Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Going through labour and birth

Going through labour and birth without the reward of a healthy baby at the end is likely to be a difficult experience for most women. The emotional distress that can often accompany ending a pregnancy may make labour more painful for some women, though others found their labour less difficult than they had expected. Several women said that going through labour and birth was an extraordinary experience that they valued because it had brought them together with the baby. 

There were several key aspects of care that women and their partners particularly valued - being able to decide where to have the baby, being cared for by an experienced midwife or nurse, understanding what choices were available about pain relief, and knowing that they could chose whether or not to see and hold the baby afterwards. (See 'Deciding whether to see, hold and name the baby').

Many women who had experienced childbirth before said that this labour 'felt different'. Several said the labour took longer and others felt that this labour had been more painful than others because their emotions 'were wrapped up in it'. Several women felt that neither their minds nor bodies were 'ready to lose the baby'. 

Some of the women who felt their labour and delivery did not go as they had hoped were first-time mothers who hadn't been to antenatal classes and didn't know how to cope with labour. Several women who had never given birth before said they would have liked more pro-active support - some felt they had been left to cope alone for long periods of time, and several had delivered their babies with no one except their partners present in the room. 

Pain relief

Most women, though not all, had pain relief. Some were advised by health professionals that 'there was no point being brave' because pain relief would not affect the baby. Most women took whatever form of pain relief they were offered - sometimes women had been given a pethidine injection, others said they had taken morphine or diamorphine.  

Several women took responsibility for their own pain relief and were attached to a PCA device. Some women found the drug (most said it was morphine) did not control their pain as much as making them 'feel out of it' and several had taken so much pain relief that they had passed out. Many regretted taking morphine because they felt sick and also because some women found that they lost control of what was happening to them and the baby. 

A few women had gone through labour and delivery with little or no pain relief - one woman who had given birth to 4 children said she 'just got on with it' - another woman had gas and air. 

A few women had asked for an epidural and found that staff were reluctant to give them. Several people didn't understand why it was difficult to get an epidural - some wondered if they cost too much. One woman thought that health professionals might be reluctant to provide epidurals because they felt that women were experiencing 'emotional' rather than genuine physical pain.

Occasionally women wanted to have - or thought they could have - a caesarean section to avoid going through any kind of labour pain, but caesarean sections are not usually performed in these circumstances.

Women who felt they should have been treated with greater sensitivity during this difficult time, or who sensed that midwives disapproved of what they were doing or who wanted to avoid caring for them, felt disappointed and let down with their care. 

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Women were very sensitive about how the baby was handled during and after labour; they wanted the baby to be protected and cared for after s/he was delivered and not left alone or taken away from them for too long. (See also 'Deciding whether to see, hold and name the baby'.) 

Several women expressed the view that midwives probably didn't enjoy dealing with terminations and wondered if they had any special training for this role.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated June 2014.


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