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BIRTHING STONE (poem) - Kimberly Campanello - Ireland - Poetry International
 
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BIRTHING STONE
for Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar [17 weeks pregnant] presented with back pain at [University Hospital Galway], was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later…She asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. This was refused, [her husband] said, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, ‘this is a Catholic country’. She spent a further 2½ days ‘in agony’ until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died.
–The Irish Times, November 4, 2012

When entering labour, the women of Innismurray would go to the slab just outside the graveyard and squat before it, looking out over the graves. The woman would reach up and grasp the slab by inserting her fingers into slots and her thumbs into two holes. Then she would pray.
I.
Let us pray

for the best view

of graves

your heart pierced

by a sword

glows

in frames

across the nation

lucky you

worn slots

for your hands

to slide into

Hallelujah

full

embrace

of stone

 
II.
Let us pray

for the best view

of graves

put things

in perspective

across the nation

the captions say

the chain

around the neck is

evidence

of the Vikings’

exemplary

brutality

what

a

relief

for us

 
III.
Let us pray

for the

best

view

of graves

Lord hear

our

prayer

across

the nation

thrusting

fingers

into

the cervix

in His

side

and so

doubting

this

death-in-life

did Thomas not

check

for

a

beating

heart

three

times

three

times

three

times

none

 
IV.
Let us pray

for the

best view

of graves

in the

country

we were in

at the time

a Catholic country

the country

we were in

a country

a country

a cunt

we were in

at the time

any time

ordinary time

the 30th Sunday

in Ordinary Time

in the country

we were in

in ordinary time

in the country

Lord hear

the womb

open

for three

days

in a country

time is a country

time is a cunt

 
V.
Behold

the ashes

in the hold

of a plane

flying

an immense

throng of mothers

and those

with child

out of the country

they were in

at the time

They departed

in tears

who will

console them

who will

lead

them

to brooks

of water

on a level road

so that none

shall stumble

this time

 
Poet's Note: Inishmurray island is off the coast of Co. Sligo, Ireland.

The date Savita Halapannavar died was the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time according to the Catholic Church calendar. Jeremiah 31: 7-9 was the first reading on that day at Catholic masses worldwide. Regarding the difficulty of explaining his wife’s death to her family in India where he took her ashes on November 3rd, Praveen Halappanavar told The Irish Times, ‘So I had to explain the whole thing, about the law there [in Ireland] and how [when] the foetus is live [ . . . ] some people even laughed at me. “That’s crazy,” they said. And I just had to tell them, that’s the way it is, that unfortunately that’s the country we were in at the time’. Savita Halappanavar’s death highlighted the fact that abortion is illegal in Ireland and that there was a lack of legal clarity regarding whether doctors can terminate a pregnancy if the life or health of the mother is at risk. Due in great part to Irish and international debate after Halapannavar’s death, both houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature) passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows for abortion if a woman’s life is at risk, including from suicide. On 30 July 2013, President Michael D. Higgins signed it into law. However, as The Guardian reports, ‘The legislation is unlikely to stop the abortion trail of women from Ireland to Britain. [ . . . ] [A]bout 4,000 Irish women traveled to British hospitals and clinics to terminate their pregnancies last year’. Additionally, ‘[t]he new law does not include those women seeking terminations because of rape or incest’, and also does not extend to women whose fetuses that will not survive a full-term pregnancy or for long after birth.