I always thought the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution was just about abortion, but apparently I was wrong. The healthcare implications were news to me apart from Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death from sepsis after she was refused an abortion. And yes, I know that Healthcare Professionals disagree over whether an abortion would have saved her life, but more treatment options would have been available to her medical team without the restrictions of the Eighth Amendment.
And since then I’ve read about many more women who have been affected by the Eighth Amendment on the In Her Shoes page on Facebook. It got me thinking about my three pregnancies and births, and whether they were affected too, and this is what I remembered…
On my first pregnancy I developed a breast lump. My consultant told me he didn’t think it was malignant, but advised removing it during the second trimester, because that was the safest time. I had the operation, and the lump was benign, so then why was a breast cancer counsellor sent in to me the night before the operation? At the time I thought it was an hospital error, now I’m not so sure.
My disabled daughter B was born at 26 weeks, 2 weeks after my waters broke. Three days before she was born I began getting pains and the waters began to be tinged with pink. From reading an article this week, I now know that this is a possible sign of septicaemia, but my memory is that nothing was done until I began dilating properly, just a few hours before she was born. I wonder now what would have happened to both of us if labour hadn’t started?
Then there was the difficult birth of my youngest. A back to back presentation – known to be particularly painful – didn’t help.
But this time I had a birth plan. It involved walking around during labour and pethidine for when things got difficult – pethidine had successfully helped me to cope with the gruesome aspects of B’s birth.
However the plan was ignored. I was not given pethidine. I was told their gas and air ‘was different’ and given that instead. And it made me sick and dizzy as it had on my eldest, but I kept sucking at it as the pains quickly spiralled way beyond my ability to cope. When I begged for an epidural, it was denied. I was told it was ‘too late’. The next hour is almost completely blank. Apparently I ‘lost the plot’ and refused to push until I got an epidural. Eventually the midwives gave in, and summoned the anaesthetist and consultant who pronounced ‘this baby is deliverable’ and so it was. But could things have gone differently? Was I denied the pethidine because of any possible effects on the baby? Even though I knew it was the best pain relief for me? Could something have happened to youngest if no epidural had been given, and I still didn’t push?
I was lucky. I recovered well from all three births, as did two of my children. B was not so lucky, and what happened during her birth may have caused some of her disabilities. But that’s a story for another day.
Did the Eighth Amendment affect the healthcare I received during pregnancy and childbirth? I’ll never know for sure, but I certainly don’t want it to affect any healthcare that my daughters may need…