WARNING: This article is graphic in nature. It took Simon Coveney quite some time to consider the facts regarding repealing the 8th. He has educated himself extensively regarding all matters, which can only be a good thing; he educated himself. Being sent home to miscarry at “theoretically” 11 weeks was enough education for me.
I say “theoretically” because when I went in for a scan (there was spotting), the lovely lady doing the procedure (a long story for another day) curtly informed me that all she could see – as she casually plopped down a copy of the scan on the trolly – was something “resembling a six-week-old foetus.” A blob.
There I was, sitting on the trolly holding my two-and-a-half year old’s toy bunny because both she and my husband had been unceremoniously and publicly ousted from the waiting room (again, a story for another day) so “Flopsella” was all there was to hand at that stark moment… The gibbering started; “I’m 100% sure my dates are right, and I’ve been having such bad morning sickness, does that indicate something?”
Then came the killer blow: “No, sure that’s just hormones. Even if your dates are right, there is usually no detectable heartbeat at six weeks, so you’ll have to wait another week. Just to be sure. If there’s no heartbeat at seven weeks, then we can talk about a D&C.”
My response: “Like I said, the dates are 100% right, its 11 weeks. Do I still have to wait a week?”
Her response: “If you’ve started bleeding already you’ll probably miscarry before then. Here’s your appointment for next week.”
Then I was thrust out the second door, into the packed corridor, faced by heavily pregnant people either awaiting routine scans or desperately not wanting the news my snot-strewn faced displayed… Sent home to await a miscarriage when, in most other countries, there would be the option of a D&C when – clearly – this foetus was five weeks behind where it should be.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
Two days later, the miscarriage started. Two days of the usual level of morning sickness, mixed with the dread sickness, fear of the unknown sickness, the can’t look after my toddler sickness, the pain in the pit of my stomach sickness, WTF is going on inside me sickness. Can I have a glass of wine to numb the hurt sickness. I’d been looking forward to being a mum again for the past nine weeks sickness.
And I’m one of the lucky ones…
The pain was akin to being induced on your first. Any woman who’s endured induction will know it. With all the painkillers eaten in the house, the call was put out to nearest and dearest. “Anyone any Ponstan, anything stronger than Nurofen, this is so much painful than I thought it would be.” People say it’s just like a heavy period (and no doubt it is for many), but this is pushing pains and liver fillets. This is writhing around over a fitness ball while your husband doesn’t know what to do and calls a friend who’s also miscarried.
She took one look at me and rang the maternity hospital. “I DON’T WANT TO BE INTERFERED WITH, I KNOW WHAT THEY’RE LIKE!” was just one wail during the huffing, the puffing, the relentless expulsions. I knew this would pass, we’d get through it, I just needed decent pain relief because the Ponstan, Nurofen and the rogue Valium weren’t even touching the sides. The nurse assured us over the phone that they would give pain relief. I wouldn’t be interfered with. They would look after me. So we went in at midnight, leaving our sleeping toddler with our friend.
After convincing the security guard on the hospital door that I wasn’t in labour, this was a miscarriage, we were ushered into a tiny examination room. The nurse couldn’t administer pain relief until the doctor got there to “examine” me, but she suspected I was haemorrhaging. I was pale, shaking uncontrollably. When the doctor finally arrived, my husband was asked to leave the room. He refused. I got what I now know was an ERPC without any pain relief (it’s usually done under general anaesthetic), any screen to conceal me from the process, or any emotional support. I had a speculum forcibly inserted four times (the fourth time being particularly rigorous) while the contents of my womb – along with our much-wanted baby – projectiled against my feet. My husband had to listen to me wail in anguish.
And we’re some of the lucky ones.
After that, another Transvaginal Ultrasound had to be carried out (for those unaware, early scans usually involve a probe, not the usual less invasive method), which – as you can imagine – wasn’t well received after the previous violation.
To put things into perspective, I am not afraid of a speculum. I’ve been a routine patient at a Colposcopy Clinic, where I had to undergo a tissue biopsy with no pain relief (why?!). There was, however, an upside to that; I found the repeated sweeps required during the induction of my daughter in 2013 bearable. I was even asked by a midwife if some trainees could practice on me while in labour. Happy to oblige. The experience of Friday 14th August 2015, however, has put me off speculums for life…
When the doctor did the TVS after the ERPC she seemed extremely keen to go back in – seemingly there was some material left “and the cervix was still open.” I nearly lost the plot. Why wasn’t anyone thinking of the equally damaging emotional side of things for the mother? Then I remembered Mark was behind the curtain.
We sat there for what seemed like hours. A different doctor came in and confirmed they were keeping me in overnight. “Can I please get pain relief now?” I was given an injection and wheeled to a ward. The pain relief wasn’t really required at that point, rather the need to blackout. My husband was asked to sign a consent form after the procedure took place. He signed it without thinking. Shock will do that to you.
Despite requesting pain relief prior to being “examined”, I was repeatedly told that there was no time. I was lying there waiting for a doctor to come. Pethidine takes 10 minutes to work when injected, even faster with a drip. I know this as received it while in labour previously.
The next morning, a nurse came into the cubicle and threw a pamphlet on to the dinner tray. She mumbled “Sorry for your loss” and left as quickly as she appeared. Every half hour, from very early morning, I was told there would be another TVS. Several hours later, I still hadn’t been seen and had been fasting for a potential D&C. By that time I was visibly upset, feeling increasingly nauseous due to lack of food/water (those damn pregnancy hormones) and asked for an update. I was brought down to Ultrasound and left in the waiting room opposite Room 5 with the door open. After waiting quite a while, a pregnant couple were brought in before me. Entirely understandable, but, you know.
As the TVS showed the presence of tissue, a doctor arrived to dispense pills to expel the rest. No D&C. “Can I have a sick note, please?” She wanted to know why. “Because I’m meant to go back to work tomorrow and I don’t feel mentally or physically able. Aren’t these pills meant to restart miscarriage?” She seemed somewhat befuddled as to why I’d need time off, but granted a cert for two days.
Sure, wasn’t I one of the lucky ones.
I could go on. And on and on. But, in short(ish), this whole needless process took two weeks, in and out of hospital. The pills didn’t work, so I had to be admitted the following week for – yes, you guessed it – a D&C! Something that could have been done in the first place if this country wasn’t in the bloody dark ages.
The second stint in hospital was also one that should not have been endured… In a ward with several women in the throes of grief, denial, anger. Some wailing, some sobbing, some vomiting. When It was my turn for the coveted D&C, I was scrubbed up, put on the operating table, and given the first dose of anaesthetic. Then the medical team got the call that an emergency C Section was on its way in. Totally understandable, but, you know…
I was asked to get off the operating table, handed my pants, and was sent wobbling out into the hospital corridor – arse flapping out the back of the gown – sobbing uncontrollably. One of the nurses bellowed “someone get her a wheelchair” and careened me back into the ward. She hugged me. She hugged me so tight and said “I know it’s unfair. Most of them don’t get it. I lost an angel at six weeks. I know what you’re going through. It will be over soon.”
The D&C finally happened that evening after fasting for what seemed like an eternity. Had to get Mark to repeatedly campaign for a drip.
Despite losing parents at an early age and enduring various forms of egregious life events, this was the first time I’d to be prescribed Xanex and antidepressants. That says a lot regarding the experience of Friday, August 14th, 2015. No one should have to go through that. And that’s speaking as one of the lucky ones.
A few weeks later, I got my shit together to write a letter to the hospital. They were expecting one given a liaison officer miraculously appeared the day after the ERPC. She came into the ultrasound room while I was mid-probe and said: “I just want to talk to this lady here…” Maybe she’d read my file, maybe someone had a quiet word, I still don’t know why she appeared. She was extremely genial and just kept popping up wherever we were. The second time I was admitted, she asked us for a meeting with herself and a head consultant. Again, that’s a story for another day.
So the expected detailed letter of complaint was sent. The hospital did respond, but – at that point – I was pregnant again and consumed with morning sickness and more focused on putting the horrific experience to bed.
Like I said, I really am one of the lucky ones… That experience is only a drop in the proverbial ocean when compared to those who have their unborn diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities, or those in crisis pregnancy situations.
The Eighth Amendment is one of the last bastions of the patriarchal society which has been the cornerstone of this Catholic island. Women are sinners. Women are either virgins or prostitutes. A woman’s place is in the home. Don’t give them contraception. Shame them, isolate them, put them to work, give away their babies. Women can’t be trusted. Women are hysterical. Women should just put up and shut up. Why do you have to go stir things up? Don’t make a fuss. Things were different in our day. You don’t know how good you have it these days.
It’s just, these days, women require a growing level of compassion, not to mention respect, with greater resources put into programmes to deal with the mental toll of a miscarriage – especially one you’re essentially forced to have. Our roles have changed immeasurably in the last few decades. We now do everything else in conjunction with having the babies. We have jobs to get back to, careers we need to be mentally fit for. Kids we have to be mentally fit for. We also don’t have the same support network as back in the day. Yet we’re expected to do it all, love doing it all, and do it all amazingly well, to a Stepford standard.
There are those who will find this post self-pitying at best and self-indulgent at worst. And you may be right. But do you have the right to make a choice on a stranger’s behalf just based on your own personal view? Hell no.
You can use all the rhetoric you want; “It’s abortion on demand!” “It’ll be the ruination of Ireland” (just like the introduction of divorce?) “It’s not God’s will!” Maybe not your God. But my God is a little more open-minded than that. She’s also big into dignity and respect. And minding her own fecking business.