Forced to travel: An Irish mother's journey for a medical termination

Newstalk Drive hears first-hand from the women on both sides of Ireland's abortion debate

Forced to travel: An Irish mother's journey for a medical termination

File photo: Eamonn Farrell

This weekend the Citizens’ Assembly will meet for the final time to consider the future of the Eighth Amendment.

The group will spend much of the weekend deciding on the wording of the ballot before the final vote.

While it remains unclear what the exact options on the table will be – the delegates will likely be asked to decide whether to recommend:

  • That the constitutional ban on abortion should remain in place.
  • That the ban should be removed from the constitution completely.  
  • Or that the wording should be changed to allow for greater access to abortion in certain situations.

Regardless of the outcome, the vote is likely to reignite what has in the past proved to be a bitter and polarising debate.

Over the coming months Newstalk Drive will be bringing you the voices of real women who have found themselves facing one of the toughest decisions imaginable - those who have had abortions and those who have come close; those who are happy with their decision and those who are not.

Trying to conceive

On the programme this afternoon, presenter Sarah McInerney met with west of Ireland native, Kate – not her real name - and heard about her experiences after she and her husband decided they would try for their first baby.

The couple have been trying to start a family since January 2016 and - following two miscarriages - last September they were overjoyed to hear that Kate was pregnant again.

After passing the 12-week mark, the couple announced the news to family and friends – however it soon became clear that their baby had a number of conditions: including a non-functioning kidney, heart abnormalities and spina bifida.

Eventually doctors informed them that their baby was incompatible with life.

Restricted by the Eighth Amendment, doctors in Ireland could offer no help or guidance beyond monitoring the baby and preparing to deliver when Kate had reached her full term. 

She had regular appointments to check if there was any immediate threat to her own life and to establish whether the baby’s heart was still beating. 

Eventually, the couple were forced to make the decision so many others had taken before them – and prepared to travel to the UK:

“The night before I was to go, on the Sunday night, I went in to the hospital for one last time to just check if there was still a heartbeat and when I was in there my cousin was there,” she said.

“She was ready to deliver her baby - and she had just had a stillborn baby the year previous.

“So she was in there anxious to make sure her baby still had a heartbeat and I was in there trying to hope that my baby didn’t have a heartbeat - so that I wouldn’t have to travel.”

Journey to Liverpool

The couple made the trip to Liverpool on St Valentine’s Day.

“We had no family or support, we were just in the middle of this place we didn’t know waiting to have our baby,” she said. “Our first baby.”

The procedure itself was a harrowing experience for the couple. There were a number of complications and - after Kate suffered a ruptured placenta - real worries about her own health:

“I just remember saying to my husband that I wanted my mother,” she said. “But of course she was in another country.”

“I didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t know what was happening and he said afterwards that he thought he was going to lose the two of us.

“He knew he was going to lose the baby but he didn’t know if he was going to go back to Ireland with anybody at all.”

When the couple’s baby boy was finally delivered at half five in the morning, Kate said he was “perfect to us.”

The ordeal however, was far from over. The surgical complications meant that the couple had to return to Ireland without their baby's remains.

Return journey

The ordeal left Kate extremely unwell, however as soon as she was strong enough, the couple returned to Liverpool to pick up their child.

This time the journey had to be undertaken by ferry. The couple booked a hotel, undertook the nine-hour journey and when they arrived at the clinic - were told they needed to find some way to keep their baby cold on the 12-hour trip home. 

“We started on our journey and we had to stop every two hours to open the coffin and put some ice packs in beside the baby,” said Kate.

“We would pass through the city and stop at pedestrian crossings with people walking past in front of us and the little white coffin on my knees.”

The journey back across the Irish Sea was especially difficult – the couple were told they had to leave their baby in the car as the coffin would be too upsetting for other passengers.

Kate’s husband was eventually given special permission to sit in the car until they finally reached Ireland.

In all, the cost of travel, accommodation and all the different procedures Kate had to undergo came to approximately €5000.

For both Kate and he husband however, it was the emotional toll that left the deepest scar.

“It is all those little things that make the journey back just so hard and exhausting and emotional,” she said.

“But we were able to come back. Bring the baby with us finally to Ireland where we were able to have a service for him and bury him respectfully. Not many families have that option, not many can I suppose even afford that option.

“I know people talk about pro-life and pro-choice but I am 100% pro-life because I have been trying to create life for a year now - but the only thing that I got to choose was deciding when my baby was going to die.”

Kate’s message as the debate over Ireland’s approach to abortion begins to heat up is that everybody has a daughter, sister, aunt or friend who might one day find themselves in the same situation.

“These things do happen,” she said. “You might think that you have a choice in a lot of things but you don’t.

“This could happen to anybody and I don’t think anybody would expect any other woman in my situation to carry a baby that was not compatible with life to full term and go through further emotional and physical problems and a risk to their life.

“I think that anyone hearing my story would agree that I made the right decision - even if it was a hard decision.”

You can listen back to Kate’s story here: