Forty-year-old Marilyn Severin attempted to abort her baby three times by using the drug Cytotec and it was only on the third attempt when she was more than six months pregnant that the baby boy was expelled.
It was early on a rainy morning when it happened and the baby was born dead. Severin said while it would have better to dispose of it in a “better way,” because of the rain she decided to throw it into the septic tank in her Albouystown yard but did “not expect it to float up back.”
The baby was later discovered and the police later held Severin and locked her up for five days before a post mortem was performed on the body, and the cause of death was ruled as undetermined. This resulted in the mother of eight being released. In an interview with the Sunday Stabroek the mother, who has grown children, revealed that she wanted to abort the child from the initial stages but did not have the money to pay a private institution, and so instead spent $1200 to buy the Cytotec tablet. She took it orally as well as inserting it into her vagina.
The termination of pregnancy service is yet to be offered in public institutions and the high charges at private hospitals cause many women to try home remedies or purchase drugs from pharmacies, as was the case with Severin. Others pay doctors who are not trained to terminate pregnancies and when they are injured in the process, they have to be hospitalized. Some have even lost their lives.
Nicola Marcus and Wintress White, writing in this newspaper on Monday for Red Thread, pointed out that while the Termination of Pregnancy Bill was passed eighteen years ago to date poor women still cannot access free and safe abortions.
Although the Act became operational in early 1996, abortions are not done at public hospitals except in cases where the patient faces life-threatening circumstances or is a victim of rape.
“We call on the Minister of Health and all the relevant authorities responsible to urgently make this service available, especially to the poor women who need it the most,” the women wrote.
Speaking specifically of the well-publicized case involving Severin the women said that while they mourn the death of the baby, at the risk of provoking anger among those who are ‘pro-life’ but who pay no attention to the problems many mothers face keeping their children alive, “we grieve that the mother had to face this ordeal.”
“To us, it is clear that this woman needs help. This is a mother and from all indications a poor woman with eight children. Some of us who have two are finding it almost impossible to survive much less a woman with eight,” they wrote.
Saying that they do not know the circumstances surrounding Severin and her family that led her to this, the two activists said they do know that it is not easy to provide for so many children. They also noted that passing judgment will not help in any way, and the fact that she admitted to drinking something to try to terminate the pregnancy was a sign that she couldn’t afford to pay to have it done properly.
“Who would want to put their lives at risk except in a can’t help situation? There are many other women out there who like her, are forced to have unsafe abortions,” the woman said.
Earlier this year Chief Medical Officer Dr Shamdeo Persaud had stated that the Ministry of Health was putting arrangements in place to make abortions a reality at public institutions, and that it could have been done before July this year. However, it is still not the case.
Persaud had told Stabroek News about the process, and explained that as the CMO he would have to certify the obstetricians who will perform the procedures, but before this could be done the doctors would have to pass an in-depth safety review.
“The process has started to bring termination of pregnancies to public healthcare facilities… It is not just a simple project so we are currently working on it… not only because a doctor has a licence, the CMO will have to certify them to do terminations,” the CMO had told this newspaper.
Persaud had added that public health facilities would also have to meet specified requirements before terminations can be offered. “An inspection of the government facilities needs to be completed… we have to check about confidentiality, safe methods and practices, appropriate medications, necessary staff and so on,” he had explained.
Sitting at her home surrounded by her four younger children and nieces and nephews, some of them involved in what appeared to be the project of making a doll and its clothes, Severin spoke freely about what happened almost two weeks ago and why it came to that.
She said that her youngest son is three years old and she knew she wanted no more children, but she tried everything but nothing worked. The woman said that before her last two children were born she had had a five year coil inserted, but that did not prevent her from becoming pregnant.
“Look you see she?” she said, pointing to one of her daughters, “she born with it [the coil] around she hand.”
“I tried the tablet and it use to make me bleed and bleed; the injection was the same thing, nothing was working for me so is nah like if I didn’t try,” the woman lamented.
As soon as she found out she was pregnant with her ninth child Severin said she knew she could not keep it and took steps immediately to terminate the pregnancy.
“The father he went in the bush and I ain’t use to hear from he; one time he send money and that was it. I couldn’t do anything else, I couldn’t keep the baby because is already a struggle,” the woman said.
And so she bought the drug soon after she found out she was pregnant, but the first attempt failed and so did the second and the pregnancy progressed. She revealed that she had approached a private institution with the hope of them terminating the baby after she expressed the fear that something was wrong with the child because of her attempts at aborting it. However, she was told that the child was fine and as such could not have been aborted.
But Severin again bought the drug and she used it, and she was sleeping early one morning when she awoke and felt like she wanted to go to the toilet.
“I just feel like I want mess and when I go to the toilet it come out and because of the rain I throw it in the septic tank,” the woman said.
It was seven days later that the body was discovered and the woman said it was she who reported the find to the police. She said she heard talk about a baby’s body being seen and she told her sister that she believed it was hers and it was decided that she should report to the police.
“It was unfair for the police to hold me so long away from my children,” the woman said, even though her oldest son, who is 21, and one of her siblings looked after them.
While at the East La Penitence lock-ups she recalled the police treated her “good” except for one female police officer who kept impressing upon her she should tell the truth.
“She keep tell me to talk the truth and I tell she is the truth I talking, but she didn’t believe and it was she who tell the neighbours when the baby get find that I guh put away for five years for killing the baby.”
Severin does not want any more children. She had her first child at 18, and she said she was visited while in police custody by authorities who advised that she should have her tubes tied, so she will be visiting the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation soon to have this done.
She said she knows her neighbours have been making unkind remarks about her, but for her “it could happen to anyone, so I not taking them on.”
The man for whom she was pregnant called her last Wednesday after reading the newspaper to verify the information.
“He call me and I tell he is late news he get, and he tell me how he coming out to kill me because I kill he child, but I am not bother; he never was supporting me so how he want me to mind the child?”
The woman recalled that while growing up she always dreamt of becoming a nurse, but it never became a reality as she was taken out of school at an early age. She has done many menial jobs but recently graduated from Carnegie. The authorities have since promised to assist her in finding a job.
She would like to move out of Albouystown as she has high hopes for her four younger children and knows that their opportunities would increase if they are taken out of the environment. But she has lived all of her life in that community because of the cheap rent.
“Look I paying ten thousand dollars for this apartment; I can go and rent nowhere else for this money,” the woman said.
While she does not work Severin said she is assisted by her two eldest children and the father of her last child.
She hopes that the authorities live up to their promise and she could find a job so as to improve their lives, adding that she ensures that the children attend school every day.