- Kirsty was told to destroy TWO of her triplets to ensure she’d keep one
- Anne Marie was pressured not to keep her Down’s syndrome baby
- Fiona was told her baby might be disabled and to should consider aborting
What would you do if a doctor recommended you abort a much-wanted child?
It’s a heart-rending situation no woman would ever want to face. But these three mums found themselves confronting that very dilemma for different reasons. Here they describe the painful decisions they had to make – and what happened next.
Kirsty Woodhouse, 37, a primary school teacher, lives in Fife, Scotland, with husband Daniel, 35, a mechanic, and their 15-month-old triplets Austin, Ellis, and Jensen. Kirsty says:
It’s almost impossible to describe how it feels when a doctor tells you that your best chance of having one healthy baby is to destroy the other two you’re carrying as well. The only way to put it is that it’s like someone ripping those babies from your arms.
I’d always felt I was put on this earth to be a mum, but for seven years, Daniel and I had tried without success to conceive.
To begin with the infertility appeared to be unexplained. Then it emerged there were problems with my fallopian tubes and I had to have them removed. IVF was our only hope.
By the time I discovered I was pregnant in 2011, we’d had three failed IVF attempts and one that had resulted in a miscarriage in 2010.
This fifth attempt was going to be our last – we’d run out of money to try any more and were emotionally exhausted – so all our dreams of becoming parents were riding on this pregnancy being successful.
At my seven-week scan I quickly spotted two heartbeats. But when the sonographer pointed out a third, there was a stunned silence in the room.
Kirsty’s triplets just after they were born: Despite a risky pregnancy, they were born without complications
Daniel beamed, pleased that we’d got a bonus baby, but I felt anxious as I knew this would make it a more risky pregnancy.
A doctor told us to go home and come back in three weeks. His words were that ‘nature has a way of taking its course’ – meaning that it was likely I would miscarry at least one of the babies in the intervening weeks.
But when we returned for the next scan, there were still three heartbeats – identical twins and a singleton – and our babies, for that was how I already thought of them, were a good size.
Straight away we were sent for a meeting with a doctor to discuss our options. He was very factual and said that although the foetuses appeared to be developing well, there was still a 20 per cent chance I would go on to miscarry all three.
There was just no way of knowing whether I could sustain a pregnancy as demanding as this.
He recommended that the best chance of having one healthy child was ‘selective reduction’ – terminating the identical pair.
This would involve a needle being passed through my abdomen, into my womb and injecting their hearts with a chemical that would stop them beating. The ‘debris’, as he called it, would be left inside me.
There were still risks to the surviving baby, meaning we could end up with no child at all, but they were lower than if I decided to progress with all three.
While we waited for an appointment for a second opinion at a different hospital, it was all Daniel and I could talk about. There were a lot sleepless nights and tears.
The conflicting emotions were almost unbearable. If we went ahead with selective reduction, we’d certainly lose two of our babies, but would have a better chance of being parents at all.
But how could we kill two of the babies inside me – the babies we’d watched wriggling around on the sonographer’s screen, whose hearts we’d heard beating, and who we already loved?
When we met the second consultant a few days later, he spelled out the risks again, but this time focused on the fact that there was still an 80 per cent chance that if we continued with the pregnancy one or more of the babies would survive.
He asked us to describe our worst scenario. Daniel, with tears in his eyes, replied it was going ahead with the selective reduction but then losing the third baby too.
The consultant replied: ‘Then your decision is made: you’re just too scared to tell each other. Let’s go and have a look at these little bumps.’ We would be keeping all the babies – for as long as nature would allow us.
The consultant wrote to our original specialist that we’d refused termination and that he’d be caring for me.
From then on, the pregnancy was complication-free. We had the babies by planned caesarean at 34 weeks, each of them weighing over 5lbs.
Now Austin and identical pair Ellis and Jensen are healthy 15-month-olds, all meeting their targets.
Austin is inquisitive and energetic like his daddy, while Ellis is dramatic like me, and Jensen is the clown who likes to make people laugh.
When we look at the boys, asleep in their cots at night, I can’t help lingering on how differently it might have turned out. It’s just too upsetting to think about.
Anne Marie Burgess, 32, is a teacher and lives in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, with fiancé Jeremy, also 32, who owns an audio visual company, and their daughters Imogen, five, and Ella, 14 months. She says:
Watching Ella beam with pleasure, her piercing blue eyes sparkling as her adored big sister sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to her, it’s incomprehensible that most of the doctors I saw when I was pregnant were quite resolute in their advice: that I should abort her.
I loved being a mum to Imogen and we always wanted to add to our family. But after suffering two miscarriages, my main concern when I went for my 12-week scan after discovering I was expecting again in 2011 was that my baby had a heartbeat.
When the sonographer told us the nuchal fold – the soft tissue at the nape of the baby’s neck – was double the normal thickness, I knew that meant an increased risk of Down’s Syndrome.
The obstetrician recommended we had a chorionic villus sampling (CVS) test. This involved inserting a needle into my abdomen to remove tissue from the placenta to check for chromosomal abnormalities including Down’s.
Two days after the test, which I had done privately because there was apparently a lower miscarriage rate, the clinic called to confirm that our baby had Down’s Syndrome, then immediately asked: ‘Do you want us to look into organising a termination?’ The assumption was that we wouldn’t want to keep a baby with Down’s.
It seemed tasteless when we hadn’t even had a chance to consider what we wanted. Not that it was an instant decision.
Jeremy’s first reaction was to question whether we’d be strong enough to cope with a disabled child. I worried whether I’d be a good enough mother – as a teacher I’ve had lots of experience of the demands of children with special needs – and be able to give proper attention to Imogen.
But in the end, Imogen made the choice surprisingly easy. I realised the baby growing inside me was not so very different from her. They both had a strong heartbeat and were made out of love. How could we destroy our baby?
But back at the hospital, the doctors wouldn’t let the subject of an abortion drop, even after we made our wishes clear. It felt like water torture – there was a constant drip-drip-drip of negativity at every consultation or scan.
One doctor told us: ‘Your lives will never be your own.’ Another said: ‘Some people will feel you’re being selfish by having this child.’ Yet another: ‘Your other child will suffer as a result of this.’ We were made to feel very naïve.
Without a doubt, they felt I should have a termination. If I’d been a less strong woman, I might have been swayed.
24 weeks we found out during a scan that the baby had a heart problem – something which is quite common with babies with Down’s – and in the doctors’ eyes this presented yet another reason to abort.
Even up to about 28 weeks, past the normal cut-off point for abortion of 24 weeks, doctors told us that they had dealt with ‘situations’ like ours before on medical grounds. It felt like a constant battle.
They were so negative that when I got to eight months, we moved to a more sympathetic hospital.
Ella was born on April 2, 2012, and we fell in love with her immediately. Surgery to repair her heart defect when she was four months old was a success.
Now, despite being about four months behind in her development, in many ways she’s just like any other baby. She loves playing with bubbles at bathtime and listening to music.
Our lives, although different and sometimes challenging, aren’t any less happy because of Ella. Our family and most of our friends have been amazing.
The few friends who disapproved of our choice won’t feature in our lives again. Ella adores her big sister and Imogen in turn is devoted to her baby sister.
None of us could imagine life without Ella. I shudder when I think how easy it would have been to give in to the pressure to terminate her.
Fiona Walton, 53, is a teacher. She is separated and lives in Sheffield with her children Ben, 19, Joshua, 16, and Rebekah, ten. She says:
By any standards, Joshua is a high-achieving teenager. As well as running for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, he’s predicted to get As or A*s in his 12 GCSEs this summer and has just won a scholarship to study A-levels at a private school.
Like any mum, I’m very proud of him – but particularly so considering just 11 weeks before he was due, I was asked if I wanted to end the pregnancy and warned that if I did carry him to term, he might be severely disabled.
Until I was seven-and-a-half months’ pregnant, everything had been going swimmingly. Then I mentioned to my dad – a retired consultant paediatrician – that I was concerned my bump was too large.
He arranged for me to have a scan. I assumed Dad was simply being cautious, so when the sonographer told me and my mother, who was with me at the time, that there was something wrong with the baby, my world crumbled.
Dad and my husband raced down to the hospital. That was when two consultants told us that my baby had water around his heart and brain because his heart was failing.
They did not yet know why this had happened. But they knew he had just a one per cent chance of survival.
If he lived, it was quite possible he would be profoundly disabled – although, of course, this wasn’t certain and they had no way of telling us how he would be affected.
Then one of the doctors asked: ‘Do you want to continue with the pregnancy?’ He didn’t explicitly use the word abortion, but it was clear that was what he meant.
I vividly remember a feeling of profound shock as those words sunk in.
Happy and healthy: Even though there was a risk Josh would be profoundly disabled, Fiona decided to go ahead with the birth
‘Did they really just offer me a termination?’ I thought. Nobody ever spelled out what an abortion at 29 weeks would have involved, though presumably I would have had to give birth to my dead baby.
Both options were terrifying – having such a late termination or giving birth to what could be a very disabled child. We had very little time to make such a huge decision. If we decided to keep the baby, treatment would have to start straight away.
My husband and I had to discuss our dilemma in front of the consultants and my parents. Within minutes – though it felt like so much longer – we agreed we couldn’t possibly terminate the little life inside me that was already part of our family.
By that afternoon, Josh was having a blood transfusion via a needle inserted through the womb into the umbilical cord. It turned out the excess fluid was due to heart failure due to severe anaemia – antibodies in my blood were attacking my baby as if he were an infection.
Three more transfusions followed over the next fortnight. I can recall sitting in the hospital corridor, wondering how on earth I’d cope if my baby was born disabled. I knew I would love him whatever, but I realised life might be hard. There were times I sat and wept in the toilets.
Because he was at such risk, Joshua was born by Caesarean section at 32 weeks in March 1997.
He was immediately put on a ventilator in intensive care and remained in hospital for eight weeks.
Yet, although his development was slightly delayed because he was a premature baby, essentially he was perfectly healthy and amazingly unscathed by what had happened to him in the womb.
We were very fortunate. Even now I feel emotional when I think back.
Given what we were being told, it would have been understandable if we’d chosen a different course of action. I feel so very grateful that we decided to follow our hearts and keep our baby.