I’ve always considered myself a spiritual person. That is to say I have a deep belief in and love for God. I’ve always felt his presence throughout my life and I’ve always turned to him in times of trouble or worry. That said, I have many issues with the institution of the Catholic Church, which in my mind is a man made entity. However, I am a Catholic. I got married in a Catholic Church. My son was baptised as a Catholic and when I die I will most likely have a Catholic funeral. But I don’t go to mass often. I suppose the term is ‘lapsed Catholic.’ For me faith and my own relationship with God is more important than going to a building, sitting and standing on cue and reciting prayers like a robot. I would most definitely say I am not defined by a certain religion, but by my faith in God.
So why all this talk about faith?
Well the issue of repealing of the Eighth Amendment to the constitution has been weighing heavily on my mind recently. Today sees a large march in Dublin calling for change and 2018 will see a referendum take place on the issue. We don’t know what the terms of the change will be yet. I would like to see two issues addressed. First, the issue of termination in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality and secondly when a woman’s life is at risk. And whether I like it or not, my faith keeps tapping me on the shoulder every time I think about it.
As a woman and now a new mum, repealing the Eighth Amendment is not just some topical issue that should be thrown around like many other political footballs in this country. It’s something so much more than that. It’s something that will affect each and every one of us and for many, it’s something that already has affected us.
On the face of it, you might think my faith is something that would be at odds with repealing the Eighth Amendment. And debating it in my head has kept me awake more nights than the baby has at this stage. It’s a topic I’ve thought long and hard about, but I’ve not spoken out about how I feel, because like a lot of people, I’ve been wrestling with it for years. And most of those years were ones where I was not yet a mother. I was just a single woman going about her life, with very different priorities. If I was to go back and ask 25 year old Niamh what she thought about the topic, her answer might not necessarily be different to the one I’d give now, but I know it would be framed and coloured in a very different light.
Because I became a mum. And that has changed everything.
I was pregnant in 2016 and I can acutely remember listening to the radio over in the early months and the topic was barely off the airwaves. I listened to heart-breaking story, after story, of women and couples who had to travel to the UK to seek abortions or treatments after they’d gotten the news that their much wanted babies had a fatal foetal abnormality. One story stood out for me in particular. It was a young couple who had received terrible news on their anomaly week scan. They were told their baby had a fatal foetal abnormality and would not survive. Ultimately, after very little support from the health profession here, they made the decision to travel to the UK to induce the labour early. They recalled the distressing nature of the journey, the heart-breaking procedure and how incredibly kind and considered the staff where over there. Completely devastated and overwhelmed, they made the journey home and ultimately had to put their baby in a coffin in the boot of their car on the ferry.
No person should ever have to do that. No person should ever have to make that journey. I could not begin to imagine their pain. Dealing with the practicalities of the journey there and back, the funeral arrangements and then the ongoing trauma, was overwhelming. But most of all, I remember feeling incredibly disappointed in my country for letting this happen.
It chilled me to the core, but being pregnant, and hearing those stories affected me on a completely different level. I’d rub my tummy and think about my big 20 week scan with such fear and worry. I remember thinking what if there was something serious wrong with the baby? What if this big scan revealed some major issue that could not be overcome? What if I went in there and was told that my baby had a very small change of surviving outside of the womb? I was terrified.
Thankfully, my 20 week scan was as normal as could be expected. I remember going home and literally falling to the floor and crying with relief. I cried to let go of the anxiety I’d been holding onto, I cried in thanks to God for being with me along the way, but I also cried for all those women and men who had received bad news. I cried thinking about a women who went into her scan full of hope and joy. Maybe she’d been following her baby’s progress on her app. Noting it was the size of an orange this week, thinking about the future, about names, about cots, nursery colours, feeding routines and everything, but bad news. I could see her lying there. I could see the sonographers face change. I could see the words fatal foetal abnormality.
A friend, of a friend of mine had these words spoken to her at her big scan some years. She and her husband were informed that their baby was ‘incompatible with life’ and was not expected to live outside of the womb. His brain was not developing normally and there was very little chance of him surviving. She decided to carry the baby to term. I cannot imagine her strength. To go on with life, seeing her bump grow, have well-meaning strangers ask her when she was due or touch her tummy, when she knew this much wanted baby was not going to survive. To know she’d have to go through the trauma of labour only to have to face the ultimate horror of watching her baby die. Strong does not cover it. The baby was born on a Tuesday at 8.30pm and died half an hour later.
To this day, I don’t have the words to express my sorrow. I don’t think I could have kept going after that. But she did. She went on to have another successful pregnancy and is on the outside a happy person with two beautiful children. But I cannot imagine how she got through that time in her life.
Both stories I’ve mentioned, were the result of two distinct choices. One couple decided to take the baby to term. The other didn’t.
I have nothing but the deepest of respect, admiration and empathy for both couples. I cannot and will not judge either. I cannot imagine having to deal with what they went through. I don’t think I’d be strong enough. They probably didn’t think they were strong enough either, but when something like this is thrown at your feet, you have to make a choice.
And I support them in that.
Both couples equally.
Ultimately, until you are faced with a decision like this, I don’t think you can truly say what you’d do. If I was faced with it, I simply don’t know what I would do.
What I do know, is that I would want support and options available to me in my own country. I’d want to be able to have my family around me no matter what my decision. I’d want to be able to go home to my own house and if I needed to, I’d want to be able to recover in my own surroundings. I’d want the right to not have to bring my baby home in a coffin in the boot of my car, or have their ashes delivered to be by a courier, as if it was some online purchase I had just made.
A lot of the debate around the Eighth Amendment is full of hateful, hurtful, vitriol. There seems to be only two sides and if you’re not on one, then it’s assumed you’re on the other. But does it have to be so black and white? Does it have to be so aggresive? Because, for me it’s far, far from that. It’s a deeply complex issue that requires support, understanding and compassion.