Thursday 30 May 2013

Changing The World: One Diaper At A Time.

The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral -- a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.... The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other human creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.... What on God's earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother.
(Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty) 

 The Candies Foundation is a "non-profit organization that works to shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood." Their current campaign sees them designating May as "National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month" and asking tweeters to join them in using the hashtag #noteenpreg. Take a look at the campaign ads:

Think school sucks? Wait till you have a baby!
Because what kind of loser has a crib like that? Boooring!
Nah. A baby buggy isn't going to pull the chicks like your dad's Mondeo.

Of course! Everyone else is "changing the world" 'cept you baby mama.  

What a horribly misconceived campaign.
If the objective is to discourage feckless irresponsible parenting it fails miserably in my opinion. The message is pretty clear: Motherhood sucks.
This is the way they aim to 'shape the way youth in America think about parenthood': A buggy is a naff alternative to a cool set of 'wheels', and changing diapers is a dead end job for losers.
How does one 'change the world' anyway? Getting pissed in nightclubs? Becoming a rockstar? Having a string of 'partners'? Driving a nice car? Going to university?
Are these foxy poster girls and boys 'world changers'? Really?
 Personally I can't think of anything more 'world changing' than raising the next generation.

 Am I advocating for teenage motherhood? No, although frankly I can think of many things way worse than teen motherhood. Some of the most wonderful and devoted mothers I've known have started out young.
 In my opinion the problem worthy of tackling is not "teenage motherhood" but a collapse of the ideal of marriage and family life. Instead of appealing to base, consumerist instincts couldn't we give young people a beautiful vision of family life to aspire to?
 Instead of stigmatising young mums by ad campaign (yuk) couldn't we honour the dignity and value of motherhood?
Couldn't we help young men to envision themselves as noble and sacrificial husbands and fathers rather than players with a 'cool set of wheels'? Couldn't we?
It seems to me that what started out as a noble intention to remove the stigma suffered by 'irregular' families has seen the slow toppling of the ideal, that of a mother and father, committed to each other and to the children of their union, in a permanent bond of marriage.
Is it not possible to hold out marriage as a 'gold standard' for children without stigmatising those who through death, divorce or abandonment are raising children single handedly? I hope so.
But this campaign badly misfires on all fronts. Stigmatising teen mums by advertising campaign is nasty. Demeaning motherhood is a crappy way to encourage young people to wait until they are able to parent responsibly.
Teenage mothers are not "The Problem". Really. Age is not the problem. Fecklessness, cruelty and selfishness is the problem. Josef Fritzel was no spring chicken.
Let's be honest, the #noteenpreg campaign isn't about teenage pregnancy at all. It's about the cost to us of supporting mothers on state benefits.
  Here's a delightful article about an orthodox Jewish wedding between two teenagers. If she has a honeymoon baby I don't think anyone is going to be tut tutting about #noteenpreg. Why? Because they're married, they have lots of family support and they have plenty of money. So we don't have to fret about them being benefit scroungers. Because that's the bottom line here: Money. Because It's the economy stupid. Always.
 The truth is, there is nothing weird or bizarre or antisocial about teenage mothers. What is weird, antisocial and bizarre is our selfish, materialistic, hedonistic, me first, individualistic, lonely, anti natal, child fearing, commitment phobic, infantile culture, for whom the giant, atrophied, wet nursing teat of the State has become Big Mummy.
What is weird, antisocial and bizarre is our dismantling of the gold standard of marriage, the flattening of the family and the concept of the child as being either a quick jump in the queue for a council flat or the perfect cherry on the cake of the finished life.
Instead of this shallow, materialistic flummery we should be offering teens a vision for the beauty of family life and the good of marriage. How? By modelling it. Babies don't need fancy cribs and cool wheels, they need parents committed to them and to each other. We all need to grow up and start showing our young people how to live by example. Vacuous ad campaigns won't do that for us.

Monday 27 May 2013

Dear Barbara

Barbara and Jonny

Happy Birthday Barbara.

Can I still say that?

You would be 65 years old today if you'd lived. The night you died, quite by coincidence, I had taken your old address out of my Amazon account. It was there because I bought you a kitchen bin once ( ha! Long story) but you'd moved since so it seemed pointless keeping it. I thought I'd maybe email you to ask you for your new address, imagining that it would be cool to surprise you with a bunch of flowers for your next birthday.

And then, just before shutting down for the night, I checked my Google Reader. And I learned that you had gone.

At first I was confused. Your new post said " In Memory of Barbara Curtis". I hadn't seen the posts informing readers that you'd been taken ill and wondered, hoped, that this latest post was perhaps some waggish post by you, contemplating your own mortality or something. Or something.

I shouted then, I can't remember what, maybe it was just "No!". But I didn't cry.

I got up, turned off the computer, got into bed and just lay there in the dark saying "Barbara is gone" Over and over again. After a while I tried to pray, but the same three words kept intruding into my prayer. "Barbara is gone".


In the morning those three words were still playing a loop in my head and I went to check your blog again, hoping that there had been some horrible mistake.

I didn't cry until then. And I'm crying now thinking about you, and all that you did for me and how many chances I missed to show you how much you meant to me. I was sure we'd meet someday. I hoped you might even travel to London and I could take you and Tripp on a tour of my city.

I was pretty sure you'd live into your nineties, still mentoring young mums, railing against political iniquities and grabbing life by the tail when you were a great great grandma of many.

You were simply too big, too busy and too full of life to die at 64.


You know what you did for me. I can't share it all here. It's too sad and sore to rake over that period. But when I was in a pit of despair and shame you were like a gentle mother to me. A tough talking, no nonsense woman who could cut the feet from under the proud and the mean, you had a heart that was as soft as butter for the broken, to whom you were the tenderest nurse.

You knew what it felt like to sorrow over your sin. You'd been there yourself and with incredible honesty and generosity had shared your mistakes and messes with your readers in hopes that we could learn from you.

You mentored so many mothers. And we shared your pride and delight in your beautiful family.

How exciting it was to watch Maddy in the X Factor, to follow the preparations for one wedding after another, the Thanksgiving meals and Christmases and the fabulous photos of all the Curtis clan together, the grandchildren getting bigger each year! Samantha's adoption journey, reading about the younger boys, the 'Downzers' as you affectionately called them, and how they were doing, their camps and theatrical exploits and trips to Washington. We got to share in the big rollicking ride that was your life as a mother of many, and it was beautiful and inspiring.

Then there was the news of Hatty, your beloved daughter in law, as she very bravely fought cancer and the pride you felt in Josh who was such a faithful and loving husband throughout her illness. We worried for her and hoped and prayed for her. And now, within six months of losing his mother, poor Josh has lost his bride too.

So Tripp, the other half of you, the rock of a man with whom you built your extraordinary family and to whom you were so proudly devoted, is moving through the days without you. Little did anyone think last year that father and son would be widowers together today.

Grief and loss is fearful. I dread to think about how it must feel. And yet it is part of the common human experience and something that, in time, will touch us all, if we live long enough.

Thinking about Tripp and Josh reminded me of this 14th century poem which I came across in an anthology of Irish writing . I was 15 at the time and a stranger to bereavement. But it offered me a powerful glimpse into the savage loneliness of death.


On the Death of his Wife

Muireadhach Albanach


I parted from my life last night,

A woman’s body sunk in clay:

The tender bosom that I loved

Wrapped in a sheet they took away.


The heavy blossom that had lit

The ancient boughs is tossed and blown;

Hers was the burden of delight

That long had weighed the old tree down.


And I am left alone tonight

And desolate is the world I see,

For lovely was that woman’s weight

That even last night had lain on me.


Weeping I look upon the place

Where she used to rest her head,

For yesterday her body’s length

Reposed upon you too, my bed.


Yesterday that smiling face

Upon one side of you was laid

That could match the hazel bloom

In its dark delicate sweet shade.


Maelva of the shadowy brows

Was the mead-cask at my side;

Fairest of all flowers that grow

Was the beauty that has died.


My body’s self deserts me now,

The half of me that was her own,

Since all I knew of brightness died

Half of me lingers, half is gone.


The face that was like hawthorn bloom

Was my right foot and my right side;

And my right hand and right eye

Were no more mine than hers who died.


Poor is the share of me that’s left

Since half of me died with my wife;

I shudder at the words I speak;

Dear God, that girl was half my life.


And our first look was her first love;

No man had fondled ere I came

The little breasts so small and firm

And the long body like a flame.


For twenty years we shared a home,

Our converse milder with each year;

Eleven children in its time

Did that tall stately body bear.


It was the King of hosts and roads

Who snatched her from me in her prime:

Little she wished to leave alone

The man she loved before her time.


Now King of churches and of bells,

Though never raised to pledge a lie

That woman’s hand - can it be true? -

No more beneath my head will lie.




Happy birthday dear friend. I bless the day you were born. Thank you for all the good you did and all you tried to do. You were a fierce champion for mothers and children. You used your talent for communicating to advocate for motherhood, especially for those mothers of disabled children who found in you an inspiring and encouraging friend.

I owe you more than I can say and I'll never forget you. May the Good Lord be merciful to you and make His face to shine upon you. I will continue to pray for you, and for the family you loved so dearly. Please pray for me.




Friday 3 May 2013

Looking after orphans and widows in their distress

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" James1:27


In addition to their regular vigil at Whitfield Street, The Good Counsel Network are now running an additional daily outreach at Mattock Lane in Ealing. Consequently the number of women they are helping to choose life for their unborn babies is greatly increased. The support that they are offering to women is vital and life changing. Their work is a real act of faith as they commit to supporting these women, trusting that God will supply all their needs.

Last year I met "Lina" a young Eastern European woman who had attended a debate on "Anti abortion protestors and freedom of speech" organised by BPAS at the Conway Hall in London. She had been in the audience hoping to contribute her own experience, but had felt daunted and hampered by her poor English, so in the end said nothing but listened with growing frustration to the clever arguments for "choice" which seemed insensible to the situation which women like herself find themselves in.

The baby which she had brought along with her was about 7 months old. She told me that when she had become pregnant her boyfriend had quickly abandoned her. Her employer then let her go and she was left with no means of paying her rent. She wasn't entitled to benefits in this country and while she would have been given an abortion on the NHS, if she went ahead with her pregnancy she would have had to pay for any obstetric care she recieved. She was literally faced with destitution unless she "chose" abortion.

She told me that she went for counselling at the Marie Stopes clinic in Whitfield Street and explained her situation. The counsellor listened and then bluntly asked her " So how are you going to support yourself and a baby?" She explained that she didn't want an abortion and felt that if she could just have some help to get through the next year that she would be able to manage.

The counsellor's response was simply to offer her an abortion. Feeling defeated and believing that she had nowhere else to turn, she made an appointment.

As she left the clinic she bumped into a counsellor from the Good Counsel Network who offered her a leaflet and said that they wanted to help her and her baby. She was amazed that right outside the door had been the help that she had been seeking all along. It would have been so easy for the Marie Stopes counsellor to say " we can't help you with your needs, but see that lady out there? she's standing there waiting to help women like you. Go talk to her and see what she can do for you" But of course that doesn't happen, because " that lady out there" is stealing Marie Stope's business. So much for "choice" from Marie Stopes.

With the help of the Good Counsel Network she continued with her pregnancy and when I met her was back on her feet.

We both became tearful when she told me that she looks at her baby every day and weeps to think how close she came to losing her.

Lina is just one of the many, many mothers supported by the Good Counsel Network. They are invisible to pro choicers who prefer to believe that every woman who crosses the threshold of an abortuary looking for help is fully exercising "choice".

These mothers and their unborn children are the "widows and orphans in their distress" that our culture turns away from. Instead we offer them death. And the crowning insult is that we call it "choice" and expect them to celebrate the privilege.

If you want to help the Good Counsel Network to offer them life, please read this email which I received today and consider what you can do to build a culture of life in our city.



Please come on Good Counsel’s Annual Wandsworth to Wapping Sponsored Walk.

We are in urgent need of raising funds. Yet again this year we have broken all previous records for the number of pregnant women, planning to have an abortion, that we have counselled. This number has been rapidly increasing every year for a few years now. This means that we have been graced with the opportunity to counsel more Mothers than ever before and with the help of God save a greatly increased number of innocent unborn lives. This is very happy news, but means that our finances are stretched further than ever before.

When we are counselling women in order to help them to choose life for their child we offer them all the emotional, practical and moral support which is necessary for them to have the confidence to continue with their pregnancy. The emotional and moral support can take up hours of our time but in general does not cost very much. The practical support is much harder, and can include accommodation/help with rent, direct financial help to provide essentials such as food and clothes, legal advice, travel assistance to get to doctors/midwives appointment etc. etc. This is a huge burden upon us but it is vital that we are able to continue to offer this to all of the pregnant Mothers we see.

To give you an example of the work we are doing, this very morning we have seen two couples who were both definite in their decision to have an abortion. Both of these couples have left having changed their mind completely... One of these couples was a young married couple from Hertfordshire. They have very little money, and have to live in a very small studio with no kitchen and a bathroom which is shared with the restaurant which is beneath their home. They hadn’t intended to have a baby yet and were really worried about the future. They also knew their current accommodation was was not at all suitable for a child. They met one of our counsellors who was able to show them God’s plan for this child and convince them that Abortion is not a good choice for their child and also for their own future. They then visited our centre where we were able to give them a safety net for when the baby is born in case they are not able to afford better accommodation or provide the basic necessities for their child. This safety net, which we have committed to, is what gave them the confidence to continue with their pregnancy, and they left happy in their choice to choose life for their baby. As she left she said “This morning I was going to kill my baby but now I really hope it is a girl, do you think God will think I am asking too much?”

As you can see it is vital that we can raise the funds necessary to continue to offer this “safety net”. Our next big fundraising effort is our Annual WANDSWORTH TO WAPPING SPONSORED WALK which is approx. 13 Miles long and is on Saturday July 20th (starting with Mass at 10am and finishing at approximately 4pm with drinks and refreshments) and we want to get as many people as possible to join us and raise sponsorship for our lifesaving work. For more details please see our website

For our Facebook event page click here

To let us know you want to come and to get your fundraising pack please reply to this email with your contact details and we will send a fundraising pack with all the important details to you and keep in touch between now and the big day.

Thank you in advance for your support.

God bless

Conor Carroll

Good Counsel Network


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Saturday 6 April 2013

Blogger Comments: Apologies due!

I've just published a bunch of comments that had slipped under the radar. I can only assume that they fell  into spam and I happened across them just now when I was tinkering with my Blogger settings.
Sincere apologies to those of you whose comments were so belatedly published. Like most bloggers, I LOVE getting comments and  feel awful that I left some lingering in comment limbo.
I'll try to be more vigilant in future!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

"Edith's catsitting instrucions"

We had planned to spend Easter weekend at Ampleforth where the community of St Aeldred were running a family retreat. I spent most of Thursday packing and preparing and then, when Pat got home, we realised there was a problem with the car. the rear lights weren't working. We didn't feel safe driving all the way up to Yorkshire sans rear lights so we decided to postpone our departure until the following morning, hoping that we could sort it out before we left.

There were other complicating factors too. We don't have enough room in the car for all our family and so my oldest son was going to take the train. Son no.2 needed to come back early because he was catching a flight to Denver on Monday for the first leg of his Big Gap Year Adventure. By Friday morning we realised that the cost of the trains for the boys, coupled with the urgent car issues, and the necessity of truncating our weekend in order to get back in time for Dominic to pack for his travels were presenting obstacles insuperable and we decided to cancel Ampleforth and plan for Easter at home. It was more than a little disappointing.

Our luggage stayed in the car for almost the entire weekend before we got around to unpacking again. I felt so disheartened. The younger children had been really excited about the prospect of a weekend away.

In all my preoccupation and busyness I hadn't noticed that Colmcille had prepared a little info pack for our friend Edith who was going to be staying in the house during our absence and taking care of our cat Brian. All neatly presented in a folder complete with helpful pictures of cats and Easter bunnies. Colmcille is full of sweetness and optimism and it does my heart good to stumble across these little things he busies himself with when I'm not looking. I especially love the little tip he leaves for Edith as a "token of thanks".

Sometimes my children make my heart hurt with love and happiness. I wish I could bottle these days and keep them forever. Everything passes. He'll be a man soon like his older brothers and all these things will be a sweet memory. This is why I want to blog. To capture the moments that make my heart sing with gladness and gratitude for my darlings. The sweet pulse of my heart.

Packing list ( with Sniffers)

Thursday 10 January 2013

A letter to my MP regarding same sex marriage

Following the request of Archbishop Vincent Nichols that we should make our objections to these proposals known to our MP, I have sent the email below to Angie Bray MP for Acton/Ealing. I was spurred into action last night when a friend forwarded to me her own email on this matter. So I thought that maybe some of you would also be inspired to do likewise.

Those of you who would like some further reading on why this issue is so enormously critical and how the equality argument is a fallacious red herring may want to read this Catholoc Voices Briefing paper:

I emailed our MP at this address:
Her website is here:
For those of you elsewhere you can find your MP's contact details here:

I encourage any of you who haven't done so yet to make your feelings known to your MP.

I don't think it needs to be a long letter, in fact shorter letters are probably much better. No doubt our MP's hardly have time to be reading through multiple explanations of the ins and outs of this issue.

If you don't have the time yourself, a simple letter asking them to defend the current definition of marriage would suffice.

I am posting my letter here, not because I think it's in any way a model letter. There are so many things to say about this issue and I decided to just stick to a couple of points. But I'm hoping that it might galvanise some readers to do likewise.

Lets send a message to our parliamentary representatives that we are taking note of where they stand on this issue.

Dear Ms Bray

I am an Acton mother of six children whose ages range from three to twenty two years old.

I am a life long Labour voter who voted Conservative at the last election on account of Labour policies which I felt were harming the family and as a natural consequence of that, harming children and young people, upon whom the future of our society depends.

I am now realising that the party I thought would work to restore the respect and support which is owed to the most fundamental and critical cell of society is, in actual fact, now deepening the harm that has been done to it.

The fact that this is being imposed upon us with no mandate whatsoever, without any prior manifesto commitment, and without heeding the numerous petitioners against is beginning to feel as though we have a government which believes itself to be ruling by divine right.

Since when has any government had an interest in formally ratifying romantic love between persons?

Marriage has been properly understood to be uniquely deserving of societal recognition precisely because it is the union of a man and a woman which is apt to result in the next generation.

And we know that growing up within the stable bond of marriage between its mother and father provides the best possible environment for any child.

Redefining marriage weakens societal respect for the family because redefinition hinges solely on romantic love between persons and disregards the prime needs of children to be raised with both their parents.

Marriage is hard, and our divorce rate more than attests to this. I believe that over romanticising marriage and overlooking its conjugal nature is a terrible mistake and a symptom of a rather infantile generation that has failed to grow up.

Past generations understood that marriage was about more than themselves. This generation is in danger of losing sight of this.

The government appears to be compounding the error.

I hope, for the sake of future generations, you will defend marriage and resist attempts to redefine it.

Yours sincerely


Tuesday 20 November 2012

An update to my last post on Maternal death.

Since posting this on the death of Savita Halapannavar, a few more things came to my attention which add more context to this story. Initially I added them at the bottom of my original post, but Mac at Mulier Fortis pointed out that it wouldn't be picked up by RSS readers and so it might be worth putting the update in a separate post. Seems like a good idea, so here it is:

This article in the Hindu Times quotes the president elect of the Federation of obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, Dr. Hema Divakar defending the decision of the Irish doctors as being reasonable:

 Cause of death
 Delay or refusal to terminate the pregnancy does not in itself seem to be the cause of death. Even if the law permitted it, it is not as if her life would have been saved because of termination,” she said. “Severe septicaemia with disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening bleeding disorder which is a complication of sepsis, major organ damage and loss of the mother’s blood due to severe infection, is the cause of death in Savita’s case. This is what seems to have happened and this is a sequence which cannot be reversed just by terminating the pregnancy.”

Pain and infection
Analysing the situation, Dr. Divakar said: “Based on available information, Savita would have reported pain and infection and doctors would have indicated a miscarriage as the 17-week foetus may not have grown as expected. Its growth would have been deteriorating because of the infection. Having understood that the baby was not going to make it, the couple would have asked for termination. But as Savita’s infection may have required aggressive treatment at that stage, doctors must have felt the need to prevent complications. The usual [practice] is to meddle the least till the mother is stable.”
Asserting that it is wise to wait in cases with such complications at 17 weeks, Dr. Divakar said: “As per reports, the baby’s heartbeat stopped after three days. But that was expected.” 
The blogger Thirsty Gargoyle points out significant discrepancies in the various timelines of events which are being quoted in the press.
How has the Irish Times ran two conflicting versions -- one written, one aural -- of the same story, and not noticed that they contradict each other? Did Kitty Holland not notice, the second time she interviewed Praveen, that his sequence of events had changed?
How has nobody picked up on the fact that the sequence of events as described by the Irish Times, with Praveen as a source, and RTE, dependent on the hospital's viewpoint, are completely at odds with each other?
He also posts the timeline of events from Galway University Hospital which RTE reports on here.

Sunday 21 October:
Patient presents to hospital complaining of backpain.
Patient is admitted with a threatened miscarriage to the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit.
Monday 22 October:
After 24 hours of admission, antibiotics are given.
Tuesday 23 October:
Patient transferred to theatre.
Spontaneous miscarriage occurs.
Wednesday 24 October: 
Post-theatre patient is transferred to Intensive Care Unit.
Patient remains unwell.
Thursday-Saturday 25-27 October:
Patient continues to deteriorate.
Sunday 28 October:
Patient dies in ICU.
Post mortem examination ordered by coroner.

One of the commenters on my last post, Katie, asked about normal management of pre term premature rupture of membranes (PPROM).
With the important caveat that I am not an expert and I don't wish to add to the speculation before the facts, here is the answer I gave Katie according to my understanding:

 The central issue here appears to be whether or not the patient was showing signs of infection. If not then it is quite typical, as I understand it, for management to be expectant. That is, to wait for labour to start, but usually within a given time frame and with close monitoring for signs of chorioamnionitis.

If infection is present, there seems to be agreement in most places that induction would be normal management. However, as the article in the Hindu Times I linked to above says, it could be that inducing a woman already in septic shock may dramatically worsen her condition.

This is why I say that crises such as these are managed on a case by case basis, taking a number of other clinical factors into account.

Here's one article I found which explains management quite clearly..
 This quote refers to PPROM in the second trimester, which was the stage of pregnancy that Savita was at. It explains that, in the absence of infection, such patients may even be managed at home ( actually, in some ways this may be safer, from an infection control point of view, because hospital environments are full of foreign pathogens):

"Chorioamnionitis occurs in 30-60% of patients with second trimester PPROM. The risk of infection increases with duration of ROM and an AFI less than 2.0 cm. Frequent exams are necessary to ensure maternal safety. Patients need to be educated about the warning signs of intraamniotic infection and need to take their temperature 3 times a day at home. These patients do not need to be cared for in the hospital if no evidence of vaginal bleeding or infection exists. They may consider admission for inpatient management at 24 weeks, which currently is considered the point of viability at most institutions."
A couple of other things. There have been frequent references to the open cervix being akin to "an open head wound". The state of the cervix is more significant in terms of the inevitability of miscarriage. It is the torn membranes that pose a risk of infection.

Secondly, many commenters have said that the doctors ought to have agreed to termination of the pregnancy because the patient asked for it. But patient request, particularly in extremis, is not always good grounds for making important decisions about clinical management.

A personal anecdote here:
In September 2007  I was in labour with twins. I had been told that Olivia, "twin one", was dead.
Because we didn't know what had killed her and whether twin two might be next, I elected to have an emergency caesarean section. The prospect of labouring naturally, knowing that I would have to birth my stilborn baby first and that the living one might be at risk, was too frightening.
Traumatised and in shock, I'm ashamed to say that at this point I begged the registrar to sterilise me.
She refused saying that I wasn't in a fit state to know my own mind on the matter..
I insisted that I did and pleaded with her again, saying that I knew for a certainty that I couldn't go through this again.
She firmly refused.
Days later I was longing with all my heart to be pregnant again and grateful beyond words for her "no".

Sunday 18 November 2012

Maternal Death: When fools rush in. (UPDATED)

The desperately sad death of Savita Halapannaver along with her unborn daughter at only 17 weeks gestation is a grim blow to her poor husband and a salutory reminder to the rest of us that life, even with all the technological and medical advantages that our generation enjoys, is still fragile.

There will be an enquiry and an inquest and until then, the staff involved will not be able to speak about what happened. All we have to go on by way of information is the account of her devastated husband.

One can only imagine how dazed, confused and angry he must be. How does the human heart begin to absorb such a thing? To lose one's young wife just as she was looking forward to motherhood is a shattering reversal of fortune. It is completely understandable that he should be angry. Necessary even. Everyone's heart is moved to pity for the man who has had his life, his hopes and his love ripped away from him.

But as a midwife, my thoughts are also with the staff at the hospital where she died. I know that they will be in shock and grief. Maternity care is wonderfully fulfilling and challenging, it is also hugely demanding, physically, mentally and emotionally. No crisis is straightforward, even with the best clinical protocols in place, critical issues are dealt with on a case by case basis. Sometimes mistakes are made. Genuine errors, with catastrophic consequences.

What happens when you make a mistake at work? All responsibilities are stressful and burdensome at times, but imagine if your mistake potentially cost the life of two people who depended upon you for their well being?

I still recall with a chill the time when, as a student midwife, I infiltrated a perineum with lignocaine, anticipating the need for an episiotomy. We had learned how important it was to draw back the plunger to make sure the needle hadn't entered a blood vessel since, we were told, should lignocaine enter the bloodstream it could bind irreversibly to cardiac muscle and cause the heart to arrest. For some reason, amongst all the other dire warnings and 'thou shalt nots' my imagination was particularly seized by this picture. I turned over in my mind the horror of such a calamity happening in so banal a way.

So when, just after depressing the plunger, the labouring mother gasped weakly that she felt odd, that she couldn't see properly and was finding it hard to breathe, I was stricken with the thought that I had failed to do that vital check. I felt as though my brain was on fire and the joints in my knees literally began to give way. All I could think was that I had killed a mother just as her baby was entering the world.

Happily, it soon became apparent that I had done no such thing. The mother had merely been hyper ventilating and had become light headed. But I couldn't speak for fright. I handed over the scissors to the midwife who was with me. She took one look at my ashen face and understood that I had lost my nerve, but she didn't realise why until afterwards in the staff room when I told her how the bottom had fallen out of my world in that moment.

A friend of mine, tired towards the morning, having spent the entire night shift with a labouring woman, made an error that could very nearly have been fatal for the baby. A shot of pethidine for a multiparous woman in transition, very nearly fully dilated and ready to push her baby out, having laboured with no pain relief was now asking for something to get her over the final hump. After delivering the shot, he double checked the syringe and realised that instead of pethidine he had given her syntometrine. A drug which is given just as the baby is emerging, the effect of which is to cause the uterus to clamp down and cause the placenta to detach from its wall. A potentially catastrophic error of enormous magnitude. Obviously, until the baby is actually born, the last thing you want is the placenta to detach itself from the uterine wall.

Happily, unlike me with the lignocaine, he kept an extremely clear head. He quickly examined the woman, "encouraging" the cervix, now almost fully dilated, to open up all the way, and encouraged the mother to give a big push. This being her third or fourth labour a few pushes were all it took to get the baby out and everything ended well.

On another occasion I attended one of the monthly meetings held on labour ward where obstetricians highlighted some of that months difficult cases and peer reviewed the clinical management decisions. What went well, what some would have done differently etc.

One of the team put a picture on the overhead projector of a chubby stillborn infant. I stared at the greatly enlarged picture on the wall waiting for the awful account of whatever obstetric disaster had led to this. I remember the silence in the room as he paused before saying "This, is a healthy term infant, delivered by forceps at 40 weeks and 3 days. The only thing wrong with that he is dead."

The senior registrar who had delivered the baby was in the room, with this evidence of her catastrophic failure before her, and us. And I felt the crushing weight, the awfulness of that. It seems that she had been called out in the night to this woman who had failed to progress in labour, attempted a somewhat difficult rotational forceps delivery, and in doing so ruptured the woman's uterus. The baby died and the woman had a life saving hysterectomy. Left with a dead baby and no hope of getting another one.

I don't know the extent of the senior registrars responsibility. But I shudder when I imagine how she must have felt.

So when the news of the hapless Savita's death emerged, my thoughts, as well as being naturally with her husband were also with the team of people who had been caring for her. No doubt they are shocked and traumatised too and many will be reproaching themselves for failures, real or imagined.

Despite the fact that actual hard information about this case is very thin on the ground, the story was quickly spun into a narrative in which she died because she was denied an abortion by staff so blinkered and hamstrung by religious dogma that they refused to act to save her life.

That she died owing to the denial of abortion on the grounds that Ireland "is a Catholic country" has been uncritically accepted and enthusiastically exploited by pro choice groups apparently seeking to make political capital out of this human tragedy. With the facts still far from clear, there has been an unseemly rush to appropriate the deceased young mother as an abortion rights martyr who died at the hands of Catholic doctors claiming that they couldn't help her because this was a "catholic country"

There are far more questions than answers at this stage, and no doubt there will be a proper enquiry which will thoroughly scrutinise the clinical judgements made in the management of this case. It is beyond grotesque however to witness the exploitation of such a desperately tragic circumstance by those who are evidently much more interested in abortion rights than sound maternity care.

A few sound bites from the subsequent feeding frenzy among the clear eyed apostles of evidence and reason:

Richard Dawkins tweets that " Irish Catholic bigotry kills woman"

Another shrieks that " Ireland's Roman Catholic Church murders Savita"

Yet another announces that a " European hospital tortures a woman to death over ideology. And adds for good rhetorical measure: "this is gender based violence"

The inflammatory and irresponsible title of this post "Woman dies in hospital because of catholic dogma" ( by a blogger whose stated aim is to promote reason, critical thinking and ethical atheism ) set the tone for the  hysteria which played out in the comments.

I weighed in with the caveat that all the information was not available. No one can assume to know all the facts in advance of an enquiry.

At this point it isn't at all clear whether Savita's E.coli infection had even been identified until it was already a galloping sepsis. In one of the audio interviews with the husband he seems to say that infection was initially ruled out and that she was given prophylactic antibiotics when she was admitted on Sunday.

That night she was told that she would lose the baby. On Monday she asked for an abortion because she found it distressing listening to the heartbeat and "just couldn't take it". Mr. Halapannaver doesn't say that she or anyone felt, at this stage that her life was at risk if management continued expectantly, it seems here as though her request for an abortion was in order to bring her distressing circumstance to a close.

Her husband Praveen describes her as being 'fine', albeit distressed, until Tuesday evening when she started to feel ill. The following day she is taken to theatre, and after that her condition rapidly deteriorates. He describes her as being critically ill on Thursday and on Friday Praveen is told she has an E.coli infection and she is put on dialysis. By Saturday she is in multi organ failure and on Sunday she dies.

In interviews elsewhere it appears that she didn't start antibiotics till Tuesday. Who knows what that means. Perhaps by Tuesday the lab report had come back and shown that she had an E.coli infection which was resistant to the antibiotics she was already on and her presription was changed?

In the absence of evidence of infection, abortion is not a typical treatment for pre term labour with ruptured membranes. Antibiotic prophylaxis is, as is very close monitoring ( bloods, temp, physical signs etc) . There is no real evidence yet that abortion would have made one bit of difference to the sad outcome in this case. It seemed to me as though pro choicers had seized upon this story to dishonestly claim that abortion would have certainly saved her life and that the decision of the team managing her care had been skewed by blind adherence to religious dogma.

I said that such a scenario as Savita presented with is not completely unusual and whether she aborted or not, what she most needed was presumably close monitoring and timely, effective prophylactic antibiotics. There are a number of similar cases of women who have also died of septicaemia following legal abortion. Had this unfortunate woman aborted, precisely the same risks of infection would likely have remained.

Here are some of the responses. I put them here because I think it is instructive how quickly the debate moved to personal attack. It demonstates the ugly tendency among those with political agendas, to cynically exploit a terrible human tragedy, beefing up the facts in order to score goals and, in this case, fashion a stick with which to beat pro life Ireland.

"I will never understand why is it so easy for christians to kill a full grown woman, with life, relationships, dreams, future"

"Claire, It worries me that you are a midwife. That actually proves how much an ideology can even blind a supposedly “knowledgeable” person. it’s quite telling that you insist on calling the fetus “baby”." ( Um, what kind of weirdo thinks that it's sinister to refer to a woman's unborn baby as a baby? Can you imagine your midwife or doctor referring to your 'fetus'?)

"Ahhh, a wonderful, pro-life troll with nothing better to do with their life than to verbally admonish a) a dead woman for even DARING to ask for the help denied to save her life and b) spout out more pro life rubbish that caused her death in the first place?"

"Be honest, Clare, you don’t care about the women, all you care about are the fetuses. You don’t care that what happened here stopped Savita’s beating heart. And, to be blunt, you are cruel and heartless."

"Everybody who treated her should be thrown in prison for murder. They knew exactly what would happen."

"Clare’s internalized misogyny is sad. Her gleefull recitation of misogynistic talking points designed to obscure the fact that catholic dogma straight up murdered this woman is expected."

"Clare’s obvious joy at the death of an innocent woman is sickening."

This gem stood out:
"Clare When you die the world will become a slightly more caring, humane place. Please hurry."

Humanity and kindness abounds among the hysterical Apostles of Tolerance! Wishing for the early death of a mother of six children is a strange way to demonstrate concern for the early death of the mother in question here.

That Savita has been claimed as an abortion rights martyr by pro choicers eager to make inroads into Ireland's abortion laws is simply repulsive to me. The protest they held outside the Irish embassy in London would have looked a damned sight more sincere were it not for their deafening silence over the death by post abortion sepsis of Jessie Maye Barlow . Or that of 18 year old Manon Jones.

In London alone, more than 100 mothers have died in childbirth over the last five years. That's more than 100 mothers who died in our capital city, none of whom were honoured by a single candle lit vigil outside an embassy, or Parliament, or the Department of Health as far as I'm aware.

While the UK trails at a pitiful 23rd in the global ranking league tables for maternal mortality, Ireland sits way above us in 6th place. Giving them ample reason to justifiably say that they are one of the safest countries in the world for a pregnant mother.

Hello abortion rights campaigners angrily denouncing Ireland's religiously motivated "killing" of women. Can you see perhaps why your sudden interest in Savita alone seems more than a little disingenuous to me?

Sepsis is now the leading cause of maternal mortality in the UK. So it's more than a bit rich when Brits congregate outside the Irish embassy in London to lament neglect of women in Irish hospitals.

It would be nice to see an outbreak of reason among the soi disant "Brights" such as Richard Dawkins and co. How about they wait for the results of the enquiry and set about getting our own house in order before lighting the torches and galvanising the mob for a lynching?

I have moved the update to a new post here.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Fr Alan James Fudge. First anniversary.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Fr Alan Fudge, the much beloved pastor of St Charles Borromeo church in Ogle Street, London.
He made his final Passover at 3 o'clock in the morning of the 5th August 2011 as his companions recited the Creed. He died "Professing the Faith of Our Holy Mother the Church" as he had expressly hoped in an earlier letter concerning his wishes for his funeral.
With beautiful timing it was the day after the feast of St John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, and just before the feast of the Transfiguration.  

The Mass yesterday was beautiful. The church was packed, and the Homily was given by the recently ordained Fr Ivano.  Fr Alan had attended his ordination to the diaconate in June last year, just two months before he left us. Fr Ivano reminded us that he has left very clear instructions for his funeral. One of these was that he wanted no panegyric, just a simple announcement of the Kerygma. The Good News of Jesus Christ in whom death has been conquered. Alleluia! 
In his funeral, as throughout his ministry as a priest,  Fr Alan preached Christ to us.

I was sitting near the baptismal font where he baptised our youngest Marie-Aibhlinn and over which he had lain in his coffin the night before his funeral at the Cathedral. To see him resting there had certainly made vivid the powerful symbolism of the baptismal waters. 
I thought about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, about Christ's baptism in the Jordan, about Blessed John Paul II venerating his own baptismal font in Wadowice,  about all the souls Fr Alan brought into the life of Grace in that font and about my own death. I hope I die as holy a death as Fr Alan.

After Mass we went to St Mary's graveyard in Kensal Rise and prayed the Rosary together and sang the creed.

I was surprised he had such an ordinary little grave. I shouldn't have been of course. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?
Ps 41:3

Friday 3 August 2012

Responding to criticisms of 40 days For Life. Part One.

So here it is, as promised in my previous post, and slightly redacted here and there to remove personal details and irrelevant verbiage, my pro life apologia. Part one:

Dear A
I understand your concerns about the possible intimidation of women who are already in an enormously stressful situation. I would be horrified too if I thought that some of the reported accounts of what happens at 40 Days For Life were accurate. However I think it is a shame you didn't feel able to discuss this with me first, if only to give me an opportunity to explain a little more..

I think there is much about this issue and my involvement with it that you misunderstand. I try to keep in mind that people who hold contrary positions to my own usually do so out of the best of intentions. Often we want the same thing, but our vision for how to achieve that may differ considerably.

I too am greatly concerned about the rights of women, but I believe the rhetoric of choice, applied to abortion, is deeply misleading. Abortion hurts more women than it helps.

A woman doesn't 'choose' abortion like she chooses a home, a husband or a career. She chooses it like a trapped animal chooses to gnaw off its own leg to get away. This is the choice that confronts many women who choose abortion. For them, to choose abortion is to exercise a 'non choice'. They choose abortion precisely because they feel they have 'no choice'. Many of them are under enormous pressure from family, often a mother or a boyfriend to abort. They are told that unless they abort, they will get no support. Alone and abandoned they feel that they have no other option available to them.

For these women, an encounter with a pro lifer is often the first time they have encountered someone who has responded to their pregnancy as something other than an insuperable disaster. They are offered whatever help and support they feel they need, practical, financial and emotional. And that help is ongoing for as long as they feel they need it. Sometimes this will be many years. This is something that BPAS and Marie Stopes cannot offer. The only "help" on offer from such places is an abortion.

The decision to seek an abortion is not a straightforward one of choice. Many of the women helped by pro lifers are those who fall through the cracks of society. Some of these women are illegals, working in the black economy, with no access to benefits of any kind. Some are foreign students who have invested everything in the opportunity to study here and are without family or friend support of any kind. They can get an abortion free on the NHS but must pay for any obstetric care they receive. Where is the "choice" for women like these? For them, the idea of 'choice' is mere empty rhetoric, because they simply have none. There are many women such as these, who have been supported to keep their babies who would otherwise have aborted because they felt that they had no other choice.

A couple of months ago, one Sunday during an aggressive pro choice 'counter protest' outside the clinic, a middle aged woman got out of a car and approached a friend of mine wanting to know what was going on. When my friend explained about the vigil she became very emotional. She said that March was a very difficult time of year for her. More than 20 years previously, she had had an abortion and was still carrying the pain of that experience. She tearfully hugged my friend and said " I wish you had been there for me all those years ago, because no one was there for me then. I was all alone" This is a story we hear many, many times.

Many of the people involved in pro life work are themselves post abortive and have found healing in helping other women in crisis pregnancies, and also in helping other post abortive women who are struggling to come to terms with their experiences. Shattered by the pain of abortion, many of these women have become the most eloquent and impassioned defenders of everyone's right to life.

Having experienced a pregnancy full of panic, depression and feelings of being unable to cope, and having been helped through that by the unending kindness and patience of people like your sister D, whose goodness to me I will never forget, my heart is torn to pieces when i think about those women who find themselves alone, unsupported and afraid. And having subsequently lost one of the babies I so noisily complained about, I quail to imagine the depths of anguish that such women feel when their immediate crisis passes and they look back on what they have lost. This is how my pro life consciousness became activated. I suddenly saw that this was an issue of NON choice for many women. And that many, many women are silently carrying the unspeakable pain of abortion.

At least a woman who has had a stillbirth or a miscarriage feels that sympathy for her loss may be legitimately sought and received. The woman who has ended her own pregnancy is often left carrying the can for "her choice". This makes her suffering all the more ferocious.

The media has massively twisted what happens at 40 Days For Life. They have tried to present it as an American style 'protest' which it isn't at all. At all vigils there is a sign displayed prominently saying "we are here to help". And the help that is on offer is real, as many women will attest. No-one is judging, condemning or bullying but trying to offer a lifeline.

It is grotesquely wrong and unfair to conflate peaceful pro life outreach with the murder of abortionists. All pro lifers are appalled by violence, because we believe that all human life is worthy of our respect and protection. A few lone crazies do not represent any organisation or movement. It would be equally wrong to tar all peaceful Muslims with the 9/11 brush, or all atheists with the murderous purges of Stalin, Pol Pot or the French Revolution.

I don't want to see a return to "back street abortions", I am far more ambitious than that. I want a society where no woman ever feels she has "no choice" but to abort her unborn child. I want to promote a new way of looking at life. Abortion hurts women.

Despite the euphemistic language that surrounds it, everyone knows that abortion involves the ending of a human life, and that is why you quite rightly say that the decision to abort is "one of the most difficult and heartbreaking" that anyone is ever likely to face. 
It is always wrong, in my opinion, to kill a living human being. That is not to deny that some women face the most horrendous circumstances. They do. And there are no tidy solutions to some of life's grimmest problems. But far harder I think, to walk with a woman in difficult circumstances, and try to share some of her burden.

I don't feel the shame that you say is rightfully mine. I dont feel ashamed because I am so convinced of the inestimable value of every human life, and of our obligation to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our human society. This is a matter of conscience for me and although I am sad to lose your good opinion of me, it would be sadder by far for me to silence my conscience in this, or any other respect, in order to secure the esteem of friends.

All this said, I know that you are a wonderful person and that you see this issue in a very different light. I may not be able to convince you of my own good intentions, and I almost certainly will not be able to convince you to see things from my vantage point, but I hope that you will be able to find a way to accommodate, if not exactly celebrate, my 'diversity' in this respect.

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