This week we have a special guest post from Linnea, originally posted on Everyday Stories
Her much loved and wanted pregnancy ended tragically while she was living in England. The contrast between the care she received as a UK resident and the care that Irish women are forced to travel to receive is stark.
‘The first time I got pregnant, I felt like my life changed in an instant. It was incomprehensible, magical, almost bizarre. We just sat on the couch staring at each other for ages when we found out – and then we called everyone in the immediate family. Yes, exactly the way you’re not meant to, just a few hours after peeing on a stick. How could we not tell them?
The first thing our GP said was that ‘one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage’. No big celebrations or warm congratulations – not yet. And we knew, of course we did. I was nervous, sure – but mostly I just enjoyed it and we were over the moon.
I felt movement quite early for a first pregnancy, around 17 weeks. First little flutters, bubbles – then definite pokes and kicks, growing stronger by the day. It was mad – like getting to know him, poke by poke, kick by kick.
I wasn’t particularly nervous ahead of the anomaly scan. We were talking about whether or not to find out the sex, joking and feeling excited. Then the sonographer went silent and turned the screen away from me, and I knew something was wrong.
The phrase ‘not compatible with life’ – it felt as incomprehensible as the idea that life was ever there in the first place. Everything went black, like a curtain closing. He was kicking so much, so clearly very much alive. How could he not be compatible with life?
What would happen next?
I hadn’t read up on this. What would happen next? “It’s up to you,” said Dr. Paul, one of the kindest people I have ever met, a consultant who became a bigger part of our lives over the coming years than anyone ever wants such a consultant to be. She was clear and factual, sympathetic and open-minded. No judgement here, no pressure. We were in London. We were so lucky.
I didn’t feel lucky, and I certainly didn’t feel like I had a choice – but what would happen next was up to us. We got a second opinion, and a third. We went to another hospital and saw one of the world-leading researchers in some sort of foetal diagnostics, a Russian doctor with a black-and-white mindset, the kind of guy who doesn’t sugarcoat things – the kind of guy you want to see when you want rid of all uncertainties.
I knew I couldn’t continue. There was no hope for our baby, yet the kicking wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t touch my bump, couldn’t look myself in the mirror: the bump I had grown to love, that had become a part of me, the very visual signifier of all of this – it was confusing and sad and felt like a lie. I had to stop being pregnant, had to stop looking pregnant. I had to stop people smiling at me on the tube and asking when I was due.
It turned out that our baby had triploidy, a rare chromosomal abnormality that meant that he had three copies of every chromosome instead of two and would not survive birth. It was a strange kind of blessing, a random 1 in 50,000 risk; there was all likelihood that we would be able to conceive again and have a healthy baby. Dr. Paul was in tears of joy when she came to tell us, as I was in tears of fear before going in to give birth. (Is it still called birth when the baby won’t come out alive? It certainly felt like giving birth, but the word always sounded like an oxymoron to me.)
Our parents arrived to support us
My parents flew over from Sweden to meet their first grandchild. My parents-in-law flew over from Ireland to do the same. My sister-in-law and her partner came; they were all there, and they all got to hold him. It was heart-wrenching but strangely beautiful. When I think back to that moment, I don’t feel sad. I feel grateful. And when I think about all the people who don’t get to do that, the brave, strong people of Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR) and others like them, I just want to scream and cry for them. Yes, we brought his ashes on a plane too – but we did it by choice, to bury him with my sister in Sweden.
We were at the Whittington in north London when Oliver was born, and I’ll always remember the midwives who looked after us that night. They sneaked in the only spare bed on the ward so that we could be together. They brought tea and toast and did all the things you never want anyone to have to do to you, especially not when you don’t even have a baby as a reward. One of them was Nigerian and picked up on our Irish accents, and she started talking about the Catholic nuns who raised her. There was something strangely ironic about it all: the warm, caring, wonderful Nigerian midwife, raised by Catholic nuns, who looked after me after I needed abortion care.
I’ve had people sympathise with me after our loss, saying that what we went through was ‘different’, that their heart goes out to me and that they don’t really see what happened to me – what I did – as an abortion. The thing is, neither did I. I didn’t even like the word termination at the time. I was just setting a date for the end of a wanted pregnancy that was predestined to end in a bad way. But it was an abortion, crucially. And it was my choice.
When people say to me that that was different, they strip me of that choice. They tell me that they support me because they can identify and believe that they would do the same if they found themselves in my shoes. They feel sorry for me, so it’s OK. They’re effectively saying that they might withdraw their support at any given time, should they no longer really understand. And they use me and my situation to ‘other’ someone else, to display distrust of another pregnant person, to show that something else is absolutely not OK.
We see this a lot, this pitting women against each other. You’re not like other women – and your abortion wasn’t really an abortion, like that bad one over there. But this is a very dangerous way to write laws: based on any one individual’s capacity to empathise. Are we supposed to have an empathy jury on call at all times to decide whose abortion is relatable enough to be OK? Was mine OK because you understand it, or because I was sad?
I’m so conscious of the fact that it’s easy for people to sympathise with me and say that there’s no arguing with ‘this kind of abortion’. I’m conscious that this is a trap, and I don’t want to fall into it: there are as many experiences of abortion as there are pregnant people who don’t want to and can’t be pregnant, all of them just as valid. I don’t want the story of a mam who loved her baby to take away from that.
We’ve come such a long way. I never would’ve thought this time last year that I’d be sitting here today talking about some of our most conservative politicians having moved to a pro-choice position, recommending unrestricted abortion access up until 12 weeks. It’s huge. But what these cut-off points and time limits do is take away some conversations we don’t want to have; they mean that we don’t have to be the bad guy who tells someone their reason isn’t good enough. What if we had to, then where would we draw the line?
This we know: unrestricted abortion access leads to earlier abortions; late-term abortions are extremely rare and only ever happen for very tragic reasons. The idea that we have to draw the line elsewhere suggests that we don’t trust the facts – that we think some people are flippant, that they can’t make decisions that are sound and reasonable, that they don’t know if they’re able to raise a child or not, and that they should do so against their will even if they are sure they can’t. But who are these flippant people? Are they your neighbour? Your daughter? Are we sure they even exist?
Let’s say they do exist. Should we legislate to punish everyone else with a crisis pregnancy because of these hypothetical flippant neighbours? Should a child be raised by an unwilling, struggling parent because you don’t like the idea of the girl next door not being cautious enough? Is that what we call justice? Is that what we call ‘loving both’?
There are endless scenarios: socio-economic reasons, mental health reasons, domestic abuse situations – there are so many situations that are private and difficult and very individual which we know very little about, and I don’t see how we can sit and say that it’s a responsible society that forces people in those circumstances to go through with a pregnancy and become parents against their will. I don’t see how that’s better for anyone – for the children, for their parents, for us as a community.
Look at us now. We’re having these conversations. Let’s keep having them – let’s keep listening, trusting, supporting. If I told you I were pregnant and couldn’t be, that I needed to have an abortion, would you stop me? I think, in reality, very few people would.’