It’s been hard to ignore the fact that the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment is taking place in Ireland in the next few days — a referendum which, if it goes through, would strip the unborn baby of the right to life, equal to that of his or her mother. It’s an issue that invokes a lot of emotion, understandably so, and I’ve seen a huge amount of name calling and mud slinging going on all over social media over the last while. It’s made me very reluctant to wade in and say my piece, but I think in these final days before the votes will be cast, it’s time to tell you about our little miracle.
Naomi is the youngest of 5 beautiful, crazy girls.
(They’re insane. But in the best way possible.)
Here are the girls with their baby sister the day we got her home from the hospital…
However, this wasn’t the first time they met Naomi. They first met her 130 days earlier when she was born at 26 weeks and 4 days, weighing a mere 685g. That’s 1lb 8oz. Not even a bag of sugar.
(That’s Naomi down at the bottom of the picture. We had dolls at home that were bigger than her.)
See, like with the last 2 out of her 4 big sisters, I developed pre-eclampsia, among other health issues. Each time it would kick in earlier and be more severe than the last time. With this pregnancy it was so severe that the doctors were starting to doubt themselves, wondering if it even was pre-eclampsia. I have always been anything but textbook when it comes to medical issues in pregnancy!
My first two pregnancies went to term (42 weeks and 39 weeks) and were relatively straightforward. With #3, the issues began, but I made it to 37 weeks before delivery. With #4, things started off earlier, and we got to 33 weeks before the benefits of delivering the baby outweighed the benefits of keeping her in any longer. So, when my blood pressure started misbehaving at 22 weeks to the point of needing medication, things did not bode well for our little #5. In fact, within a few days I had finished work and was in hospital, where I remained until Naomi arrived.
Now, why does all this remind me of the Eighth Amendment referendum? Well, we’ve heard all about the hard cases, we’ve heard that they want to bring in abortion up to 12 weeks for any reason under the sun, up to 24 weeks/viability for “fatal foetal abnormalities”, and up to birth when it is likely (greater than 50% chance) that the baby will die.
We got Naomi to 26 weeks. That’s the point where the scales tip from there being a 50% chance to an 80% chance of survival… But we were on a knife edge the whole time. I was transferred from my local hospital to another hospital (with the regional NICU) at 24 weeks because I was in immediate danger of having a stroke and they thought they’d have to deliver that night. If they had, there would have been a 39% chance of survival. If it had been a day earlier, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation, that would have been a 17% chance and they might not have intervened. It was the expertise of several consultants (and a cocktail of different medications) that helped us get another two weeks, improving the odds massively. I was being monitored very very closely, with the team ready to act at the drop of a hat… Which they did, in order to save both my life and our daughter’s life, once things had gone as long as they could.
We knew that our girl was going to be born very early, so as a result we knew that there was a high likelihood of there being issues. Possibly big ones. And once my BP went AWOL at 22 weeks, we knew that was likely to happen within the month. In a different time, in a different place, to different parents, that baby would have been aborted due to issues they might possibly have.
On day one, we were sat down and told that our precious Naomi was a very sick little girl. She had a grade 4 bleed on her brain (and in the following days, had another grade 4 bleed on the other side), extremely premature lungs, and wasn’t responding to treatment. If she survived, and that seemed to be a very big if, she was likely to be profoundly disabled, wouldn’t be able to interact with us, wouldn’t have any quality of life worth talking about.
When I first got to see our youngest, it was while she was hooked up to a high frequency ventilator (oscillator) and on 100% oxygen.
Just that morning, I had been treated to a quick 3D scan, and saw this precious little face looking at me.
A few hours later, she was on the outside, still the same precious little face, our beautiful girl.
That evening, she was visited by her sisters, her grandparents, and her big cousin, and, very importantly for us, by a friend of ours, Fr Martin, who baptised her. We let our friends know what was going on and asked them to pray. And pray they did. The prayers started flowing in from all over the world — thousands and thousands of people — it was very overwhelming yet very comforting. And, against the odds, she stabilised and made it through the night. And the next day. And the next night. And she started to improve ever so slightly….
And we dared to hope. Because at the end of the day, God loves her way more than we ever could. She’d either get better or she wouldn’t, but nobody could have looked us in the eye and told us that our lives were better off without her in it, even for a short period of time. One doctor told us that all these scans, all these tests, they only show a part of the picture, they never tell the whole story. Sometimes a child with a devastating MRI (like Naomi’s) can be fine, maybe a slight limp, and a child whose MRI is “not too bad” can be profoundly disabled. We were definitely blessed to have doctors who were more than willing to be proven wrong on how they thought the outcome would be.
She was not the smallest, earliest, or sickest baby in the NICU at that time. Two of her little buddies are 24 weekers, another wasn’t quite as early but has very complex issues, and another little boy we know of (different hospital though) was born insanely early, at 22 weeks. Two weeks before what is considered “viable”. He’s now a gorgeous, cheeky one year old.
The next several months were a rollercoaster. One step forward, two steps back… We nearly lost her several times, she would come on leaps and bounds and then have a setback. We learned to take one day at a time and to find something positive in each day. Some days that would be “She’s on room air today!” and other days it would be “Well, she’s still alive.” And alive she was! The nurses referred to her as “feisty”, which usually translated to her pulling out her tubes and batting them off when they tried to do anything. (Some things haven’t changed!)
We got her home after 4.5 months, hopping off one rollercoaster and onto another. It hasn’t always been easy but it has most definitely been wonderful. It was never guaranteed that she would ever be able to do anything, so every smile, every giggle, every crawling-over-and-pulling-her-sister’s-hair… we rejoice in all the little things because we don’t take them for granted. And, as it turns out, 20 months down the line, we’re yet to see any of these massive disabilities that we were told she would have. She has an NG tube for feeding, as she has some issues with her weight, but otherwise we haven’t had any major issues.
How many Naomi’s will be aborted if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, by parents who are being told that their lives will be better off without going through the heartache of having their child die? We’re being told repeatedly to “trust women to do the right thing” -what makes us think that Irish women are going to be any different to anywhere else in the world where abortion has been introduced, initially under restrictive terms?
However, we trusted our littlest woman to fight for her life, and look at her now.