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25 May 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:12pm

My double heartbreak: how I was forced to leave Ireland to end a doomed pregnancy

Staying in Ireland would have meant six months of people asking if we were excited, and having to tell them that our baby was never coming home.

By Amy Callahan

This time last year, my husband Connor and I buried our daughter Nico in shallow unmarked grave. We dug the hole ourselves because we were abandoned by our country in the time that we most needed help.

Anyone who has had a happy pregnancy knows that at that first scan you expect to see a little blob, and you hope to hear a strong heartbeat. What happened for me was this: I saw a blob, I heard a heartbeat, and the doctor went silent. She asked, “Is your husband here? Does he work far away?” She said she needed another doctor.

The second doctor was incredibly straightforward and kind. She told me that our baby had anencephaly. I strongly recommend that you do not Google this term, because of the images you will see (of course, the first thing I did after speaking to the doctor was Google anencephaly). Here is what you need to know: the condition is fatal. The doctor showed me how our baby had no top of her skull, and how her brain was protruding out. She explained that this baby was not going to live. She explained that some babies with this condition live for a few minutes or hours, but most die in the womb or while being born. She did not say it, but I could imagine that it is a difficult way to be born and a difficult way to die.

Connor and I had a heartbreaking decision to make – we could stay in Ireland and wait for our much-loved, much-wanted child to die. We could wait another six months of people asking if we were excited, if we had a car seat, and have to tell them that our baby would never need a car seat because she was never coming home.

Or, the doctor said, we could end the pregnancy early, but because abortion is prohibited here in Ireland, we would have to leave our toddler son, get on a flight to another country, and arrange to have an abortion ourselves.

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I do wish I could have held Nico and comforted her, but I do not think there is much comfort in this situation, no matter what you choose. For us, abortion was the least-worst option.

We had to wait two weeks before we could get an appointment in the UK. Our flight was at 6am, so we had to leave our son with friends one night and a neighbour the next.

In the UK, the doctors were unaware of our situation. A nurse took me into a room on my own. She told me I was over nine weeks pregnant. I told her I knew that, and also that our baby had a fatal diagnosis. This nurse asked if I had been tested for chlamydia.

Connor and I went for a final scan while we were there. We asked to see our baby one last time and they said it would not be helpful. We insisted, and Connor met his daughter for the first and last time.

Then I was sent to another room on my own and asked what contraception I was using when we got pregnant. I was in tears and a student gave me toilet paper to dry them off my face.

Once again, I had to explain this was a baby we wanted, a baby we were trying to have, a baby that was going to die because of a fatal anomaly.

Then they asked: “What kind of contraception will you be using after the abortion?” And gave me a form asking what I wanted to do with our baby’s remains.

I spent hours in that clinic looking out of the window at the front door of the hospital where everyone was bringing in flowers and gifts, and leaving with newborns. We would have no flowers, no newborn.

Before the surgery, Connor kissed my belly and said goodbye one last time. I was taken alone to wait. They checked to make sure I knew why I was there. No one said the word abortion. No one said they were sorry I was there.

They asked me about Dublin. I was crying again, and a kind nurse gave me a hug and told me they were going to look after me. My last thoughts were goodbyes and worries that I might not wake up

My husband, meanwhile, was busy phoning the airline, trying to find a fax machine, trying to figure out if we need dry ice and figure out what type of container we needed to bring the baby’s remains home. In the end, the very kind doctors and nurses helped arrange for us to bring Nico home, in a small box in our hand luggage. When we returned, we had no idea what to do and we kept her remains in the freezer until I was well enough to bury her.

Every day, our hearts are broken. Not only by her not being here, but also by the fact that we had to leave our home to get the care we needed, and to make the right decision for our family. I also know we were so lucky to have been pregnant, so lucky to have a short time with this child, and so lucky to be able to afford to travel.

My heart goes out to any family in a similar situation and also to any woman, who, for whatever reason, does not feel she can continue with a pregnancy. No one wants to have an abortion, no one makes the decision happily, and it needs to be available and it needs to be safe. Today, we are given the opportunity to change this situation for future pregnant people.

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