Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Coping with bereavement - women's experiences

Coping with the sadness of losing a baby, regret for what might have been and guilt for having ended a life, can take women months or years - a woman reflecting on what happened to her 8 years ago said 'I don't know if you ever get over it - you learn to live with it'. 

Some women said they had accepted the loss of the baby and no longer blamed themselves for what had happened. Several wanted other women to know that it was normal to feel extremely sad at first, but that in time they would recover from the experience and feel better - they wanted others to know that they would feel better in time and that 'something good can come out of it'.

Most women described how they felt 'empty' and sad for some weeks after leaving hospital. Many women had taken time off work - or been given time off work - to help them recover emotionally and physically. Some women said that though they had felt very unhappy for months afterwards and had been wrapped up in their loss, they now accepted what they had done, and said that time had helped to heal them. For many women, having other children to look after helped them feel better and gave them 'a reason to get up in the morning'.

Everyone coped with bereavement differently - some women wanted to get pregnant again to fill 'the void' left by the baby they had lost, others couldn't face another pregnancy in case the same thing happened again (see 'Deciding whether to have another baby'). Several women had gone away on holiday or for a short break with their partners, though not everyone found this was helpful.  

Many women derived great comfort from their families and also from the strength of their relationship with a partner or husband.  Several women who had gone through the termination many years ago said that other life events that had happened to them since the termination had helped them see the loss of the baby in a wider perspective. 

However, some women's feelings of loss carried on for some time - and also after the birth of another baby - and several had needed professional help and support. Generally women had asked the GP for advice, or been offered help by the midwife. Other women had arranged counselling and other kind of therapy for themselves (see 'Counselling and other kinds of support'). Several women who had ended a pregnancy within the last two years said they were still finding life without the baby extremely difficult.

In the year following the termination, most women we talked to had experienced some periods when they felt particularly low. Some women said they had asked themselves, 'Why me?', or 'What did I/we do wrong?' and trying to find a logical reason for what had happened. The first anniversary of the baby's birth could often trigger sadness.

Several women who had been through a termination by induction said they had been shocked by the physical after-effects of childbirth - sore breasts, milk coming in and bleeding - and had found those things difficult to deal with. Several women said they had felt unprepared the physical after-effects of having a baby. 

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Some women needed extra medical attention afterwards, some because they had a suspected womb infection, others for heavy bleeding. Though bleeding is normal after childbirth, some women felt they had not been treated sensitively enough when they went back to hospital for follow-up consultations and treatment. Several women needed hospital treatment after surgical terminations because part of the placenta remained in the womb. 

During the first year some women also had mixed feelings towards other women, including friends and family members, who had healthy babies. Though these feelings generally passed quite quickly for most women, several said they were shocked to find themselves thinking and acting out of character. 

Several women described how they tried to avoid coming into contact with babies for some months after they had lost the baby. However a few women said they found babies comforting - and one woman asked if she could hold someone's baby for a while when she was getting over the loss of her own baby. 

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Many women found it helped to write a journal or diary. Some joined support groups and met others who had been through the same experience, other women preferred to communicate with women they didn't know via email. 

Most women had photographs of the baby and had a special album or book about the baby that they could look at or add things to whenever they felt like it (see 'Photographs and other mementoes of the baby'). Funerals and other forms of remembrance helped many people grieve as did visiting the baby's grave and knowing that others were prepared to acknowledge the baby's life. (See 'Saying goodbye to the baby').
 

Last reviewed May 2012.

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