should for this stage."

'I felt so alone, and abandoned by this country, caused by the Eighth Amendment'

My heart started to beat faster in my chest...As she started looking at more images particularly of our baby's head and began to print them...She then said, "I am very concerned about the shape of your baby’s head, but I will need you to come back to the hospital on Thursday for a more detailed scan and a second pair of eyes on things."

She gave us two printed pictures and instantly we knew the prognosis was not good. Sadly even a layman could see half of our poor baby's head and brain had not formed. At that moment my heart broke.

As our appointment for a more detailed scan was not until the Thursday, I went to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. I think I was in shock, trying to process everything. Being a medical sales rep I had to go in and out to GP surgeries. Sitting in a waiting room a pregnant lady walked in. It all then hit me, I would not be coming home next February with a little newborn. I broke down, ran out to my car, and cried and cried until I couldn't cry anymore.

My husband and I had already discussed what we would do if we were give a fatal diagnosis and that experience confirmed to me I could not continue with the pregnancy. To me it would be like torture to have to carry a baby, possibly to full term, to give birth only to watch it die. Part of me counted myself lucky I knew that. The other part of me prayed the foetal heartbeat was gone and our little one had already slipped away as I feared having to go through the agony of going to another country to end our much wanted pregnancy.

We went to the hospital and sat with all the other happily pregnant people. As I was scanned I couldn't look at the screen but focused on my husband’s expression. His sombre face said it all. The heartbeat was still there.

'I am very sorry for your loss.' During the whole experience, this was the kindest thing said to me and what I needed to hear!

Our baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, which means a major part of the skull and brain are missing. Infants with this condition usually die at or within a few hours of birth. In that moment my heart broke even further. I couldn't even grieve or mourn at the news we had just been given. I waited for the inevitable 'We can do nothing for you here.'

In fairness to our consultant, she delivered the news as best she could. She said if we wanted to continue the pregnancy she would continue to care for us, otherwise she could give us information on Liverpool Women's Hospital. We left the hospital with no help, support, or treatment. An anger and rage like I've never known started to build up inside me. I felt so alone and abandoned by this country, caused by the Eighth Amendment.

When we got home my husband, my hero, went about trying to organise everything as I sat in shock. Knowing something and the reality of it are very different things. It was so stressful trying to organise things. We booked a clinic in Liverpool as we would have had to wait too long for Liverpool hospital. Still we had to wait eight painful days knowing our little baby was not going to be.

Between the flights/hotel for the night before and the clinic it was going to cost €2,000. It felt like a slap in the face from the State. For all the years my husband and I had worked and paid our taxes in our darkest hour we were being further punished and treated like criminals. Our parents were so heartbroken for us that they gave us money to help out as it was wiping out our savings.

'I wanted to go up to people and make them understand how traumatic the Eighth Amendment makes a fatal foetal diagnosis'

As we muddled through those days, the fear started to set in. I was going to another country, to a clinic I'd never been to, putting my health in a strange doctor's hands and just had to hope everything went OK. By this stage I was numb...I felt nothing but one emotion ANGER, ANGER, ANGER. We were being treated like it was our fault our baby wasn't compatible with life, yet I couldn't mourn or grieve, I was burning with anger instead. I just wanted the nightmare to be over.

I felt so wronged I wanted to go up to people and shake them to make them understand how traumatic the Eighth Amendment makes a fatal foetal diagnosis. At a time when you should be wrapped up in the love and support of your friends and family you are making this desperate journey. Like so many others before me, we took a Ryanair flight to Liverpool. Again it was full of people going to a festival, holiday makers, people on business. I sat there with big red hot tears streaming down my face.

When we got to the clinic in Liverpool the staff were so kind. They kept apologising they did not have special facilities for someone like me. They thought it was cruel I had to make this journey especially given the circumstances. However they told me they saw many Irish women in the clinic all with different circumstances. As I was 15 weeks at this stage I could not take the pill so had to have a surgical abortion. This meant being put under general anaesthetic.

The clinic let my husband come with me until I was to be put to sleep, at that moment I became hysterical with fear and my body began to shake with the sobbing as my husband held my hand. The poor doctor was trying to comfort me and gently asked me was I sure this is what I wanted. I wanted to scream no I want to be at home in my own country with my own doctor and to be able to go home to my own bed but I slowly nodded by head. He then said, "I am very sorry for your loss."

During the whole experience, this was the kindest thing said to me and what I needed to hear! Sadly when it was over we had to leave the clinic and walk the streets of Liverpool for five hours until our flight that evening. When I got home I felt so let down by everyone. Why was nobody shouting at the Government that this is wrong. I know why, it's because no one will ever understand how dreadful this situation is until you are put in this position.

I think back to listening to The Ray D'Arcy Show on Today FM when the very brave Arlette, Ruth, and Amanda told their stories. I remember thinking how brave they were for going public and being genuinely upset for them. But I did nothing.... Little did I know I would be walking in their shoes some time later.


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