Amy Dunne has a lot of tattoos. Roses and hearts on her arm, a series of designs on her stomach which she writes about in her book, I Am Amy Dunne.
hey are there to hide the stretch marks left by two pregnancies within a year. Another, on the inside of her wrist, is a delicately drawn daisy, framed by two tiny footprints.
These are the prints of Amy’s daughter, Jasmine, born 15 years ago at 19 weeks.
“I don’t show it, but that’s my other child. I have her with me,” Amy says now as we look at the tattoo. “I have Adam, my son, holding my hand, and I have her on my arm.” The footprint is heartbreakingly small. Less than three centimetres.
“It’s so tiny, but she had nails. I remember holding her hand on my pinkie, and her little fingers curling over, her little thumb, her little nails… I connected with my baby so much. I loved her and I still do.”
Jasmine did not live outside Amy’s body. Her birth was traumatic, but perhaps no more so than the events that led to it. She was induced in Liverpool after a High Court case that saw Amy’s identity protected as ‘Miss D’.
Amy’s case was exactly the kind of thing critics of the Eighth Amendment – inserted into the Constitution in 1983, which recognised the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn – had warned about.
A fatal foetal abnormality that meant her child was unlikely to go to full term, and certainly wouldn’t live outside the womb. There was a strong possibility Amy herself would be badly impacted by the pregnancy: “There was a risk the baby would start to deteriorate inside me and could possibly poison my system.”
It was a case that was resolved in favour of Amy’s right to travel to the UK for a termination, over three fast and furious weeks in the High Court. It was a case that tore the country apart in 2007, with groups standing outside the High Court, chanting and waving placards, and that made headlines around the world.
To Amy, just 17 at the time, it was all a kind of blur. “I couldn’t understand what was going on,” she tells me. “I couldn’t even hear everything. Thinking back, there’s so many points that I get super angry over. There’s a time for healing, but the more I understand, the angrier I get with age. The more mature I get, the more I’m like, ‘how did anyone let that happen to me?’
“I’m looking at myself like a little peanut and all these big men in suits that I do not know and that do not know me or even care to look at me, are standing there before me in a court, making decisions about my life. They have no idea how my brain works, about my mental health, nothing. They did not care. They wanted to do their job, win their case, and that angered me.”
This is why she has now, together with Orla O’Donnell, written the story of her life. A book that is full of heart-stopping honesty and makes it clear that Amy is not simply ‘Miss D’. She is someone with moral and physical courage, someone of principle and conviction, who had already lived through far too much before she ever became ‘Miss D’.
Maybe the place to begin is with the pregnancy, which was planned. Amy was 16, in a relationship with a young man who was only slightly older than she was.
“Looking back, it was immature of me,” she says. “But I understand why I did that. I needed security, a family unit, I wanted the comfort of the mummy-daddy-child scenario, which I was really craving and lacking at the time.”
Back then, Amy was in the temporary care of the HSE because her relationship with her mother – who struggled with alcohol addiction at the time – had broken down. Amy writes beautifully about her mother.
“To me, Mam was the most beautiful woman on earth,” she writes. “I never remember her being angry, and she had an amazing ability to make everything fun.”
That was in the early days, when it was just Amy and her mother. Amy’s Italian-American father wasn’t ever part of her life, and an older sister, her mother’s first child, had already left home.
Then, when Amy was five, her mother married, and had a third daughter, Claire. But the marriage didn’t work out, and when Amy was 12, her mother left her husband suddenly, taking Amy and Claire to a women’s refuge in Drogheda.
That was the start of the bad years. They moved house many times, her mother’s drinking got so bad she would disappear for days.
Claire moved back to live with her father, and Amy, by the age of 14, was largely taking care of herself. She was put into foster care, lived in a homeless hostel, in various B&Bs, missed school and eventually left.
By the age of 16 she was working in Kentucky Fried Chicken, attending the Youthreach programme for early school leavers (where her report sheets were glowing; “an excellent student”, “a pleasure to teach” but her attendance was poor). She was living between her boyfriend’s home and a B&B in Drogheda?, and her relationship with her mother had reached a very low point.
When I ask Amy what the hardest thing has been for her in writing this book, she says: “Talking about my mam. I’m even getting upset now…” I can hear the tears in her voice.
“She’s the only one I wanted to be OK with the book because my mam was such a beautiful woman growing up. I was so close to her and my genuine memories of her are colour and happiness. I don’t remember ever having a bad time. She always shed a rainbow over a situation.
“I used to hold a lot of anger for her, but now, as a mother… to have to take her two kids at night to a town with a name she couldn’t even pronounce, into a women’s refuge, and have nobody around that you know. I really understand, and I’m sorry for what she had to go through, although I shouldn’t have had to deal with it.
“I can only empathise with what she went through. She had nobody to talk to. She was on her own. The behaviours when she was drinking were disgraceful, but they weren’t her.”
When she was a couple of months short of her 17th birthday, Amy – after an “ugly, nasty row” with her mother – took an overdose of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.
“I don’t know what got into me,” she writes. “All I know is I certainly didn’t intend to kill myself.”
But she came close to it. She ended up in hospital, and there she learned she was pregnant. There was no question about whether she wanted to keep the baby. Amy was delighted, and found she was “suddenly surrounded by the kind of love and support I had craved for so many years”.
Amy’s 16-week scan came on the day of her 17th birthday. She and her boyfriend – who she never names as they are no longer together – discovered their baby was a girl. And that she had a condition called anencephaly.
Her head had not developed properly. She had no skull, could not survive outside the womb, and could probably not even survive the 40 weeks of pregnancy.
At 16 weeks, Amy had not yet felt any movement of the baby. She was still in that early, almost abstract, phase of pregnancy.
“Although I had wanted this baby so much, I couldn’t imagine having to continue with the pregnancy. I still felt as if there was a foreign body inside me and I wanted it removed.”
Those around her – her boyfriend, his mother, her own mother – supported her decision. Because she was in temporary HSE care at the time, Amy felt she had to tell her social worker.
This is where the story takes its bizarre and terrible twist. Up to this point, what happened to Amy was tragic, but private. A personal tragedy between two very young people who would presumably have gone through their heartache quietly, grieved the child they had lost and then, in time, moved on with their lives.
Instead, in telling the HSE – specifically a male social worker who wasn’t even her regular contact – Amy found herself at the centre of a row. The social worker told her abortion was illegal and she had no choice but to carry the baby to term, that the HSE was, in this case, her ‘parent’ and because her passport had expired, she needed HSE permission to renew it, and that this would not be granted.
The social worker rang her later that same day to tell her he had been to court to ensure she couldn’t leave the State without permission – something that later turned out not to be true – and that the guards had been alerted as to her intentions. Later, the guards made it very clear they would not be involved in the situation.
Amy was sent to a psychiatrist for an evaluation for suicidal ideation – possibly as a kind of get-out for the HSE. If the psychiatrist said she was suicidal, she could have got a termination on those grounds, as had happened with the X Case in 1992. But Amy refused to take the out.
Why wouldn’t she just have said that she was suicidal, and used the loophole, I ask?
“Number one, it wasn’t made clear to me what would happen if I said I was, and two, I’m so proud of myself for always wanting to be honest and truthful. In a weird way – and I’m highlighting a very raw situation now – I think maybe the fact I had taken tablets a while before… that stuck with me, and I was definitely not going to have the world thinking I wanted to die when I didn’t.
“Being challenged about your mental health, when I was a very smart kid, is very insulting. I think I went into overdrive of ‘you are not going to make me out to be this child in care who is suicidal with an alcoholic mother’.”
This is the same spirit that Amy showed in the years when she was getting herself and her little sister up and out to school, when her mother wasn’t able to. She ironed their clothes and made sure they were both neatly turned out. It’s a sense of pride in herself and a refusal to be what the world might have perceived her to be.
Amy engaged a solicitor. So did her mother. So did the HSE. The State had a separate legal team, and then there was a fifth, representing Amy’s unborn child. Five legal teams spent almost three weeks in the High Court, disputing Amy’s right to travel for a termination.
Those three weeks, Amy says now, “were astronomical in terms of the growth of my baby, and the stage I was at”.
“At the beginning it was nearly unnoticeable, there was no connection. Then I had to get to grips with the fact I was a mother, carrying a baby, that I could feel the flutters inside. I’ll never forget that moment. I had pictured her as an alien. That was my young way of coping. Then I felt the baby, and I really became a mammy in my mind. I wasn’t just pregnant, I was a mammy.”
Amy won her case, but she didn’t read the judgment handed down by Judge Liam McKechnie until she began work on the book. In it, he was critical of the HSE, saying it had no right to prevent her from travelling, because she was in temporary and not permanent care.
He also praised Amy’s “maturity and integrity”, and said she was “blameless” for what happened to her baby.
“That was one of the biggest changes in terms of how I thought of myself,” she says now. “I’ve lived anxiously all day, every day. I interview myself all the time. I’m over-judgmental of anything that I do. For me to see the judgment, and for the judge to praise me, it helped me to reassure myself that I am an OK person, that I did do the right things, that I am strong.
“And it helped turn around the shame into: ‘Oh my God, I was treated like an absolute piece of crap. I really was. It’s not just in my head.’
“I don’t know how I held up that strength. I don’t know how I would handle that situation at this age. I’m in awe of myself as a 17-year-old. All the things that happened to me, I can now take into account as a woman, and look back and say, ‘wow’ to her. Wow.’”
Amy travelled to a clinic in Liverpool, where she chose to have something called a ”compassionate induction” in which she would give birth to her daughter, who she named Jasmine. Why did she choose this, over one of the other possible procedures that would not have involved giving birth?
“She wasn’t a procedure. She wasn’t a growth. She was a baby. She was my baby. Of course I wanted to deliver her and have that experience of her,” she says.
In the book she writes about refusing pain medication for the early part of her labour. “I was naive. I thought Jasmine was going to come out, this little miracle fighter, I always had this little ‘what if…’ hope.”
In fact, she later learned that at her final scan before labour began, there had been no heartbeat. Jasmine had died, in utero, exactly as the doctors had predicted.
“That gave me huge comfort,” she says now. “It took away tremendous guilt. There were times when I wondered: ‘Was she really dead, or were they saying that to make me feel better?’ But it seems it definitely was the situation.”
She speaks then of the “frustration that had I stayed in Ireland a day or two longer, they would have had to do it over here, instead of sending me abroad and bringing back my baby as luggage…”
Labour lasted 16 hours, and at the end of it, Amy passed out. When she came to, it was early morning, and the flight home had been booked for 10am. She was taken in a wheelchair to the next door room, where Jasmine, “smaller than a baby doll”, was laid in a hospital cot, with a pink knitted blanket covering her face.
Amy touched her tiny hands and feet, examining the perfect nails and fingers. But she couldn’t, yet, lift the blanket to look at Jasmine’s face.
This is the moment – of all the moments – that she finds impossible to come to terms with. “That’s the crack part,” she says quietly. “That nearly makes me speechless. That’s something I can’t get back. I am beyond jealous that my mother, my ex-boyfriend, and his mother, have seen my daughter’s face. And I haven’t. I was always going to hold her, and look at her. I just didn’t get the chance.”
The time to leave came before she had summoned up the strength to pull back the blanket and look at her daughter. She was taken, in her wheelchair, from the hospital to the airport.
“I was screaming in the wheelchair, and pulling at the walls. I do remember asking to stay and my mam being hesitant, and my ex’s mother saying, ‘she needs to go’, and I understand all of that but… you would think somebody with expertise in that area would know [to allow enough time].”
She remembers a priest who came in. “I remember he was standing right over me, holding her, and, I was like, ‘who are you? I did not say you could pick my child up, when she was so delicate and small that I as her mother was afraid to do so’.”
She went home, and Jasmine was returned to her in a coffin some three weeks later, and buried in the local graveyard.
Less than a year later, Amy had her son, Adam. “I didn’t set out to go home and get pregnant,” she says. “It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t trying to replace Jasmine, but I think if I hadn’t had Adam, that’s where my life could have gone right down the drain because of what I went through. But I had Adam, and I needed to be the best version of myself, for him.”
When her son was four weeks old, Amy went back to school and studied beauty therapy. When he was a year old, she broke with her boyfriend, Jasmine and Adam’s father.
“I don’t know how I did it, but I’d had enough. I decided I was going to do this alone. I’m proud of myself for making that right decision, for everybody, because it wasn’t healthy,” she says of the relationship, adding: “I’m not perfect either. I can wind people up too. I’m feisty in an argument. But I did not want Adam scarred for life with the scars I had on me. Because those scars don’t ever go. You remember things forever.”
She began modelling, doing lingerie and swimwear shoots, some glamour modelling and paid appearances, and earned enough to support herself and her son.
“I did it for him. I was determined, with every ounce of me, not to let anything terrible happen. I was adamant that we were not going to be homeless – I still fear that.”
Along the way, her mother managed to beat her addiction, and came fully back into Amy’s life.
“I wouldn’t have the life I have – the amazing things that have happened since I had Adam – the college, the modelling, all the learning I did, that’s all because of her. She let me have my childhood back, in a sense. I have a beautiful relationship with her now. And I can understand, and I don’t have any hurt towards her, only compassion, for how she tried her best, always.”
Adam, she says with a laugh, “adores her. I’m not allowed to give out to Nana. He’s only now learning about the terrible things that happened to me. I just hope he can be proud and realise so much of what I’ve done, I’ve done for him, because I adore him.”
There is more to Amy’s story – she had a stalker for a while, and suffered an accident that left her with a serious back injury. Dating and relationships have been particularly hard.
“I already had paranoia in my life, a young girl, a single mum with a young son, and on top of it, the Miss D mess,” she says. “Why would anyone want to come near me? I overdid myself in trying to be glamorous all the time, because that was my shield, that was my armour. That was my way to be normal. But inside I felt like a piece of shit on somebody’s shoe.”
But there is so much she is positive about. “I got judged so much, I learned not to have judgment for other people. I’ll always hold anger [for what happened to her as ‘Miss D’], I don’t think it’s ever going to stop. But I’m also somewhat grateful, for being the person put there, because I know I survived it. I’m strong. Maybe it would have been somebody else – somebody who mentally couldn’t have gotten through that situation.”
Jasmine, she says, gets “more real as the years go on. I never thought, 15 years ago, that I’d be sitting here today, thinking about her, talking about her, having a book about her. Loving her more and more as time goes on. She was my baby. I don’t know where I stand with heaven, but I definitely believe in energy. There’s something. And I believe she has an energy with me.”
‘I Am Amy Dunne’, by Amy Dunne with Orla O’Donnell, is published by Gill Books, €16.99. and is out now
https://www.independent.ie/life/amy-dunne-aka-miss-d-she-wasnt-a-procedure-she-wasnt-a-growth-she-was-my-baby-41487742.html Amy Dunne aka Miss D: ‘She wasn’t a procedure. She wasn’t a growth. She was my baby’