Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said miscarriage remains one of the main taboos in modern Ireland, particularly for younger couples.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Ms Fitzgerald spoke of having two miscarriages and said that, because of the prevalence of contraception today, many young couples wrongly think they can plan to get pregnant.
“They are marked in my memory. I remember going into the hospital and being told and then the shock. The whole thing around it,” she said.
“But now more than when I had my miscarriages — it is a long time since then — but now for young women and men, it is a real shock. They get a bit despairing. ‘Is this really happening to me?’ they ask.”
More than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and, as such, around 14,000 women in Ireland each year have a miscarriage.
Ms Fitzgerald’s background was in social work before she entered politics and said many couples incorrectly think they can plan as to when they can start a family.
“Younger generations of men and women have gotten into the mindset, and that is obviously linked to the availability of contraception, there is a belief that you can plan a pregnancy,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“Of course, first of all there are fertility issues as you get older, secondly the fact is a lot of pregnancies end in miscarriage, there is a shock and disbelief for people.”
She said current attitudes are in sharp contrast of older generations who saw miscarriages as part of a natural order.
“I think an older generation, my mother’s generation, thought this was the natural order whereas now, people don’t think it is the natural order; they think it is dreadful,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“A lot of people are having miscarriages at older age because they want to have babies at an older age, so it is more stressful then, they think: ‘Am I going to get pregnant again?’ ”
She recalled women who lost their babies in hospitals having to suffer the trauma of being placed in wards beside women who had successfully delivered.
“People who miscarried were put in wards with people who had just had babies, so it is very hard,” she said.
But for her, Ms Fitzgerald said that by going on and having her second and third child, she was able to put her miscarriages in perspective to some degree.
“For me, I went on to have a second and a third pregnancy afterward, so you can recover from it. And you can kind of accept, well there was something wrong and there is a reason for it,” she said.
The minister said that many couples now are struggling to cope with the issue of fertility, particularly as pregnancies are tending to happen later in life.
“There is a fertility issue for a lot of men and women,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
The Dublin Mid-West TD said the entire issue of miscarriage is tremendously sensitive but helping women was one of the driving forces that led her into politics.
“I have great faith in the individual judgement of women, especially when it comes to pregnancy,” she said.
“I have had five pregnancies myself, I have had two miscarriages, I know what it is like to give birth and the sensitivities around that.
“I find sometimes that women are spoken about in a demeaning manner, and about the complications of birth.
“Look at our maternity services. I got involved by joining the child birth trust in England to give women a voice in the maternity hospitals and we still struggle with that issue.”
The Miscarriage Association of Ireland says that just because a woman has suffered a miscarriage, it does not necessarily mean that there is anything medically wrong with her or her partner and does not mean she cannot have children in the future.
Such difficulties are behind Ms Fitzgerald’s desire to see the State take a more proactive role in helping young families have children.
“It is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly about the State taking a more proactive role around childcare, paternity leave and parental leave,” said Ms Fitzgerald. “I do want to see us getting to the place where the State is more supportive when it comes to childcare. We have been slow enough on that.”
Ms Fitzgerald said that if, as a society we want women to have children, then we as a society have to ensure the conditions to allow that.
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