Our extract this week is from In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth by Erin Darcy an artist, author, and mother of three living in Galway.
In February 2006, at the age of 19, I gave birth to my first child. About four months later I found out that I was pregnant again. I was petrified, but myself and my boyfriend focused on the positives and started to get excited at the thoughts of having ‘Irish twins’ as I was due two weeks before our first child’s first birthday.
When I was 19 weeks pregnant we attended Holles Street for a foetal anomaly scan, and from the moment I saw the image I knew there was something wrong. The midwife said she would get one of her colleagues to come and have a look, which just confirmed my fears. After what felt like forever, we were told that while our baby’s heart was beating perfectly, his chest cavity was open, leaving some of his vital organs exposed. We were devastated. I remember crying and being led to a private room where I rang my mam who was minding our firstborn and I explained that there was a problem with the baby and asked her to come and collect us. I just wanted to go home.
We left the hospital but got a phone call to say they were looking for us and could we come in the next day to be seen by a consultant. The next day the consultant scanned me again and we were told that our baby appeared to have a condition called amniotic band syndrome, which is when some of the membranes of the amniotic sac tear and wrap around the baby as they grow in the womb. Mine had wrapped around our baby and as he grew they cut through his chest, leaving it open.
We were told that his chance of survival outside of the womb was zero. We were told that we had two options; travel to England for a termination (but that they wouldn’t be able to assist us in that option) or we could continue with the pregnancy until I went into labour, which they expected would be premature. We had a six-month-old baby to care for so travelling was not an option.
We chose to continue on as normally as we could. The consultant was unsure of what exactly the outcome would be. Our baby could die in the womb or while I was in labour or he could live for minutes or hours after birth but inevitably he would die. We were told to prepare for everything. When I look back on it now I don’t know how we carried on.
Knowing our baby was going to die but still having to encounter strangers on a daily basis who would congratulate us or ask when we were due and having to explain everything to our friends and family – it was all very awkward.
We were told by many that, ‘Oh you can always try again’ and, ‘Oh these things happen for a reason.’ It only added to our pain. We were trying to continue with a routine for the sake of our firstborn and my partner was trying to focus in work every day.
The stress was unreal. We were only 19 and 20 years old. Even though I knew the most likely outcome, I didn’t give up hope. I wouldn’t even take a paracetamol for a headache in case it harmed our baby’s slightest chance of survival.
Then, eight long weeks later, in the early hours of 14 November 2006, I woke with pains in my stomach. I rang Holles Street as I was told to do and then I just waited. My partner went to work as normal while I cared for our son who by then was eight months old. The pains got stronger and more regular so I rang my partner to come home. I went for a nap but when I woke and got out of the bed, my waters broke and I was bleeding. I went next door to my parents’ house and my mother rang an ambulance.
I was 27 weeks pregnant and I was so scared. My mam tried to explain as best she could to the paramedics about our baby’s condition as it was so rare. We arrived at the hospital and were quickly taken to the delivery room. I chose to have as natural a birth as possible, just as I had for my firstborn in the same hospital only eight months earlier. The labour is a blur but I remember that, as I was pushing, my partner was told to try and shield my face so as to stop me becoming distressed by our baby’s abnormalities. I was very foggy from the gas and air and had no idea what the time was when our baby was born and whisked away. The midwife quickly returned with our son wrapped in a blanket with a tiny little hat on his head.
We were told his heart had beat for one minute, but he was gone. He weighed only 500g and we named him Christopher after his daddy.
The staff in the hospital were amazing. We have photos of our son to remember him by and we have his grave that we can visit but it is an experience that has affected us deeply. It is not something that I would like my sisters or daughters or anyone for that matter to go through. In Ireland the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth etc is still very much a taboo subject, 11 years on, and I still feel like some people dismiss our baby’s death as ‘insignificant’. In this country you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. While we chose not to travel to England for a termination, who am I to judge or criticise what another woman feels is best for her? #RepealTheEighth #GiveWomenaChoice
In Her Shoes
by Erin Darcy
is published by
New Island Books