Antenatal Screening

Feelings and reflections afterwards

Having a termination can cause a variety of often conflicting emotions, both immediately afterwards and longer term. This topic is explored in greater depth in the Healthtalk website 'Experiences of ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality' when the baby has a particular condition or disability.

One of the first things parents had to consider was whether to see the baby, and spend time with him or her. For many this was a positive experience which helped them grieve, but each person had to decide what was right for them.

One couple described their different ways of coping, and the support of the hospital chaplain in performing a naming ceremony. Several people commented on the support hospital chaplains offered, regardless of the couple's own religious views.

One woman who chose to see only a photograph felt it was the right decision at the time, but looking back had some doubts. Another woman wished now that her mother had seen the baby.

Most people had been well advised beforehand that the baby would probably look quite red, with quite transparent-looking skin. A few people said this looked worse in photographs. The baby had looked beautiful to them, but the photograph was disappointing or disturbing by comparison.

Many people, however, valued having photographs and some took their own camera (and one mother noted the need to warn photo developers what the film contains). Hospitals sometimes offer other keepsakes such as hand and footprints, and may keep them for parents who are unsure if they want to take them home.

Sometimes parents imagined the worst, and seeing that the baby looked like a normal baby was a relief. Some chose not to look at any physical abnormalities the baby might have, but others found it reassured them the diagnosis really was true, or that the baby's condition was very serious.

Another issue was whether to take clothes in for the baby. One couple were advised in advance to do this and enjoyed choosing an outfit. It can be hard to find something small enough - some hospitals advise parents to look for doll's clothes. Clothing was a source of distress for another woman who got conflicting advice from midwives about whether she could dress the baby.

Arranging a funeral helped many parents, and some hospitals mentioned this before the termination to give them time to think it over. Some people wanted to arrange it themselves, while others preferred the hospital to make the arrangements for them.

The sight of a tiny coffin upset some people, but the funeral helped many parents to grieve, and gave them either a place where ashes were scattered or a grave to visit. One couple had taken the baby's body home, and were glad they had this time together at home before the funeral. Another mother would have considered this if she had known it was possible.

Information about physical care after ending a pregnancy was of mixed quality. Some women were well-informed about vaginal bleeding and possible milk production, but one woman did not receive the relevant leaflet.

The provision of sensitive and appropriate leaflets was a problem; one woman who had a surgical termination was upset to be given a contraceptive leaflet advising her how to avoid unplanned pregnancy. Another received a leaflet about care after a miscarriage, with sections crossed out that did not apply to her.

Looking back over their experiences in the longer term, some parents asked themselves questions, including 'did the baby feel any pain?', 'when did the baby die?' and 'what if we'd gone ahead - could we have coped?' Several parents had moments of doubt, guilt, and wondering what might have been, but most still felt they had made the right decision.

One mother summed up her feelings as' 'I don't regret making my decision. I regret having to make the decision in the first place.' Some felt the decision was rushed, even though they thought they would still have reached the same conclusion if they had had more time. A mother from a Catholic family described how counselling helped her cope with feelings of guilt.

Lack of counselling afterwards was a problem in many cases, and most people thought it should at least be offered as an option. After days or weeks of intensive contact with health services, some people felt suddenly isolated and unsupported.

Others felt able to recover with support from their families, without formal counselling. Most people who did receive counselling found it useful, and one woman described particularly how it helped her and her husband understand their different ways of grieving.

Several people said they thought men felt more certain, despite their sadness, that they had made the right decision. Going through the experience of ending a pregnancy can place great strain on relationships, but several people said that going ahead with the pregnancy could also have affected their relationship. This had made one woman think carefully about the need for joint decision-making in future pregnancies.

As one father commented, going back to work can help restore a sense of normality, but it can also be very hard, especially having to face others' reactions. Stigma and social disapproval around termination of pregnancy troubled many parents.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) report on ‘Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality in England, Scotland and Wales’ (2010) recommends that' “After a termination for fetal abnormality, well-organised follow-up care is essential (section 6).” P25.

Last reviewed June 2014.
Last updated August 2010.

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