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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'.

 

Says that as terrible as it feels at the time the sadness does get better and you can cope with it.

Says that as terrible as it feels at the time the sadness does get better and you can cope with it.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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And as hard as it is, and as terrible as it is, it does get better and you do live. And you do laugh and you do enjoy your life again. And you don't think you will but you do. And [pause] it is really funny, I always feel there is a reason why something has happened to you. You might not know it now but further down the line you may. 

And I feel from what happened to me, my baby's heart might stop somebody else's baby having to be terminated, and that to me gives me strength, it gives me courage and doing things like this. It's good. It's good because I don't know. 

They can see me down the line - they may think I'm a scatty [laughs] you know, 'scatty woman' but I am okay now. I am alright. I can talk about it without having to bursts into tears or you know things like that. You won't ever forget and anniversaries will still come into your head just the same as your family's do and your children's, if you've got other children, will do. But you live with it and you cope with it and that, that thing in here that feels like it's been ripped out starts to come back, and you become a person again, not just the woman that this terrible thing has happened to. 

You focus on you, and not just on what's happened, and, yeah it's terrible but if you can help someone out of it then I feel that you've achieved something anyway even though it's awful. 

 

She's learned that you can recover from ending a pregnancy and put your experiences to good use.

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She's learned that you can recover from ending a pregnancy and put your experiences to good use.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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I think I've learnt that however, however bad, however bad something is that happens to you, you can recover if you want to. It doesn't mean you don't get sad about it, doesn't mean it doesn't really hurt at times, but if you, it's your choice. It's your choice, and you can, it may be really really hard at times - probably more at the beginning - but if you really want to you can find a meaning in your life, you can fight, there will, there is, are other things. 

I mean, I've got my children - whatever it is for people, be it their work or something - that life does go on, and that, and I suppose, you know, there have been, I sort of have felt that I wanted. I think, for me, one of the reasons in coming to terms with it a bit more, coming out of depression, was thinking, 'I want to put this experience to some good use. I don't want'', you know, 'it happened to me. I can make some good use of this. I can help other people in some way.' 

And I thought about training as a midwife. I have actually started some training as a counsellor. But for me, I sort of thought, I mean I don't know for sure, I think I will continue with that, but if I choose not to, that was part of the path of recovery if you like, even if I change my mind about that further down the line, it wouldn't really necessarily matter, it was about, 'I can put this to some constructive use'.

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'.

 

She cried everyday for weeks before realising after several months that she was starting to think...

She cried everyday for weeks before realising after several months that she was starting to think...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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Well I don't, its never going to leave because its something that will be with me for the rest of my life. But, weeks and months afterwards suddenly you realise, that you had woken up and the first thing you did wasn't burst in to tears and then later on you realise that you got to lunchtime and you haven't cried yet. 

But then you know months down the line you realise you've got through a whole day without crying. But, I think it helped me having my children. I, the only way I can imagine what I went through being worse was if I didn't already have healthy children.

And a sympathetic husband.

And a sympathetic husband though we had our moments - it's a very difficult thing in a relationship. The children, I had helped me keep, I still had to get up in the mornings. I still had to make breakfast, I still had to make lunch, I still had to go shopping. You have to carry on with all the normal things. I'm sure it would have been easy if I hadn't already had children, to just lie in bed crying all day and not do anything. 
 
 

It has taken many years for her sadness and loss about the baby to shift from the front to the...

It has taken many years for her sadness and loss about the baby to shift from the front to the...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
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I think I don't, I'm not a great believer in expressions like 'getting over it' or 'moving on' or whatever, maybe 'moving on' is not a bad one. But what I've found, and I'm sure its different for everybody, what I've found is that after many years, and it did take many years, this has found a different place in my head. It's all there. But it's not right in the front of my thoughts all the time.

And what sometimes happens is that I will come across a, you know like this Down's syndrome boy and it completely alters where everything is in my head. So it, all of a sudden its there like it was yesterday. And actually that's been difficult and I think maybe that's something that I've had to deal with more than other people because of the job that I do. 

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. 

 

Describes feeling in limbo afterwards and says that it had helped her to get away from home for a...

Describes feeling in limbo afterwards and says that it had helped her to get away from home for a...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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Yes, my milk did come in about 4 days later, or 5 days later, if I remember. That was really sore and I wasn't really prepared for how painful that would be but I mean I just took some paracetemol. It didn't last long but it was, it was like tight band round your chest. And I mean that brings it back, because you don't have a real, your body still thinks you've got this baby, kind of thing. So that was another strange thing. 

But yeah, I suppose, we were a bit, a bit sort of aimless in the next few days after, we did odd things that we never do, like going to see show-homes and stuff, I don't know. [laughs] I know, we never, ever do, I mean we don't like new houses. We did some really odd things. 

I suppose you're just trying to get on with life 'as normal' in inverted commas, and I don't know if it's diversion or, but yeah, I mean you definitely, we went away for a few days, went up to one of the Scottish islands and just went somewhere we'd never been just, I think, just getting away from home. I mean, you can't escape it, it, obviously, goes in your head with you but just new things and a journey, a boat, you know, things, just getting away. Because, obviously, the phone was ringing the whole time with friends and family and people popping round and yeah, it was, it was really nice to get away. 

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.

 

Still feels she hasn't come to terms with her guilt about the baby's death which happened two...

Still feels she hasn't come to terms with her guilt about the baby's death which happened two...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Male
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Mother' I don't know, I suppose the guilt that I felt. We both felt.

Do you want to talk to me about that?

Mother' Don't know.

How long did that last?

Mother' Oh, now, it's still now. I still feel guilty now, for what we did.

Father' And the thing that gets me over the guilt is probably, again, the way people in the hospital in [city] approached things, because they were so reassuring and as I said earlier I trusted them completely to know what they were talking about, what they were doing.

That, you don't feel that lessens your guilt?

Mother' No, no I feel like I killed my baby and that's the end of it, so'

But if you, if the same thing happened again, what would you do?

Mother' It won't happen again. Because I don't want - I'd have another baby tomorrow - but I wouldn't have the 9 months of pregnancy. So, I don't think I could go through another pregnancy, and risk that happening to me again. 

But then I would like to have another baby, so it's sort of - I'm in a bit of a vicious circle and I obviously haven't come to terms with things - if you can come to terms with things - yet.

Father' See, before this happened, if you'd have said well this was what was going to be the outcome of your pregnancy, I would never have begun to imagine how it would make us feel, and what the end results would be. So to go through it again - again I can't imagine from here where it would take you as a person - you know at times I've felt like it's utterly destroyed me. 
 
 

She can remember everything about her baby who died less than a year ago, and still thinks about...

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She can remember everything about her baby who died less than a year ago, and still thinks about...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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Probably just a day, to recover from the delivery part of things, that was it. But I remember the baby every single day, you know, like when I go to bed, it just... every time, I just imagine me going through the labour. I think because I'm pregnant again, it's just bringing it all back. I can imagine me going through the labour, and just for the first time you know, seeing the baby, getting that, that shock, of seeing him not properly developed. And just finding out, you know when they did the scan, it weren't proper, it had like abnormalities and all that. It just runs through your head again and again. It just comes back to you, everything that happened, since you know going for that scan, till burying the baby - everything.

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.

 

She and her partner decided to get married on the first anniversary of the baby's death so that...

She and her partner decided to get married on the first anniversary of the baby's death so that...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
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The only other thing that my husband and I did is our daughter would be due to be born on the 17th of May, and to this day, the day that we actually had her the 2nd of January, it doesn't, doesn't upset me, it's actually the 17th of May that's more upsetting because that's when it should have been her birthday. 

I don't see the 2nd of January as her birthday, I see it as when she should have been due to be born, and in May, that's when I go a little bit quiet, I get a bit low. And at that point we made a decision well instead of having something to be sad about, let's get married and we'll have something to celebrate instead. 

And it was actually that year we lost my daughter in January '98 and we got married in the May '98. And at the time it was what we needed, but in hindsight I wished we hadn't. Not that I don't want to be married to by husband! I wish maybe we'd maybe left it another month or so, and left that time as the time where it would have been my daughter. I sometimes feel now I want, I don't want to celebrate my anniversary, I want to celebrate her birthday and so it sort of conflicts you-

But then I know it's always there, it's sort of celebrating her birthday in a different way from our anniversary. It's, and it's silly things that do upset you. 
 

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. 

 

Says she was surprised to experience such heavy bleeding after the termination.

Says she was surprised to experience such heavy bleeding after the termination.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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Then you read the books - that's the first time I saw the books, the handbook, and it makes you cross at first cos there's a whole big section on what to do with the diagnosis before you make a decision. And I got it going home. And... I went home with the maternity pads. That was another thing that was a real problem. They give you a packet to go home with, of these maternity pads, but you don't realise how much you're bleeding, and how many you're going to get through and then you have to go to the supermarket and go down the baby aisle to get these pads. And... neither of us could do it. 

And that was just, you know and I just thought God it wouldn't cost them much just to send you home with a bag full of them. But yeah, having to go - 'cos you know you need them for about a week - and having to go through Tesco's down the baby aisle, 'cos they don't stock them in the sanitary towel section, you have to go to the baby section. And the last thing you can deal with is seeing bibs and nappies and formula and stuff like that. 
 

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. 

 

For about 18 months after losing her baby she found herself feeling resentful of women who were...

For about 18 months after losing her baby she found herself feeling resentful of women who were...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I think the only one thing is the worst thing for me afterwards was not being pregnant. And when you're pregnant people make a fuss of you so much. And all of a sudden they want to avoid you because they don't know what to say. And I couldn't bear seeing pregnant people. I hated it was the worst thing, pregnant women and babies afterwards. For 18 months afterwards, when we were trying again for a baby when we'd lost one, I hated it and I couldn't bear, I could spot a pregnant woman in the shopping centre by a mile off. 

And I used to see people and I used to think, look at people and judge them and think, 'you're not worthy, why have you got pregnant and I haven't? And why have you got a healthy baby and I can't have one?' And I just felt so bitter for so long because these people had what I wanted and I didn't think they deserved it. 

And I'd say to my husband, 'We've got a nice house, we both work, we've been together for however many years and we love each other and we could give a baby a really great home. And look at them, why have they got a baby? That's not fair'. And I think it was such a massive part of getting over the whole thing, this bitterness eating away. It was, it was just awful. 
 

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. 

 

For several weeks after the baby's death she felt panic-stricken around babies.

For several weeks after the baby's death she felt panic-stricken around babies.

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I didn't, I couldn't return back to work probably for, say, three and a half months afterwards. I don't know whether it was the fear of being in contact with people, people feeling sorry for you. About... I don't know, a month afterwards I felt I was trying to, trying to get myself out more, just back into reality, so I was trying to have ideas of what to do. I went to a local garden centre and there was a woman there with a newborn baby. It was then that I started having panic attacks being around or hearing babies crying. And I felt like I was a bit of a stalker with this woman, because I followed her round the garden centre, just looking at this crying baby. It was quite scary, not knowing, you know, what to do.
 

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 July 2017.

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