WHAT should have been a short check-up for Erin Darcy in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe last month, ended with a miscarriage.
Despite the trauma of losing baby Leo Moon, 13 weeks into her third pregnancy, the Loughrea-based artist was overwhelmed with how wonderful staff in Portiuncula were to her during her time there.
Married to Steven, from Portumna, who she met online while they were teenagers, the Oklahoma City native said she hopes every woman that experiences a similar loss would receive the same care, compassion and respect that she was shown.
Erin moved to Ireland in 2006, got married in November of that year and moved to Loughrea, to live near Steven’s parents.
She said all maternity hospitals should have dedicated facilities to allow parents who have lost a baby cope with this loss with dignity in private.
Erin was able to bring baby Leo Moon home and bury him in their back garden, beneath an apple tree. She said her two children were able to experience the joy of her pregnancy and this sad loss with their parents.
Erin said she decided to go public about her positive experience, as acute and maternity hospitals are now more often subject to negative publicity.
Her first baby, Claire, was born in 2010 in Portiuncula, at 42 weeks, after Ms Darcy was induced. Before the delivery, she was placed in the maternity ward with mothers who had already had their babies.
“Going into labour with just the curtain separating me from mothers who had already had their baby was very difficult. It wasn’t a good experience at all. It wasn’t a traumatic birth but the environment wasn’t good,” she says.
However, she describes her second home birth in March 2013 as a “gorgeous, healing experience”. Her son Jack was born with the help of a self-employed community midwife, Sally Millar, who is now retired.
The Health Service Executive pays up to €4,000 to a self-employed midwife for a home birth, which means this level of medical intervention is free for the expectant mother.
“I had a water birth at home, which was lovely. This time, I was planning on another home birth for July 2014,” she said.
She attended the early pregnancy unit at Portiuncula Hospital for three scans to allay some concerns. “The first time I went in, I thought I had already lost the baby at seven weeks. The two midwives I dealt with were very reassuring, positive and nice,” she said.
Everything was great after her third and final scan at 12 weeks. A week later, however, on Sunday, January 4, she presented to the emergency department at the hospital. The waiting room was very busy but she was quickly seen by the triage nurse. Although a public patient, Erin said she was lucky to be put in a private bed to wait for obstetrician and not sent back out to the waiting room.
Her husband stayed with her in the emergency room until 3am, as they were waiting for her to be admitted to the maternity ward for observation. At the time, doctors did not think she was miscarrying and treated her for severe migraine and discomfort.
“Two midwives from the maternity unit came up to get me. They were gems; getting me settled and comfortable into a private room.”
The next shift arrived and she was looked after all day by a nurse who was due to be her second midwife for her planned home birth.
“Her gentle care and compassion, as she sat on the bed, listened to me, held me and let me know that I had given birth to a son, I will forever be grateful for. It was divine timing that she should be there while I recovered from a miscarriage.
“I am far from home and family, coming from the United States, but all of these women looking after me were a gift during such a difficult time,” she said.
Erin said all the nurses and surgeons were sympathetic and comforting suring her experience. She said she was moved to a private room in the maternity ward, even though she is a public patient, who does not have voluntary health insurance.
She stressed it is vital that Portiuncula remains open for women, so that they don’t have to travel to University Hospital Galway.
“While I was in Portiuncula, I was thinking about Savita Halapanavar who died in UHG because she wasn’t able to have a medical abortion when it was necessary.
“In Portiuncula, they didn’t scan me before they brought me in for the surgery. They knew I was having a miscarriage. I was grateful they didn’t scan me because if there was a heartbeat, the doctors would not have been able to do anything, even though I was desperately in need of having something done because I was bleeding so heavily,” she stated.
If a woman does not get proper care afterwards, she said the grieving process is extremely difficult.
“The only way I have been able to deal with the loss of a baby I really wanted and loved is because the care I received in Portiuncula was so wonderful and the midwives were so kind, gentle, supportive and compassionate.
“How a mother is treated in labour, giving birth to a living baby and afterwards in hospital, makes a huge impact on how they look after the baby and their own health and wellbeing. It is no different when a mother loses a baby. In fact, it is more important because it is such a tender, delicate and very sad time,” she says.
She believes the HSE should ensure dedicated facilities are provided for women who lose a baby, at any stage during their pregnancy. Currently, if a woman has lost her baby and is waiting to go home, they can be sitting with other pregnant women or they are hearing heart monitors from other women in the labour ward, she noted.
“For a woman who has experienced her first miscarriage or for a woman who doesn’t have any children, it is incredibly traumatic and difficult because she is surrounded by what she should have. Instead, she is alone and is surrounded by people saying congratulations to the parents of newborns, as well as visitors coming to see new babies,” she said.
By Dan Danaher