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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Counselling and other kinds of support

Most people felt intensely sad in the days and weeks after ending the pregnancy and found it difficult to get back to being their normal selves. Almost everyone found that ending a pregnancy was much more difficult to recover from emotionally than they expected. 

Many women and some men said that they had needed counselling and/or support from others since ending the pregnancy. (See 'Coping with bereavement - men and women's experiences'.) Others didn't want to dwell on what had happened and felt that counselling would not help them.

 

Explains that her hospital offered bereavement counselling routinely and says that she...

Explains that her hospital offered bereavement counselling routinely and says that she...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Yes. I think I've been absolutely lucky and really fortunate that the hospital where I had the termination offers a service which is specifically, it's, you know, for situations like this. So there are two people that offer this service and I think they're basically brilliant. And the good thing is that it's indefinite. You decide how long you want to go, or how often you want to go, or when you want to stop going, and you can go for years if you feel that, if you feel that need. And I think it's a bit of a rarity really in hospitals. 

You say 'the service', I wonder if you could explain what it consists of?

Well, you go and see, it's counselling and so all you do, you just go. I mean some people find it a bit hard because it's in the actual same hospital, but I, for some reason, I never quite you know, I didn't really find that particularly hard. And it's on a different floor anyway from the labour ward. And it's this woman that obviously sort of specialised. She was actually, the counsellor I'd been talking to used to be a midwife, so that thing I think helps a lot. And she's been doing this job for, I don't know, over 10 years anyway, so she really has experience of this kind of situation. 

And my, I suppose the, you know, what happens during a session has changed dramatically from the very first times where basically, you know, all I was doing was cry, probably for the, the best of an hour. And now we, you know, we seem to think or to talk about general things and how I'm feeling and sometimes the conversation sort of drifts off into, I don't know...

Related areas.

Yes, other things. But I think it's very important to have a space where you can talk to someone else that's not related to you. Because I found, personally I found it quite hard to talk to people, family members or even friends because they obviously, they themselves are, have been affected by it, so in a way you don't want to burden them with more of your grief. So you tend to, you know, either keep it to yourself or just talk to strangers. 

A lot easier, it's a lot easier to talk to strangers about it, or people in the same situation that have support groups. So, and that has been in-, you know, invaluable help as well. But I think, I mean counselling for me has been incredibly useful. And some people find that they prefer to go with partners, with their partners, but I've always found that I wanted my own space where I could express whatever I felt I wanted to express without having, or without fearing to upset some else. 

Although some women had managed their feelings by staying at home and talking about the baby to their partners, others became overwhelmed by their loss in the weeks, months and years after the termination and realised they needed professional help. Even when women had coped quite well outwardly many said they had gone through very low points, especially at the anniversary of the baby's death. 

 

Everyone thought she was alright but she decided to have bereavement counselling for 10 weeks...

Everyone thought she was alright but she decided to have bereavement counselling for 10 weeks...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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So from the midwife I went, I think I had a couple of weeks off work, then I went back to work. And then I had a few more weeks off because I couldn't handle it because of the nature of the job I was doing, involved in hospitals and things. I just couldn't bear it really. And I think I thought I was going to cope a lot better than I really did. I was saying to people, 'Oh well, I'm all right and I'm going to be fine'. And really I just wasn't. So I struggled for quite some time. 

And eventually, well, not eventually, after maybe about a month I'd got a lot of books from the library about miscarriage and stillbirth. And I just needed to read anything I could, to read about other people who it had happened to, and just so that I didn't feel like I was on my own. And after about a month I arranged, I don't really remember who I arranged it with, but I went to see a bereavement counsellor. And I saw her for about 10 weeks and I just went through things, what had happened. 

And I think after the first month or two I felt that my friends and family thought I should have stopped talking about it. And it was just an excuse every week for an hour to go and speak to somebody about it and not worry that I was burdening them or that they thought I should have got over it by then.
 

Several women said they needed to 'talk and talk' about the baby and how difficult it was when their partners didn't want them to keep talking about it. Several women said it was hard when friends and family expected them to 'move on' with their lives. Many people did recover successfully by themselves over time, and others realised that they needed professional help or were advised to get help by friends or health professionals.

 

She became depressed for a while after the termination and so consulted her GP.

She became depressed for a while after the termination and so consulted her GP.

Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
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Yes the grieving process is quite, yeah I did get quite depressed and my doctor felt that, he said, 'Oh you know I think you're bordering on a bit of depression,' I wasn't sleeping very well. I had some dothiepin for about two or three months and that just took me over it was fine. 

And I found that... I mean I've got some fantastic friends, they were all absolutely brilliant, but after a while they're not wanting to come and have a coffee and sit and listen to you, so you know you've got to pull yourself through it. And that's probably the loneliest time when people are, kind of think, lets not talk about it anymore because [they] don't want to upset you. Some times you need that.

 

She realised she needed counselling after about 3 months when she was spending hours sitting by...

She realised she needed counselling after about 3 months when she was spending hours sitting by...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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So the guilt's always there, and the emotions of losing the boys I deal with better than the guilt. I can just put that down to the fact that they weren't supposed to be here, there's a reason they're not here anymore. Whether there's a God or not, if there is God, he chose to have the boys with him. And at some point we'll be together. And certainly in the last, the 3 months after the second baby died, I prayed to be with them, to such a point my husband drastically worried about me, I would sit in the graveyard for hours, and if I died at the graveyard I would have been happy. But that was just the need to be with the boys - so that's when I realised I needed to go into therapy and discuss it with somebody. 

Hmm. And that's helped?

Most definitely yeah. Independent therapy -it wasn't anything to do with NHS or my doctor - it was an independent therapist in [island]. He's just someone who's moved up quite recently and I just picked him out of the newspaper. He had an advert in the newspaper, and I phoned him up and said, 'Can I come and speak to you?' At that point it was more to do with my husband and I having problems, but we were having problems because we hadn't dealt with the boys' death. 

We hadn't, I thought our marriage was in turmoil, but it was actually the fact that we'd both lost the boys, and not spoken about it, not dealt with it, just filed it away as if its you've just bought a new car, get rid of the old one. So 6 months later I think we're on an even keel again and ready for the next step. 

Some women found that counselling wasn't available in their area on the NHS or that they would have to wait for treatment. Several women said they got worse as they were waiting and so decided to pay for private treatment. 

 

She tried to be normal for the sake of her children but eventually saw her GP and was offered...

She tried to be normal for the sake of her children but eventually saw her GP and was offered...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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I think time helped. I mean, I, personally, went to see a counsellor, which I think helped me a lot. I was getting a bit stuck, because I'd then had problems I'd actually had a miscarriage four months later, an early miscarriage, and then I couldn't get pregnant for ages and ages and ages, and I, it just got worse. You know, everything, I think, the roots were there anyway, I hadn't come to terms with what had happened and I, it just sort of got compounded by further things happening. 

And I just, I think I got to a point where I knew I had to do something. I just felt, I knew I wasn't really functioning very well.  I wasn't my normal self, and I didn't really enjoy anything very much at all. I tried to be as normal as I could with my children, but I'm sure I wasn't. You know I mean I was there, doing all the practical things, but I wouldn't be very happy for example, all the time. And I think that was the thing I sort of thought, 'I can't go on like this. I've got to...'. And actually at times, I wanted to jump in the car and drive off and never come back. I wanted to just escape from my life really, because I think I was, I hadn't really come to terms with what had happened, I hadn't really accepted it, it just still seemed like a bit of a nightmare. 

And there were times, like the dates of, I mean, the baby had, you know, the date the baby had been due was hard. The year anniversary of the termination was very hard, and the year anniversary of the nuchal scan - all those dates coming up again were very hard. You know, they've, I've had a second lot of 'dates' and that was still quite hard, and, you know, made me think a lot and I did get upset, but it was much worse the first year. I think time did help. I did see a, I did actually go to my GP in the January, I'd had the termination in the May. I had some, about some other physical problems I had, but also as I say you know I thought I was depressed, and I was really struggling, and he sort of said about, you know, 'Do you think'' but he knew what had happened obviously and he said, 'Do you think counselling would help?' 
 

Some people, including most men we talked to, felt counselling wouldn't be helpful - one man said he thought counsellors wanted 'to look too much at other aspects of my life'. A Muslim woman said that counselling was not something people in her culture 'went for' and described how she got support from her family. One woman thought about having counselling but they found she had healed herself by going on a 'health drive'.  

 

She found it difficult to admit she needed help and tried several complementary therapies,...

She found it difficult to admit she needed help and tried several complementary therapies,...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I mean it took me a lot to go to the GP and actually admit that, you know, I'm not doing so well, I need some, well asking for help, I suppose, which was quite difficult to do. But when, I suppose when I found that there wasn't an awful lot she could offer me, I decided that perhaps if I make myself physically better then, then emotionally I'll be better. 

So I just kind of went on a bit of a health drive, which I thought would be good before getting pregnant anyway.  So I used to treat myself and have an aromatherapy massage every month and some Shiatsu every month. Just tried to eat a little bit healthier, do a bit more exercise and it, and it did work, you know, physically I felt better, so emotionally I started to feel a lot better. And I think that was probably good as well as a build-up towards getting pregnant, just having a bit of a, because as, you know, when you are low you do get into that vicious cycle of not really looking after yourself very well and perhaps not eating as well you can and, you know, not eating as much fresh fruit and vegetables and things because you just want comfort food.  

So that was my sort of way, I think, of getting myself a bit more prepared to be pregnant was just trying to be physically healthier and the knock-on effect to then.
 

Several people had been offered psychological support and other kinds of therapy through work and said it had helped to talk things through. Most people found that colleagues at work and bosses in particular were very understanding and supportive once they knew what had happened.

 

He didn't want to be given advice and was offered the chance to talk things through with someone...

He didn't want to be given advice and was offered the chance to talk things through with someone...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
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It helped for me just to talk it over with someone. As I say it wasn't, I didn't see it as counselling, okay I didn't need counselling, I didn't want to be counselled. I didn't want advice or anything. But I just wanted someone who was removed from the situation and didn't know us, and I could just talk to her about, and just tell what happened. And it's hard to get that really - you just know everybody, your friends and family really - so its just useful to have that option with a counsellor, but I didn't really see it as counselling.

Why is that helpful?

What the session itself? Well, like I say I haven't really talked about it to very many people, and I felt I wanted to. I wanted to get my side of the story over, I wanted to tell someone what it felt like, even though it wasn't going to lead anywhere or change anything.

Some women were offered anti-depressants by the GP before having counselling. Anti-depressants worked for some, but others chose not to have them. Several women who had had both anti-depressants and counselling found counselling was more helpful. 

 

She couldn't see anyone or go out much for several months so her GP advised her to take anti...

She couldn't see anyone or go out much for several months so her GP advised her to take anti...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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When I came home from hospital I think I was in a state of shock I think. I think I just didn't want to talk to anybody, I didn't want to see... I couldn't even talk to my family, my mum or my sister. And I just, they, you know, I was getting loads of cards, and people were lovely, I mean they were sending me cards and flowers, but I just didn't want to be with anyone, I didn't want to talk to anyone, I didn't want to see anyone. I just couldn't go outside either. And it took a long time. 

And I think after a few months, I realised that I was, I needed some help and I actually went to the [doctor] and the doctor advised me that I was depressed. So I went on antidepressants then for quite some time. And then I, at the same time I was also advised to do some counselling, which I did do. And in the beginning that was really hard and it went through a stage when I was just so upset every time I went to counselling I just thought, 'Is this really what I want? Is this really helping?' After a few months it really started to help that she was really helping me and I was getting it off my chest and being able to talk to someone about it. 

Most people had been surprised to get support from people they didn't know before, such as clergymen, colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes it was something somebody said that helped them and gave them comfort, other times it was what that person did such as using the baby's name, or acknowledging their loss. Clergymen/women, particularly hospital chaplains, were said to be particularly helpful because they knew what to do and what to say, and were non-judgmental. 

 

She and her partner found the support of friends and family and several visits from a chaplain...

She and her partner found the support of friends and family and several visits from a chaplain...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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And I think we, you know, we received lots of cards and letters. And that was, that was, I found that very healing. That every day, you know, for about six weeks after, or four weeks, there'd always be something in the post to show that someone was thinking of us. And whatever, however few their words were, I found that really, really supportive. And I could just go back and read them and read them. You know, if I felt like I wanted to cry, I could read them and I'd cry. 

And then I think we just sat in bed and cried every day for however many weeks. And it was just good to cry, to feel the pain, and to know that the pain doesn't go away but you deal with it and you learn from it and you cope with it, and it sort of just becomes smaller or you don't think about it every day. 

I think I spoke to ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices) once or twice, it wasn't much. And they sort of listened, and, and I think, I think I spoke to ARC once and I spoke to someone else that had had a, a child with anencephaly once as well. I think [husband] and I, we used each other a lot, I mean we're both psychiatric nurses. He's not afraid to talk about his emotions. And we also, the chaplain came and visited us two or three times. And I think the funeral as well was very cathartic. That, that was quite important to us even though it was just the two of us there. It was... just very helpful in the, in the healing process. It doesn't mean that by the time the funeral has come and gone you're better but, so I mean I, we didn't get stuck into counselling but we did use the support we had around us, but perhaps not as much as, you know, we're all different.
 

As well as other forms of counselling and support, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also be helpful, for more information on counselling and CBT see our mental wellbeing resources.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated June 2014.

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