Every morning when Marie Ideson wakes, her first thought is of a little girl called Lillie. Today, had she lived, Lillie would be six.
And although Lillie would have had Down’s syndrome, Marie is sure of one thing: ‘Despite any disability, my daughter would have been incredibly well loved. And whatever her future was, I would always have been there for her.’
Yet when she was a little over 16 weeks pregnant with Lillie — and having been told by doctors that tests showed her much-wanted daughter had Down’s syndrome — Marie did something that still torments her and which she blames for the breakdown of her marriage: she underwent a termination.
Devastated: Marie Ideson will always regret having her daughter aborted because she had Down's
‘Looking back, I was bullied into going ahead with an abortion,’ says Marie, 46, a GP surgery manager. ‘I only wish I could turn the clock back. I think of the daughter I never had every day. I will always regret it.’
Statistics show Marie is far from the only woman to terminate her baby due to Down’s syndrome.
In fact, the number of terminations for the condition has more than trebled in the past 20 years. In England and Wales, some 1,100 foetuses with it are being aborted each year.
Research by Queen Mary, University of London in 2009 found nine in ten women carrying a baby affected by Down’s opt for a termination.
But while no one doubts that for some, having an abortion is the only viable option, how many of these hundreds of women were bullied by medical professionals into ending their pregnancies?
Marie is in no doubt about what happened to her. ‘My husband Allan and I were sat down and told by a nurse, in no uncertain terms, that our baby had Down’s syndrome,’ she says.
‘When I said I wanted to keep the baby, I was told she could be born needing emergency heart surgery and have bowel and muscle tone problems — and that was if she survived.
‘At no time did anyone suggest we might keep our baby. A termination was presented as the only way forward.’
'I broke down in deep, angry sobs. What had I done? I'd been railroaded into taking the life of my own child'
Not only that, but Marie also thinks she was made to feel guilty about wanting to continue with her pregnancy.
‘A nurse said not aborting my baby would cause it to suffer, and she’d only become a burden on society if I went ahead,’ says Marie. ‘She even said: “Ninety-nine per cent of women in your situation wouldn’t want the baby.” ’
Marie, from North Yorkshire, was a 40-year-old with twin sons and a daughter from a previous marriage, and two more sons and another daughter with Allan, 50, when she got pregnant with Lillie.
‘Although life was chaotic trying to fit in my job managing a busy doctor’s surgery with having the children, both Allan and I wanted a big family, so we were thrilled when we discovered I was expecting again,’ she says.
Although she was 40, the pregnancy progressed normally and there was no indication to suggest anything was wrong until Marie received the result of a blood test.
This showed she had a one-in-28 chance of having a baby with Down’s.
So, due to her age, doctors suggested she underwent an amniocentesis — a test where a needle is inserted into the uterus to extract some amniotic fluid.
This fluid contains some of the baby’s cells, which are then analysed. If a baby has Down’s syndrome, the test will reveal an extra chromosome.
‘The consultant explained there was a less than 1 per cent risk of miscarriage from taking the test, but that was played down as very rare.
'But Allan and I talked it over, so if we were having a baby with a disability, we could be prepared. We decided to go ahead.’
Torn apart: Marie with husband Allen and daughter Laura. Their marriage broke down after the abortion
However, having already given birth to six healthy children, Marie was still shocked when, four days after the test, she received a call from the hospital.
‘A woman said: “I’m sorry to say your baby has Down’s.” It was devastating,’ she says.
‘Allan was at work and I broke down in tears. My first thought was: “How will we cope?” It wasn’t: “I can’t have this baby.”
‘When Allan came home, I broke the news to him and told him I wanted to keep the baby, and, although devastated, he agreed he wanted to keep it, too.’
The following morning, the couple headed to the hospital to discuss their options with the doctors. At no point did they think they’d be talked into aborting their baby.
‘Naturally, we were desperately upset — in hindsight, I was in total shock — but we believed the hospital would be able to offer us support and reassurance that, despite the diagnosis, with the latest medical help our baby would be OK,’ says Marie.
However, she says instead of discussing the issues, the consultant and a nurse immediately offered a termination.
'It destroyed us. Before the abortion we'd been a really happy couple, but now, we could barely communicate'
Marie adds: ‘Allan and I were both shocked. Allan was worried there might be a mistake, but the consultant said the test was 100 per cent accurate and that waiting would only make me another week along and a termination harder. The nurse said: “Why have the test if you don’t want an abortion?”
‘But I told her we had just wanted to be prepared for the fact we might have a disabled child. When I said I wanted to keep my baby, I was made to feel I was making everyone suffer. Having it would be a burden on our other children, she said, especially if, as she claimed, the baby was likely to need many operations throughout its life.
‘We’d taken the children along to the hospital and they were being looked after in another room, but at the point when another nurse returned with them, I was being persuaded by a consultant and a nurse that having this baby would be putting a burden on my existing children’s shoulders, too.
‘I looked at them and thought the medical staff must be right. In that moment, I decided to go ahead and terminate the pregnancy.’
As her consultant suggested, Marie took a pill to start her abortion that day.
‘I felt numb as I swallowed the tablet. This wasn’t how I imagined this pregnancy ending, but looking back, I was in shock, just operating on autopilot,’ she says.
‘I remember saying to Allan: “I just want to keep my baby.” But he’d been brainwashed, too. He just kept saying: “But they must think the baby’s really bad, Marie — it’s for the best.” ’
Three days later, having returned to complete the termination, and delivered tiny Lillie, Marie knew she’d done the wrong thing.
‘She was so small, but otherwise perfect. I broke down in uncontrollable deep sobs. What had I done? I realised in that instant that I’d been railroaded and bullied into taking that first pill. I felt overwhelmed by anger.
'I should have been sent home to think about all the options — and I should have been given more independent advice about having a Down’s baby.
‘It should have been pointed out that I could continue with my pregnancy, that having my baby was an option and that with medical advances most Down’s syndrome babies go on to live happy lives.
‘Instead, by the time I went home, I’d already taken a pill — the first step to having my termination — and there was no going back.’
Terrible choice: Marie thinks women who are carrying Down's babies should be given more support so they don't feel that abortion is their only option (posed by model)
Within a fortnight Marie was on antidepressants.
‘I felt so guilty and so upset. Even when the post-mortem examination confirmed Lillie had Down’s, I felt I should have kept her. And if she wasn’t going to survive, I’d have been happier letting nature take its course.’
The abortion became a huge issue between Marie and Allan.
‘I couldn’t stop crying,’ she says. ‘But, worse, I began to resent Allan for the fact I’d gone through with it. I knew he was devastated, too, and wanted to keep the baby, but I felt angry he’d allowed staff to rush me into getting rid of her. I kept thinking back to when I’d told him I wanted her to have a chance at life, and he’d insisted we go along with medical advice.
'Why hadn’t he stood up to the consultant? Why hadn’t he told them we wanted to keep the baby?
‘The feeling he didn’t support me when I needed him most festered like a cancer between us.
‘Allan insisted he’d felt as railroaded as me. But from then on, I noticed other trivial things he didn’t back me up on. And as the months went by, we began to argue more about the termination.
‘In hindsight, it destroyed us. Before the abortion we’d been a really happy couple, but now, we could barely communicate.’
The couple tried to get their relationship back on track by having Reuben, now four.
Life expectancy for those with Down's has increased to an average of 60 in the past 30 years
‘I knew another baby wouldn’t ever take Lillie’s place, but I believed having another baby together would mend our relationship and that I could put what happened behind us. At the same time, I hoped it would bring back the closeness we once had,’ says Marie.
‘The final straw came when I was in labour with Reuben. The terrible experience of my termination with Lillie came flooding back.
‘I was at home and the midwives were telling me I had to go to hospital, but I told them I couldn’t go back to where I’d terminated Lillie.
‘Allan tried to persuade me to go and, in the end, I had no choice. I felt that again, he hadn’t spoken up for me when I was at my most vulnerable.
‘I knew deep down Allan wasn’t to blame, but I still couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive him.’
She adds: ‘It might sound unreasonable, but I blamed him as well as the doctors for the abortion. He knew I was anti-abortion and that I wanted to keep my baby.
‘I was upset that he had allowed me to take the pill and didn’t just take me home. I believed he’d sided with the consultant. And when Reuben arrived, I also realised nothing was going to bring Lillie back and a new baby couldn’t solve the issues in our marriage.’
By the time Reuben was two, the couple had split. Marie, who never signed a consent form for the abortion, spent thousands of pounds in legal fees in a bid to gain an apology from the hospital — although she was eventually forced to abandon legal action due to the expense.
Of her broken marriage she says: ‘I couldn’t get over what happened — neither of us could come to terms with it. The trauma was always there between Allan and I. The rift it caused just couldn’t be healed.’
She says: ‘My eldest sons are now aged 25. When pregnant with them, I knew of women having Down’s syndrome babies. But when I had Reuben, I heard of no one.