Women’s safety a priority?

The 40 Days of Choice group, set up to counter 40 days for Life, have gone into propaganda overdrive, tweeting a link to a report that women diagnosed with foetal abnormality are ‘denied surgical abortions’. Yet again, the Guardian proves its reputation as being the the soft advertiser on behalf of the abortion industry, the conference referred to was one organised and funded by BPAS and the pro-choice group ARC (ante-natal results and choices).

A woman who has never actually had to give birth to her deceased child vocalised her horror at the prospect and described how she had needed to borrow £1,000 in order to have a surgical abortion performed swiftly, instead of having to wait two weeks to see a consultant and being told that she would need to give birth naturally.

With lots of accompanying rhetoric about the politicisation of abortion and how foetal abnormality ‘forces’ women to abort, the usual frame of choice shifts from the concept of abortion, to the actual method itself. Nobody seems to be asking the question as to why these women are somehow forced, why does foetal abnormality or disability take away a woman’s agency?

The stat that less than 1% of all pregnancies are ended due to foetal abnormality is also presented, in order to convey sympathy, this is such a rare occasion, (which should tell us something about the obscene amount of abortions that are performed in the UK) surely women in this unusual situation ought to be allowed to choose, as well as take their time?

Jane Fisher of Antenatal Results and Choices points to the research that this is such a distressing time for women that they need to be able to take their time and space to chose on the abortion method that is right for them. Not that they need time and space to choose whether or not to abort, rather to choose the method.

Sadly I understand this all too well. We had an appointment at the hospital today in order to discuss the options in terms of delivering our own deceased child. The nurse could not have been more sympathetic, she checked that I understood why we were there and took her time explaining the different options to us. She also stressed that there was absolutely no hurry to make any sort of decision, we could go home, we could choose whatever option we wanted, we could change our mind at the last minute, no-one was going to pressure us at all.

I can more than understand why some women in my situation would choose surgery, it’s over very quickly, you are unconscious, you do not have to see any foetal remains and neither do you have the interminable wait to see if nature might take it course, something that could take weeks. I would not admonish any woman who chose the surgical option, however, I don’t think it’s for me, for a number of reasons, one being that there are often no remains left to bury.

But the difference for women in my situation is that tragically, our babies are already dead. I more than empathise with women having to give birth to a dead child, it’s what I am going to face over the next few weeks, but there is some comfort in knowing that there is nothing I could have done. All I can do now is see to it that he or she is given a decent burial.

For those women who are faced with the terrible situation of feeling forced into aborting a profoundly disabled child, there is for many, some form of closure in being able to hold a funeral, or bury the remains and say goodbye to their child, even if there is also a sense of dissonance.

But the most important thing is that by giving women time to make their decision, something that I would always advocate, the surgical option becomes less and less safe. So today, when we were discussing my options, it was very clear that while not being forced, I was being strongly steered towards a medical management, i.e. when pills are administered to force contractions. Surgery would not have been denied, but it was clear the consultant preferred to recommend a medical management because it was safer for me with a relatively late, missed miscarriage, which is larger than usual.

I was explicitly informed, both verbally and in writing, that surgery carries an increased risk of infection, scarring and perforation of the uterus. If I opted for a medical management, I would be given a private room with ensuite bathroom, a cannula inserted in case fluids or a blood transfusion is needed and given as much pain relief as possible. They would also issue me with the paperwork to bury or cremate the remains. A far cry from the medical abortion procedure that takes place in abortion clinics, who have been campaigning for women to be able to miscarry at home. The NHS pulled no punches, this will be emotionally and physically difficult, but they would support me through it, rather than leave me to suffer at home alone. Unlike at the clinics, Robin will be allowed accompany me the whole way through the procedure. It isn’t the narrative of period pains or slight cramping that the abortion clinics try to soft-soap women with. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson who had a medical abortion tells it like it is.

I get it, I truly understand what an ordeal it is to have to deliver a dead child, at any stage of gestation, but if surgery is the riskier option for me with a child at 10 + 5 gestation, 12 weeks into pregnancy, the risk will increase for women at a later stage – typically, abnormalities are not picked up until around 12 weeks and in many cases, not until 20, when one doesn’t have a choice in terms of abortion, you have to deliver.

It’s terrible when your 12 week scan delivers devastating news, we have been totally blindsided by what’s happened, though we’ll get through it, life seems that bit more grey, bleak, colourless. Our future does not seem quite so rosy, our precious little baby has been taken away. My body has not yet caught onto the situation as is common in this situation, and so I’m still experiencing full-blown pregnancy symptoms in a cruel twist of nature. The mind and body are at odds with each other, while I know the baby has passed away, my body is trying to fool me into thinking otherwise. I’m sick, have the erratic familiar food aversions, am growing bigger as the hormones increase the size of the sac and yet know there will be no baby at the end of the process.

I have no doubt that a diagnosis of foetal anomaly has a similar effect and my heart goes out to anyone faced with this. But where there is life there is always hope, why aren’t we asking why women in this situation are feeling forced, but instead blindly accepting the inevitability of abortion for disabled children?

As for the choice of method of termination, surely that should be wholly down to clinical factors, and what is in the best interests of a woman’s overall health, not politicised in order to do homage to the false notion that we have bodily agency?

If one were inclined to shout empty slogans, the following seems applicable:

Pro-“choice”? That’s a lie, you don’t care if women die.

As the Good Counsel Network have just pointed out the reason why 40 Days for Choice find women having to give birth to their dead child ‘disgusting’ is because that word sums up the tragic reality of abortion.

One of life’s ‘lemons’

Those who keep up with my Facebook and Twitter account will have read the news of the loss of our baby.

As I’ve frequently stated on this blog, a life of pro-life witness means walking the walk as well as talking the talk. So a few weeks ago, I confidently shared the news about my pregnancy in the pages of the Catholic press, genuinely believing that it was in women’s best interests if the taboo of early pregnancy was broken. The aim was not to compel women to share their news before they feel ready, rather to empower women who may be suffering in the early stages of pregnancy to ask for the help that they may need, especially if they are experiencing a crisis pregnancy.

The flipside of that means that women who suffer an early loss also then have to make that public, which is the hard part. Because frankly I don’t feel like sharing my grief or raw emotions with the world and every single message of condolence, hammers home the hurt and loss. We have the consolation of Christian hope, we know that the baby is without sin, we trust in the mercy of God and yet still there is terrible pain and a lot of tears.

I also feel like a prize wally for naively thinking that just because I was pregnant, I would definitely be carrying a baby to term. Not to mention terrified of the usual trolls. Shortly after announcing my pregnancy, one woman tweeted some dreadful stuff in response, namely that I was making things up, that the most ‘natural thing in the world would be for me to announce a miscarriage’, followed up by a stream of (later deleted) musings about an obviously mentally ill woman in America who had simulated pregnancy for 7 months,  with links to the story as well as a site where one could buy a prosthetic stomach.

I have no need to prove anything, I’m not tweeting the scan photograph which will probably be all that we have to remind us of our baby, it’s too private, too personal, I don’t want to share him or her with the world.

The day began so auspiciously. We’ve had a friend staying with us for a few nights so they could attend the Labour conference events, after a few nights up late drinking red wine and chewing the Catholic fat, I woke up this morning and managed to finish an extra long Universe column dealing with last week’s papal interview. Feeing particularly smug at having submitted a piece early, I then nipped next door to pick up a parcel containing my copy of the new Father Robert Barron series on DVD, together with associated study material. Part of my excitement was that due to wholly chance encounter last year, it appears from the trailer that I make an appearance in the film, when they followed me across London to film a radio segment at the now defunct Bush House.

After a lovely lunch at a restaurant in the late summer sunshine overlooking the sea with Robin, the children and our friend, I skipped off excitedly for the scan at the Royal Sussex at 4pm. This was the first one of our baby’s ultrasounds that I had been to on my own, the time of the appointment meant that it would be impossible to do the school run and besides which, Robin needed to look after the children, as the unit is keen to discourage young babies and toddlers from attending.

As I bustled my way through throngs of frighteningly young-looking delegates at the Labour conference, clutching my plastic Bounty wallet containing pregnancy notes and with the hint of a protruding belly, I smiled benignly at various familiar faces.  Suddenly a bumptious young man asked me whether or not I fancied catching Ed’s speech with him followed by a bite to eat. ‘Sorry, I’ve got a pregnancy scan appointment”, I sniggered. Bounding up the steep hill towards the hospital, I giggled at his presumption and mused that despite having greasy hair, not a scrap of make-up, manky toe-nails caught unaware of the unexpected turn of weather and wearing a scruffy Mothercare top that was probably about 10 years old, and not far off the dreaded 4-0, obviously I still ‘had it’. Either that or more likely he’d had too much at lunchtime and was clearly blind! I mused as to whether or not certain feminists would quote this as an example of Labour misogynist sexism and that the conference was obviously a hotbed of dastardly sexual predators!

But all in all, life was good, though still sick, the worst part of the pregnancy was behind me, I’d just entered into the blissful second trimester, was feeling like I was beginning to glow, things were coming together for us as a family and soon there would be a snuggly new baby whom we were looking forward to. Just before arriving at the hospital I realised that I didn’t have any cash with which to pay for the scan pictures, something that I’ve always considered a cynical piece of exploitation and stopped at a cash machine, which proceeded to fail, meaning that I then had to waste precious minutes queuing at the next one, whilst muttering under my breath and worrying that I would be late.

Running into ultrasound reception, at 4.05 pm, the velociraptor on the desk snapped at me that I had just made it and ushered me through. Just as I was fiddling with the change machine, I was called into the sonography room, whereupon I panicked that I didn’t have the right amount of change for the photograph and they assured me that they could give me some. Lying down on the couch, I settled into the familiar routine, unbuttoning jeans, feeling the cold jelly on my stomach and enjoying the cool air-conditioning blasting onto me, by contrast with the scorching heat outside. ‘There’s your little one’ said the sonographer, putting the scanner on my belly. I was too busy marvelling at the little hands and feet, noticing that the baby seemed to be lying in the perfect transverse position for a photo and wondering whether or not I could spy a willy, or was it the umbilical cord, to realise the uncharacteristic silence.

“Sorry, there’s no heartbeat” came a voice, completely out of the blue. It was a bolt from the blue, it had never occurred to me to be concerned that the baby might have died. I’m still sick, growing larger and have had no indications that anything might be wrong. The primary purpose of the scan as far as I was concerned was to check on the size of the baby and due date. I am the fertile baby-maker,  I am Mrs Fecund, the person who falls pregnant at the drop of a hat, who goes on to produce healthy  babies, nothing else was on my radar. Besides at 12 weeks plus 2, I was out of the danger-zone surely?

The staff were exceptionally kind.  They volunteered to remove my pregnancy notes, provided tissues, left the room while I called Robin and made sure that I could get home safely. They also didn’t charge me for the photo, and didn’t think I was macabre for asking for one. They called for someone else to come and confirm the diagnosis, there was a brief flicker of hope when she thought she might have seen something, but no it was bone, the baby died approximately a week and a half ago at 10 weeks and 5 days. Apparently there is a lot of fluid, an indication that there could be chromosomal problems, and according to the sonographer the baby ‘didn’t look right’. They didn’t elaborate and neither did I want to know. The sac has continued to grow, but not the baby.

I don’t really know what happens next and it’s better that I don’t speculate, although I’ve read through the leaflet. The priority now is attempting to ensure that the baby is not treated like another piece of hospital waste, but if possible given some sort of funeral. I’ve a job interview tomorrow to take my mind off things and a further appointment on Thursday to discuss possible options. I don’t want to contemplate what lies ahead.

I said at the beginning being pro-life means walking the walk. Being open to life entails the heartbreak that can accompany that, a few weeks ago someone was telling me about how they suddenly understood the sorrows of Mary and that’s something that I can now sharply identify with.

Looking at my twitter feed earlier, I saw the pro-choice protestors out in force at the start of 40 days for life outside the Stratford clinic and felt a jolt of sharp anger that these women were campaigning for their right to kill their babies whilst mine is dead. Certain pro-lifers don’t get off  lightly either. Quite frankly if I saw a photo of a dead or dismembered foetus in my sightline right now, knowing what could be in store for my baby, I’d struggle to restrain my anger.

I look at my four beautiful girls and am grateful that they are safe and well, but that doesn’t somehow magically alleviate the sadness that one of our babies has died. We are just so immeasurably sad that this little one didn’t get the same chance.

On the print-out I’ve been given to take with me on Thursday it says “missed miscarriage”, but somehow that noun seems inadequate. It wasn’t the passive of a verb, but a human being whose life has come to an end and who was and is and will always be loved and whose loss we miss keenly.

RIP little baby. Thank you so much everyone for the prayers, intentions and Masses offered, which are sustaining us.

In the words of the children’s favourite American pachyderm:

A person’s a person no matter how small.