Feminism · Parenting · Politics · Special Needs

Anomaly scans are vital

A report in today’s Irish Times claims that in 2016, 23,000 pregnant women did not have an anomaly scan. While it is possible that some of these women would have chosen not to have one, the more likely scenario is that they were never offered one.  Anomaly scans,  for those who don’t know,  are generally carried out at around 20 weeks or halfway through the pregnancy.  The purpose of them is to see if there are any possible problems (or anomalies) with either the foetus or the pregnant woman.

Of my two pregnancies, only one made it to the 20 week stage, and I did not have a scheduled anomaly scan.  In my case, this was because I had opted for midwifery-led care provided at Cavan General hospital, and that scheme (at least in 2007) did not give the option of anomaly scans.  I felt a little uneasy about that at the time, but I had been fully aware of that when I opted for midwifery-led care, so I didn’t let it bother me too much.

My pregnancy had been largely uneventful up until week 20 when I had a small amount of bleeding.  It was very little, but as a precautionary measure I was transferred from midwifery-led care to consultant-led care.  I had a scan carried out that day which did not show anything untoward and I was told I would be scanned again at 28 weeks.  If that scan showed everything to be ok I was told I would be allowed to transfer back to midwifery-led care.  I was very upset at having to leave midwifery-led care but remained hopeful that everything would progress ok and that at 28 weeks, I’d be allowed back.

The next eight weeks of my pregnancy were very uneventful and I was sure all was grand.  Week 28 rolled around and off we went for the scan, deciding that we would ask the gender that day.  The scan went well , the obstetrician (who we hadn’t met before owing me to being under midwifery -led care) chatted away to us about what he could see, informing us that baby was breech (which we didn’t know) and that it was very active (like who was he telling??).  Then just as we were about to ask if we could find out the gender, he moved the probe over the baby’s head and went very quiet.  Frighteningly so.  I’ve written about that awful time in our lives before and won’t go over it all again in detail here.

Essentially, our baby had a very rare neurological condition which necessitated me being referred to a foetal anomaly specialist in the Rotunda and having a far more detailed and lengthy scan a week later.  I was scanned frequently for the rest of my pregnancy as the baby’s head was enlarged and we had been told that she (we found out the gender at the Rotunda appointment) might need to be delivered at very short notice.  I had been planning a very intervention free birth and ended up having to have a C section.  It would have been potentially very dangerous – possibly fatal – for the baby if I had tried to deliver her vaginally and the implications for me of such a delivery were also deemed too risky.

Now, our case is rare.  But bear in mind that I had been accepted onto a program for midwifery-led care (I’m not knocking that btw) and that I had not been scheduled for an anomaly scan.  Until the bleeding at 20 weeks, I’d had a textbook pregnancy, with no cause for concern.  Just think for a minute if I HADN’T had that episode of bleeding and hence had not had a scan at 28 weeks when her condition was picked up.  Supposing my pregnancy had continued uneventfully and I’d gone into labour,  what might have happened then?  There was a chance – maybe not huge, but a chance nonetheless – that neither of us would have survived.

The Irish Times article quotes Louise O’Reilly TD, Sinn Féin health spokesperson, as saying that women outside the main cities in the State are not routinely receiving these scans.  That contravenes international advice on the best care for both the woman and the foetus.   Our daughter was born safely in Cavan at 39 weeks and is now 10.  She has both physical and intellectual disabilities and our lives are not at all as we had envisaged.  (That’s not the focus of this post, that’s just for anyone who wondered how things turned out)  I was so relieved just to have her that I pretty quickly put the whole scanning issue out of my mind, until a couple of years later when as a member of a consumer group looking at maternity care in Cavan Monaghan hospital group, I was angered almost beyond words to hear a senior midwife say she didn’t think anomaly scans were a good idea because parents get alarmed if something is discovered.   Take it from me, yes you get alarmed, but we would have been in a far worse position if our daughter’s condition had not been discovered prenatally and she had died during delivery.

Finding out that your unborn baby has health issues is frightening, terrifying, there’s no superlative that even comes close.  But – and I am only speaking for my husband and myself here – we found it gave us time (10 weeks) to get over the initial shock, to try and learn something about the condition, to inform those closest to us.  It also, and this was even more important, meant that the team at Cavan were prepared to deal with a possibly very sick baby at delivery.  (As it turned out she roared her head off when lifted out and was very stable, but we were lucky in that sense.)

I saw on Twitter today women recounting how they had been told they couldn’t have an anomaly scan (unless they were willing to go private) for various reasons.  The reasons given are not the main issue, although some are awful.  It has been argued that it is the existence of the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution  (Article 40.3.3) that has led to this situation.   This amendment states “The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”  It has been argued repeatedly that this amendment is the reason why anomaly scans are not being routinely offered to pregnant women, as women would not be able to avail of a termination if they felt they wanted one.  I’m not going to get into the whole debate around the Eighth Amendment here.  I’m openly pro-choice and always have been.  Our Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has been reported as saying the roll-out of anomaly scans across the State is a priority for his department.  That is good to hear, but if as it seems, the Eighth Amendment is one of the reasons why that hasn’t yet happened,  then that’s another reason for it to be repealed.  Women have the right to make informed choices about their care in pregnancy, labour and childbirth.  Anomaly scans are part of that information gathering process.


Feminism · Politics

5 ways to bring about change, with respect to Michael Moore

Inspired by Michael Moore’s list of 5 things to do to bring about change, here’s a little list for those of us living in Ireland, although most of them apply worldwide:

1. Inform yourself. That means reading a newspaper/watching the news/not relying on what others tell you

2. Make sure you are on the electoral register. You can do this at checktheregister.ie If you aren’t on the register you can’t vote. Our political system isn’t perfect (none is) but rest assured the mainstream parties will always get their vote out so show that they don’t represent you (if indeed that is the case)

3. Find out who your elected representatives are. That is your TD’s, MEP’s and local councillors. We have Senators too but most of us don’t get the opportunity to vote for them……..
You can do this at whoismytd.com Once you know who they are, contact them about things that concern you.

4. If you were annoyed/disgusted/angered that Enda Kenny congratulated Donald Trump on his election on behalf of the Irish people, then tell him so. His email is taoiseach@taoiseach.government.ie, Twitter @EndaKennyTD, or Facebook Enda Kenny use the hashtag #notinmyname if you want

5. Boycott the Late Late tonight (Fri 11 Nov) or at least the segment featuring a certain guest, and don’t tweet/Facebook about.. That person thrives on publicity and being starved of it will drive her mad. And tell RTE what you are doing. Email: latelate@rte.ie Twitter: @RTELateLateShow

Feminism · General Election 2016 · History · Parenting · Politics · Special Needs

#GE2016 part one: what kind of voter am I?

Here in the Republic of Ireland we have a general election looming. It was finally declared this morning and will take place on Friday February 26th. Consequently I will be glued to the TV on Sat 27th, Sun 28th and quite possibly Mon 29th depending on how long it takes for all the counts to be concluded and the results finally known. (For readers unfamiliar with our system, we have multi seat constituencies and vote by proportional representation so it can take awhile. For political nerds like me that’s part of the fun.)

Along with the various candidates clamouring for our attention and promising us the sun, the moon and the stars, or least promising that they aren’t as bad as the other lot, a number of organisations have campaigns running either asking candidates to make various pledges or asking voters to highlight the issues that matter to them. Reading through some of these made me think about the issues that will decide how I use my vote this month. I WILL use my vote – I have voted in every election I have been eligible to vote in – but as yet, I am uncertain which way it will go.

In an attempt to tease out some of my thinking, I’m going to look at some of the issues/ideas/ways in which my vote might be influenced. A lot of psephologists and political analysts talk about there being certain ‘types’ of vote – so what kind of voter am I?

I’m a woman. I’ve often wondered if there really IS such a thing as ‘the woman’s vote’. It implies that women will vote the same way or at least be influenced by the same issues when deciding how to vote. I don’t know if that has ever been true. The National Women’s Council of Ireland have asked candidates to sign up to their Breakthrough Manifesto for Women, all of which I agree with. At time of writing none of the candidates declared for my constituency of Meath West have signed up for this. I know women who will not agree with all of the points in this manifesto, but we are all women voters – so is there really a ‘women’s vote’? Should a woman vote for a candidate simply because she is a woman? No – there are some women candidates who, if they were running in my constituency, I would not give any vote to, because their policies and beliefs are so far removed from mine that they would not be representing me.

I have a child with special needs, and am her carer. This will be one of the biggest deciding factors for me when using my vote. I wholeheartedly support the Disable Inequality campaign to end discrimination for people living with a disability. In case you think such discrimination does not exist, ask yourself do people with disabilities have the same access to education, training and employment as everyone else? (The answer is no by the way). Ask yourself, do people with disabilities struggle financially? (That’s a yes – the burden of paying for extra heating, housing aids and transport means many families with a member with a disability are struggling) This week when the country has been shocked by the terrible story of alleged abuse of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Inclusion Ireland has released its manifesto for the election. It makes sobering reading.

I’m middle aged (and proud of it! Think of the alternative!) – is there a particular voting trend or voting appeal that should apply to me? I can’t think of one. Does being 44 (nearly 45) mean I think and hence vote a particular way?

I live in rural Ireland, on the edge of a small town with a rural hinterland. I am not originally from rural Ireland but have chosen to settle and raise our daughter here. That surely implies a commitment to rural Ireland, I could have just as easily chosen to live in a large town or city. I have no connection to farming, I don’t follow GAA (ok I like to see Meath win), I’m tired of hearing about ‘blow-ins’ who don’t understand the community they live in. Surely a community is not something set in aspic, surely it changes and adapts to those who live in it whether or not their families have lived there for generations. Those who wish to represent rural communities would do well to remember that these communities are not homogenous. Yes, many of the so-called rural issues are important to me – better public transport, the effects of the economic downturn and how long it is taking to see the promised upturn in some areas, employment, migration etc. But these are not the only things that will determine how my vote is used.

I want full equality in education, and support the campaign by Education Equality for the ending of all religious discrimination in State-funded schools. I would be delighted if the Education Equality campaign would also look at the issue of special schools and religious ethos.

To sum up then, I’m a middle aged woman living in rural Ireland with a child with special needs. I want to see full equality in our education system, an end to the inhumane system of direct provision and the repeal of the 8th Amendment. I care about where our food comes from and what we are doing to our planet. I’m not motivated by the acquisition of wealth and am passionate about making our history and heritage something that can be appreciated and cherished by all. What kind of voter am I then? I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that voters don’t fit into easy little boxes for canvassers and pollsters to tick off. We are more complex and have a range of issues that will affect our votes.

So, candidates of Meath West, what can you do to win my vote? You have 24 days including today and polling day. It’s over to you!

Feminism · Parenting · Politics

Why I won’t stop crying

I don’t know where to begin or even what I want to say. Like so many others I feel utterly useless today. Here in the privileged bloated West we have seen a picture of a little boy, a beautiful little boy lying face down. He looks utterly relaxed, his hands turned palm up, his wee feet stretched out. I’ve seen my own beautiful child lying in a similar position so many times. The difference is she was in her cot and then later in her bed, or on our sofa. Safe and warm in her own home. But that wee boy is lying on a beach in Turkey and he is dead. He drowned as a refugee trying to escape to safety. His brother and his mum died along with him.

But what can I do? That’s a question many people ask themselves about all the pain and suffering we see in our world. Can I stop the refugee crisis? No, of course not. Can I go to help? Apart from the fact that a well meaning but untrained volunteer is the last thing that refugees need in their faces, my own family circumstances mean I can’t travel to Syria or to Lebanon or to Calais or to any of the many many other places around the world where my neighbours need help. I can donate money to various charitable organisations, I knit hats and jumpers for a little charity in Turkey that helps Syrian refugees in camps there. I can help organise collections of much needed items in my local community and get them to people who can get them to Calais. I can organise grocery shopping for the women’s refuge in my county. I can go to coffee mornings to help children with illnesses and disabilities. I can do all of these things and I try to.

I wonder is the most important thing the one that in many ways is the easiest to do.  I can and will bear witness.  I will not turn away when I see these pictures.  I do and will continue to get angry, to question, to ask, to read, to listen, to think and to learn about why such things are happening and what we as a world can do to help our sisters and brothers.  I encourage, no I implore everyone reading this to do the same.  Don’t turn away and bury yourself in a superficial world of entertainment, so called reality TV, celebrity happenings and other amusing stuff.  Yes that all has a place but don’t ignore what is happening in the world.  Don’t think you can’t do anything.  You can.  You can bear witness.  You can get angry and demand answers.  You can let those in power know that you are watching.  For those of you in Ireland, you can sign this petition and demand that our Government allow more than a few hundred refugees in to our country.

I cry every time I see that picture of little Aylan Kurdi. And then I get annoyed with myself and vow not to cry any more, my tears are useless, they don’t achieve anything. Then I realise that the day I stop crying for the wrongs and injustices in this world is a bad bad day.

read feel act

Members of the Irish Parenting Bloggers have come together in a blog-hop to share their thoughts on the current crisis and to let people know what they can do to help. Click on the link below to read our posts and please feel free to spread the word by sharing on social media platforms using the hashtag #ReadFeelAct.

If you want to do something to help, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Sign the petition to ask the Irish Government to do more to help. Just click here.  For anyone in the UK you can sign a similar petition here
  2. There are numerous charities helping the refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea. Please, please donate even a few euro to Medecins Sans Frontieres, Amnesty International, or Trocaire.
  3. Alternatively, if you’d like to be part of a very worthy organised event the Irish Parenting Bloggers have organised a virtual coffee (or tea!) morning – check out and ‘like’ the Facebook Event page here  –  to help raise much needed funds for the Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity Campaign. On Friday, September 11 just pour yourself a cuppa; go to http://www.irelandcalaisfund.ml/ and make a donation to the fund (we suggest €5 per person but please give what you can) and upload a screenshot of your donation plus a pic of yourself enjoying your cuppa to your Facebook page or other social media channels and tell your followers all about it.  Then just link to this event to encourage your friends and family to take part too.

I will never forget

Two years ago today a young woman died in University College Hospital Galway. Her name was Savita Halappanavar. The circumstances that led to her death are well known but still horrendous to read.(here and here)

I will never forget the morning of Nov 14 2012 when the story broke. I saw something about it on Twitter and turned on the radio to hear more. I vividly remember standing in my kitchen crying as I listened to the report of a young woman who had died because – as it was being reported – doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy even though her baby had died in utero. I remember getting my daughter ready for preschool that day and sending her off on the bus then spending the next hour online trying to grasp what had happened.
Memories of when I suffered a missed miscarriage myself in 2006 and had to have a D&C to ensure I did not develop an infection flooded my mind. I was treated well throughout and with gentleness and sensitivity. And yet it seemed that six years later another woman had died because her case was not handled the same way. How could this have happened?

A few days later I joined thousands of people to march in Dublin and hold a vigil to remember Savita and to show solidarity with her husband Praveen. People were angry, upset and vowed Never Again. It was an intensely moving experience.

As I travelled home from Dublin I was thinking of my time studying Irish Studies at Liverpool University in the 1990’s. It was the time of the X case which we followed with a sense of something approaching disbelief. In Liverpool we – and many many others – signed petitions, sent messages of support, held rallies and hoped this would never happen again. Obviously the circumstances of the X case and Savita’s case are different. But what remained the same was that women were being denied autonomy over their own bodies. Coming home I was shocked to think that 20 years after we had marched and protested over the X case, we were doing essentially the same again. And I vowed that night never to forget Savita. Or Miss X. Or Ann Lovett. Or the other numerous nameless women who had died as a result of my country’s policies on termination of pregnancy or as a result of societal attitudes towards pregnancy outside of marriage.

Tonight a candle is burning in my house for Savita and for all the others. I will never forget. candle for Savita


Honour Malalai Kakar

This morning I read in Sunday’s Observer (it often takes days for me to catch up with the papers) about Malalai Kakar and how a photograph of her is being misused – even abused – by a far right group in Britain. As I read the article I got steadily angrier. Malalai was a policewoman in Afghanistan. Just think about that for a minute. For most of us when we think of Afghanistan we probably think of repression, of women being denied any kind of equality, and I am not for one minute suggesting that Afghanistan is some kind of egalitarian paradise. But this woman – and others – working as a police officer was something to celebrate.

Malalai was killed by the Taliban in 2008. She had been warned by them to stop her police work and had received death threats. In an interview with a documentary film-maker she said “I am not forced to wear the burqa, my husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages.” You can see the picture that has been misused of her in the Observer article linked above. She is wearing a burqa and pointing a pistol. I can see how some might find that image disturbing or unsettling. The background to the photograph is that she threw the burqa over her police uniform at the last minute as she headed out as part of a police mission to free a kidnapped teenage girl. (Interesting piece about Feminism and the burqa here)

Malalai commanded a unit fighting crimes against women. She died for her work and her beliefs. She was not a terrorist. Yet now this image of her is being abused by a far-right group who describe themselves as both a patriotic political party (hmm, ok) and a street defence organisation. Now what exactly is that? It sounds like something scary and dangerous to me. People are entitled to different beliefs we say, but no way should such a group be allowed to tarnish the memory of Malalai Kakar and other courageous women like her. I am only one person, but today I remember Malalai Kakar’s bravery and honour her. Please do the same.

Feminism · Parenting · Politics

Lancing Ireland’s boil

A boil can not only be extremely painful, it can get you down. The infection can make you weak and give you a fever. There are other things that can be tried, but sometimes a boil just has to be lanced.

That’s advice I found online earlier when I was thinking about writing this post. I have been thinking for days now about whether or not to blog about the mother and baby homes, the Tuam babies, the Magdalene laundries, the illegal forced adoptions, the vaccination trials that were carried out apparently without the consent of the mothers of children in these institutions, the secrecy and heartbreak that accompanies all of this. What stopped me from blogging until now was the sheer enormity of it all. Every day another new and awful story. Every day more accounts on the radio from mothers who had their babies taken from them. Every day inexorably building up to the point where I nearly stopped listening, nearly stopped reading, nearly stopped thinking. And then I realised. THAT is what Ireland did for years, for decades, for generations. We as a country, as a society, stopped thinking and stopped listening. We pretended that these women and girls and their babies were not our responsibility. We convinced ourselves that by putting them away in these institutions we were dealing with this issue. These fallen women, these offenders, it was best for the wider society if we did not have to see them, to think about them, to deal with them. And their babies? Well sure weren’t we giving them the best possible life by allowing them to be adopted? And if some of them died because of poor conditions or insufficient nourishment or the rapid spread of a disease then maybe that was God’s will.

Well now these stories – none of which are actually new – are coming to light. For years now Irish society has been repeatedly shocked by stories of child abuse in institutions run by various religious orders and often supported by State money, horrified by accounts of priests being moved from parish to parish where they remained free to sexually abuse children, appalled by the suffering of the women incarcerated in the Magdalene laundries. And now the country is sickened all over again by the stories of what went on in the mother and baby homes around the country. You probably know a family who have been directly affected by this, most of us do. And therein is another part of the problem. We all know this, we all know or have heard of people who were born in a mother and baby home, or of a woman who spent time in one of those homes. But it seems to be something an awful lot of us know about but no one talks about it. Now it seems Ireland is ready to talk, to hear, to think. It is time to lance that boil, it will hurt, it won’t be pretty, but it needs to be done if any kind of healing can ever happen.


What angered me most about Slane Girl episode

What has angered and upset me the most about the whole Slane Girl episode are these things:

1. The clear evidence that the double standard still exists and seems to be thriving amongst a generation who I had hoped might have some sense of gender equality

2. The level of vitriol directed at one very foolish and quite probably very drunk young girl because of course everyone else has never done anything stupid in their lives

3. One particular platform where a person (couldn’t tell if they were male or female from their username) firstly called the girl a slut and a whore for doing what she did and then a matter of minutes later was expressing sympathy for the male on the receiving end of the sex act because she (Slane Girl) was not doing it right. So she was being vilified for being sexual and then being vilified for her technique.

4. But the one that upset and angered me the most was the amount of women – and I am talking here about women in their late 20’s and upwards so not young teenage girls – who attacked this girl in the most vile judgemental manner yet did not criticise either the males directly involved or those who took and shared the pictures all over social media. Comments like “she deserved it” (i.e. that she deserved to have her name and the town she lives on social media for anyone to see) “slut-shaming” “I’d kill her if she were mine”. Also some women saying that because there were two males involved that makes her behaviour even worse and hence it was more acceptable to attack her. Just saw another one saying “I hate what that girl did it turns my stomach and possibly made a show of the country”. No, what’s made a show of the country is the behaviour of those who shared the pictures, those who condemned that girl and those who cannot see that what they are doing is bullying.

There also seems to be an tacit acceptance that society operates double standards and “sure that’s just how things are” so therefore things will never change and why should we even bother getting worked up over it. No. We are society. I don’t accept that kind of attitude and I will challenge it.