My life was similar to many others my age. I got married and a year or so later we found out that we were expecting our first child. My pregnancy went according to plan and nine months later I gave birth to a beautiful little girl.
Two years later my husband and I decided we were ready for a second child and I soon found myself expecting again. This time things were drastically different. At 16+ weeks my waters broke prematurely. I was admitted to hospital that night and made aware in no uncertain terms of the seriousness of my situation. I was told it could go one of three ways: my body might go into labour in the next few days; we might lose the baby’s heartbeat and so require action to bring on labour; or she might well still survive this but it would be a long wait from now until she’d be ready for birth. Her lungs would be weak, with little fluid to exercise them and build them up from within the womb.
The first step was for me to have a scan to find out if my baby was still alive – she was! Her heart was beating away strongly! This was the only certainty I had – but at that moment, that was all that I needed to know.
My husband and I realised that if I could remain in bedrest and away from infection, our baby might survive. This was what we held on to – the hope that we might keep going for the next six months until she was ready to be born.
Things changed dramatically at 20 weeks when on the Saturday evening, infection crept in. Without a moment to lose the doctors started me on courses of antibiotics in an attempt to protect both me and my baby. Continual monitoring showed my obs (pulse, blood pressure, temp etc.) to be improving and soon I was feeling fine again.
However, Monday morning brought difficult news in the doctor’s words “It’s the markers in your blood. I’m just still very worried about you. You’re still not out of the woods.”
With my next observations my heart-rate had shot up. I thought it was just the panic that the morning’s conversation had brought on, but as the day continued there was no sign of my heart-rate coming down. Regardless of attempts to lower it, my heart-rate remained at almost twice what it usually is. Consultants met together, and all were worried that I had an infection in my womb. Since the two blood streams are completely separate, the antibiotics they were giving me wouldn’t reach to the womb to deal with it. The doctors told me that if they didn’t act quickly, there was a risk of septicaemia and septic shock.
Amidst all that was going on, naturally this was where the mothering instincts kicked in. I still felt fine! All throughout the day it seemed that people were telling me that I had the marks of someone who was ill – but I felt normal! I was naturally extremely nervous because I realised that my baby’s life was now under threat. Of course my heart rate was high – I was scared, nervous, desperate and confused- but I didn’t feel ill. I felt well. And I felt my baby kicking inside me. These beautifully dainty kicks had continued to get stronger and stronger over the last four weeks as I had lain in bedrest. My baby’s heart also beat loud and clear every day when the nurses came to check on us both. As far as I knew, I was fine. I didn’t know what the doctors were talking about but I wanted them to stop. I began to question everything going on around me. I started to ask myself, ‘Who are these doctors and why are they trying to short-cut my treatment if they know it will kill my baby? Do they not value her life?’ I even began to wonder if ultimately, they simply wanted me out of the hospital?
This is what they explained to me: At my age my body could still compensate to mask the effects of infection. That said, it couldn’t keep that up for long before it might get to the point where my body would just crash into septic shock – a life-threatening condition. So even though I felt fine, the doctors pointed out that underneath, my body was working incredibly hard in an attempt to fight off infection that the antibiotics weren’t reaching.
I was torn. My own body was sending me a message of well-being, while the doctors read signs differently and gave me a very different message of near-collapse.
Who do I believe?
The truth is that I don’t know these people. I know they have medical expertise which I don’t have, but I don’t know them. I don’t know their values, I don’t know their work ethos or under what principles they are choosing to, in effect, end the life of my child! Are they jumping to conclusions?
I didn’t know who to trust – my body or the professionals.
I resisted their requests for permission to bring on labour. At just shy of 21 weeks, we all knew that the chances of my baby surviving labour were very slim.
Then it hit me. Regardless of who the doctors are, we live in Northern Ireland where our law upholds the right of both the mother and her unborn child. This means they are charged to protect both me and my baby. They couldn’t treat me without considering the care of my baby. Neither could they treat my baby without considering the care of me, as her mother. To bring on early labour with all that it would entail for my child, was a hugely difficult decision for them to make. This was not a decision taken lightly and I had to come to realise that.
It was the very framework of our law that helped me to see that the doctors were looking out for both me and my baby, as far as was humanly and medically possible. Tests done afterwards proved that they had taken the right decision, as signs of infection were present in my womb. If I hadn’t come to realise that I could trust the doctors advice I would have waited too long, which could have proved fatal if septicaemia had set in.
We hear frequently about a woman’s need to trust her instincts – because women know what is best for their bodies – but I didn’t. I needed to trust the medical advice of trained professionals- but I also needed to know that they were equally charged with caring for and protecting both my life and my baby’s life.
We named our daughter Hope because she taught us at a deeper level the importance of having hope in our lives: Hope is what we clung to as we waited for four long weeks of uncertainty for our daughter. Hope is not always tangible but it is a powerful thing and our little Hope has left a lasting imprint on our lives. She was a beautiful little girl and we have a certain hope that we will see her again one day.
My life had been similar to so many others my age. I didn’t expect anything like this to happen to me. I hadn’t thought it all through regarding the out-workings of our abortion law. I didn’t think it would apply to me, but it actually saved my life and gave my daughter every opportunity for life. I was told that had I been elsewhere in the United Kingdom they would probably have opted to end my pregnancy much sooner without offering antibiotics to attempt to save us both. Without an awareness of that legal protection for my child, I don’t believe that I would have taken the doctor’s advice – my fear and over-riding mothering instincts would have over-ridden my own safety. In this case it could likely have resulted in a severe case of septic shock – at best. Were it not for the protection offered to both me and my baby by our law, I would have seriously mistrusted the doctors and would not have taken their life-saving advice. Sadly, they were unable to save us both, but they still saved me.
I’m convinced that I’m still among the majority of people who want to keep their babies and who deserve this powerful safeguard that enables us to trust professional opinions in situations of such danger.
We held her for five and a half beautiful hours. She was so precious. A beautiful wee princess; our sweetheart. Just shy of 21 weeks she had her dad’s long back, her granny’s nose and her big sister’s long feet. We love her. We felt proud and honoured to hold her and to witness with our own eyes the mystery of the tiny baby that grows in its mother’s womb.