She could have gone unknown to the world.
A maternal mortality incident
Healthcare professionals involved being supported by their peers as they send a young woman to the morgue for a death that could easily be prevented.
If it were not for the demands of an inquest into her death,
Savita Halappanavar would be mourned by her family and friends only.
As it is only since July 2019 that inquests into maternal deaths has become mandatory.
If it were not for the eighth amendment,
Savita Halappanavar would have had an assisted termination to her miscarriage, and grieved the wanted babe. Herself and her husband would be able to try again, if they wanted. She’d be supported by her family and friends.
But ‘this is a Catholic country’, where 35 years prior the Catholic Church effectively claiming the lives of young girls, women, and their babies by the introduction of the eighth amendment to the constitution, among other things.
This is a Catholic country, whereupon a teenage girl gives birth alone, in the winter, in a grotto – and the priest is called before medical help.
This is a Catholic country, where a bishop meets and advises members of the government before major announcements are made to the public.
‘This is a Catholic country’, Savita is told, as she asks for help – for her miscarriage to be complete, for her to be free of the physical and emotional pain of miscarrying at 17 weeks. It isn’t to chastise her, as it is way of explaining that when she asked for an ‘abortion’ – we don’t do that here.
We don’t do that here, abortion isn’t a word we say aloud here. We don’t do that here, we send those away.
At 13 weeks pregnant I howled from the depths of my body, it is only then that I knew that I was miscarrying. It was the same song that came barrelling through my lips as I gave birth to my son, due at the same time as Savita’s baby girl.
At 13 weeks pregnant, the pain was unreal. My back was splitting open as my cervix was dilating. My migraine was blinding my vision and my insides were purged into cardboard kidney dishes until nothing but clear foam came from my depths. I still didn’t know I was miscarrying.
At 13 weeks pregnant, blood, thick and fast, deep red, nearly black, came pouring out of my body. Thick glistening blobs as I cried and apologized to the nurse trying to hold me up, weak, confused, trying to be a good girl. As more people came in and pierced my veins with needles, a doctor shouting at me, demanding to know when was the last time I ate or drank something before cold shocked through the catheter in the bruised vein of my hand. As they wheeled me into the elevator, I prayed that they wouldn’t do an ultrasound for a foetal heartbeat and halt everything. As they wheeled me into the operating room, I prayed that I wouldn’t die. I thought of Savita, I thought of my children asleep at home. I thought of Savita, and I was scared.
At 13 weeks gestation, the foetus that was sucked from my womb in theatre could fit into the palm of my hand. I called him my Leo Moon.
For this sweet first time mother, Savita would have had to go through labour, her cervix already open, amniotic fluid already spilling from her body. She would birth a tiny, but not insignificant sized foetus. It would be painful – both physically and emotionally. At 17 weeks, her babe would be bigger, more developed, and look less alien and more human than my miscarried one.
I can only imagine the physical pain she was enduring.
I can only imagine her asking for help, in an understaffed maternity ward.
I can only imagine her whimpers, separated by curtains from mothers.
I can only imagine her fear, as she knew how serious this was… as she knew, with the same fear that I did – that when the shivering starts, and the heat rises from our bodies… when the hallucinations and overwhelming tiredness begins, she knew, I am sure of it, that she was in a serious amount of danger.
and it was too late.
by the time that Savita was discovered, having suffered through sepsis taking over her body in the night – she now had to be rescued from death. Rescued from the miscarrying foetus that was poisoning her own body.
And it was too late.
This is a catholic country.
it is through the inquest into Savita’s death that she became the face of our nation’s awareness of what the 8th Amendment was possible of during a wanted pregnancy. It isn’t that people weren’t aware, it was that they chose to accept the 8th as ‘mostly’ good – protecting life, and occasionally bad – when something tragic happens.
Savita’s smiling face became a poster to the world about Ireland’s inhumane laws. ‘This is a Catholic country’ on headlines – as reporters around the world made out like Ireland was so far behind the times… and we were.
It is shameful that it has taken the deaths of women, and the fight of the grieving families left behind to enact change – when there were blazing warnings before.
It is my fear, right now, as we live through a global pandemic that the ways our maternity system continues to operate, that it will be through a preventable death of a pregnant or postpartum mother that we will strive for change. I fear that our government will only hear to improve the quality of our maternity hospitals and provide living wages and healthy working conditions for our midwives at the peril of a woman, or her child, or both.
The stories gathering so quickly from In Our Shoes – Covid Pregnancy is with urgency. To act, to protect, to ensure that families entering into our healthcare system are safe – and that our healthcare professionals are supported…
… I look at Savita’s face today, her photos in memorial for the date that she entered the hospital for the last time seven years ago. The hospital that was over crowded, understaffed, and leaving patients neglected, and healthcare professionals burnt out.
In 2020, with Covid19 in increasing numbers, I fear that it is only a matter of time before there is another face of a woman to mourn, a preventable death.
…like we are so far behind the times… and we are.