Leona O'Neill: We have no right to criticise women who risk their health to be mums

Women who take risks with their own health for the sake of experiencing motherhood have been labelled irresponsible and selfish but who are we to judge what giving birth is worth, asks Leona O'Neill

Anyone who hasn't found themselves desperately wanting and needing to be a mother might not understand the emotions involved

FOR some women, maternal instinct and the desire to have a child of their own is so strong they will spend every penny they have and even risk their lives to become mothers.

I know women who have remortgaged their homes and put themselves in debilitating debt embarking on a gruelling IVF journey in the hopes of having a baby. The need to become a mother consumes their every waking moment and their lives becomes a rollercoaster of emotions as they hope fiercely that it will work and are plunged into real grief and despair when it doesn’t.

All money, all thoughts and all energies are channelled into the hope of motherhood and all dreams for the future are viewed through the prism of the same. From those I have spoken to, I know that it is an exhausting and, if it doesn’t work out, a soul-destroying journey. But for those who get to hold their baby in their arms, and who have come by their children by the rockiest of roads, the joy is indescribable.

Those who have not found themselves desperately wanting and needing to be a mother might not understand the emotions involved. The notion of maternal instinct has been much debated over the years, with some saying it isn’t so much as an instinct but a behaviour, with not all women displaying it. But there is no denying that some women would go to all lengths, even sacrificing their own lives, to become mothers.

One terribly sad story brought this to mind for me at the weekend. Twenty-five-year-old Chinese woman Wu Ying was so determined to have a baby she was willing to put her own life at risk to do so.

I think we should not judge women who choose to go ahead with pregnancy despite being warned of risks to their health

Doctors had warned her that giving birth could put her life in jeopardy because of the congenital heart disease and pulmonary hypertension she lived with. But the young woman was adamant that she was willing to take the gamble and would not listen to the pleas of her husband and family to abandon the dream of becoming a mother.

“Many people said I’m stubborn,” she told the programme. “But it didn’t happen to you, so you couldn’t have that feeling. My friends were persuading me, but they have their own children. When I looked at their children, I wanted to have my own. I’m clearly aware of the risk, but I’d like to take a gamble on it.”

In May 2017 her dream came true and she gave birth to a baby boy weighing 2.2lb, born by caesarean section. But she never got to see her son. Immediately after delivery she was put into intensive care and died 14 days later.

Her story, which was highlighted in Life Matters, a medical documentary series in Shanghai, sparked huge debate online. Many people took Wu Ying’s side and said she could do nothing but give in to her maternal instincts. Others were less than sympathetic and branded her ‘selfish’.

But, despite grave warnings from doctors about their own health, mums will still forge on and have their families.

Birmingham mum Leanne Lilywhite was in the news last week when she gave birth to her ‘miracle baby’ Oliver after doctors had told her that pregnancy could kill her. The mum-of-two suffers from an extremely rare lung disease Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), which affects just a few hundred people in the UK.

Despite doctors warning her that pregnancy would accelerate and exacerbate her condition, she said she could not live with the ‘what ifs’ if she didn’t try to have one more child. Her healthy baby boy was born in September and Leanne said he was worth risking her life for.

I think we should not judge these women, or the many thousands more who are willing to risk their lives to become mothers, for we have not walked their path. Who are we, with our children around us, to say what is right and what is wrong? At the end of the day it is the right of these women to do what they feel is good for them and their babies.

The only thing we can hope for is that in the majority of cases, the gamble is worth it and mum and baby walk away from the situation unscathed.

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