‘Eighth added to our baby grief’

Telling their story is taking a toll on Susan and Tim Corcoran. The Cork couple had to travel to London for medical care after a catastrophic diagnosis during pregnancy in 2013. Now parents to two beautiful children under four, it is still gut-wrenching for them to talk about their experience. Gráinne McGuinness reports
‘Eighth added to our baby grief’
Donoughmore couple, Susan and Tim, who spoke of their personal experience at the launch of the Cork Fine Gael Vote Yes for the 8th Referendum. Pic: Brian Lougheed

SUSAN Corcoran’s palpable grief reduced many observers to tears when she spoke at a Cork Together For Yes event and did so again a few days later, when she told her story to Fine Gael politicians gathered to promote a ‘yes’ vote.

Susan Corcoran speaking at a TogetherForyes conference inSt Peters Church, North Main Street, CorkPic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Susan Corcoran speaking at a TogetherForyes conference inSt Peters Church, North Main Street, CorkPic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The couple is sharing their story, despite the hurt, to help other couples.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what we went through,” Susan said.

“We agreed that if we didn’t do our all, and it [the referendum] didn’t go through, we would feel worse.

“I would be devastated if I didn’t do my all. That is why we are doing it.”

Their story began on the way home from their honeymoon. They discovered they were expecting.

“We were delighted, but anxious, because, the previous September, we had a miscarriage at nine weeks,” Susan said.

“Me being motormouth told a few of our friends and found out they were pregnant, too, and we thought, ‘this is brilliant, the timing of it’. It was such a happy time.”

The 12-week scan showed no issues, other than that the baby was a little smaller than expected. They shared the news in their wedding thank-you cards.

“We put out the news that ‘we’re expecting a mini-Corcoran’. It was brilliant news,” she said.

“We went back for another scan, at 14 weeks, and that is when our world came crumbling down.”

The sonographer asked the consultant to come in, as there were concerns.

“There was just silence and then she said, ‘this doesn’t look good’.

“She confirmed there was a bowel issue, but said there were other signs that would indicate our baby had a chromosomal anomaly.”

Susan struggled to comprehend the extent of the problems: “I remember, Tim caught hold of my hand and he squeezed it and he said, ‘do you hear what the doctor is saying, Susan’?”

An amniocentesis confirmed a diagnosis of Edward’s Syndrome, a chromosome disorder, in addition to other problems with the baby’s development. Their daughter was unlikely to go to full term and would not survive.

“There was the discussion that you never want to have.

“We were told, if we were to continue our pregnancy, we would have to come back every week and have our baby scanned until the heartbeat was to stop, or, if we couldn’t continue, we would have to go to England.

“They were very sorry, but if that was the decision we made, we would have to make the arrangements ourselves.

“We left the CUMH feeling so alone, not knowing what to do.”

They were left to wrestle with the decision.

Susan Corcoran speaking at a TogetherForyes conference inSt Peters Church, North Main Street, CorkPic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Susan Corcoran speaking at a TogetherForyes conference inSt Peters Church, North Main Street, CorkPic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Their thoughts were all for their daughter: “Is our baby being harmed, is she in pain, if we leave the situation continue?

“We didn’t know if we were doing the right thing,” Tim said.

“You think, ‘is it better to wait or is the most humane thing to let her go now, rather than wait and leave her suffer’?”

Eventually, they decided to end the pregnancy.

The situation would have been a tragedy under any circumstances, but the couple say having to travel added additional trauma. They had to put together arrangements for themselves.

“The consultants said to us to try and get to a hospital, rather than a clinic, but you try Googling that,” Tim said.

“We came up against a brick wall. When you go online, it is clinics that pop up, so that was the road we were going down. Sure, what do you do?

“We’re not medical people; we don’t know what to do or who to call,” Susan said.

They confided in friends and one put them in touch with a hospital in London that would offer the care they needed.

They were told the hospital would reconfirm the diagnosis before the procedure; there would need to be a number of appointments over several days.

Susan travelled ahead to London, with Tim to follow.

The separation was agonising for both of them and travelling abroad made Susan feel as if she was doing something shameful.

“I will never forget the consultant [in London] turned to me and said ‘Susan, you are doing the right thing’,” she said.

“I burst into tears, because it was the first time I felt that what I was doing wasn’t wrong and I wasn’t a bad mother.”

Tim said staff at the hospital were baffled by their situation: “They couldn’t fathom what we were doing there.”

“They were actually a bit outraged,” Susan agreed.

“We were in such shock, we weren’t really with it. They thought it was because we were over the 12 weeks, so the matron was saying to us next time to make sure we have an early test.

“We just didn’t have the energy to explain there is no termination in this situation and they just couldn’t fathom it.”

Their daughter, Cara, was born in London and her ashes remain there in a children’s memorial garden, which is something they regret now.

“We didn’t have a chance to think about things like bringing home Cara,” Susan said.

“We were more worried about going ahead with the procedure in the first place; we weren’t thinking about the aftermath.”

They had also heard other couples, with a similar diagnosis, describing their children’s remains being returned by courier and they could not bear the thoughts of that for their daughter.

The return to Cork is still a blur to Susan, travelling so soon after the birth: “I remember being in Gatwick and happy people everywhere and there was a school trip, young kids running around.

“I just remember crying and Tim comforting me and also being in a lot of pain — the emotional pain, but also physical pain.

“People were pushing me. Tim was getting really annoyed. It’s funny, because, when I think back, I felt I wasn’t even really there. I was on autopilot; I was aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t really there. I was only there in body.”

What would she say to those campaigning to keep the Eighth Amendment?

“Couples in our situation, no matter what decision they make, to continue or terminate, should be treated the same because the outcome is the same — our babies are going to die,” Susan said.

“From my experience, there was a fear and a feeling of uselessness among medical staff that wanted to help couples like us, but couldn’t, because of the amendment.

“Turning our back, as a society, and exporting the problem to another country only shows that our healthcare is failing.”

Both support the proposed legislation and want voters to consider what they would do in difficult circumstances.

“There is no point shipping the problem to the UK,” Tim said.

“They are taking care of our people. I am telling everyone, because I want people to know our story,” Susan said.

“This is what happened; this is the reality. At the time, I remember thinking we were so bad to do what we did, that we weren’t strong enough to continue. But, now, I think we are both strong, because it was not easy.

“We are never going to be the same. Any parent who has lost a child will tell you, part of you dies. Life is not black and white. We were faced with this situation and anyone else could be, too.”

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