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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Deciding whether to have another baby

For many parents who have ended a pregnancy for fetal abnormality, deciding whether or not to have another baby may not be easy or straightforward. Some couples will know from genetic counselling that they carry a risk of having another baby with a fetal abnormality and yet still want to go ahead, whereas others who have been told they have very little to worry about may be reluctant to try again. 

 

Describes how difficult it was to decide whether to have another baby because she felt so worried...

Describes how difficult it was to decide whether to have another baby because she felt so worried...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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The decision to have another baby after losing one, was very, very difficult. And even when we were losing our baby we, I was already asking questions, 'Will this happen again? Is this going to be, you know can I have more children or will I be running the risk of,' so even before we'd had the termination already asking the questions. 

And pregnancy is a worrying time anyway, you worry all the way through 'is everything going to be alright'? After you've had an experience like that, its [laughs] even more worrying. And its probably the worst thing you can do is worry because the last thing you want is blood pressure but you can't help it. 

But they told me that if I was going to have more children they'd give me early scans to check that everything was all right before I got to the 20 weeks, its up to week 16 (see 'Information 'section) I think you can have a termination without having to go through labour, which is obviously distressing to go through labour and actually give birth - or rather more than having an operation. But they promised me that they would do early scans before I got to that point. 
 
 

She got pregnant again quite quickly but felt emotional all the way through because she was still...

She got pregnant again quite quickly but felt emotional all the way through because she was still...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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When we went to the counsellor down in the specialist hospital, and we found out that our chances of having another child with this condition were fairly small, we decided that we would like to [have another baby]. Because when you lose a baby it's kind of also losing your hopes for the future. And we had very strong views about, that we would really like to have another baby. 

And I felt it was something that I wanted to do very soon. And we were very lucky and I fell pregnant very quickly, but also knowing that I was during that year grieving for the loss of my second baby. I was scared to enjoy having this pregnancy though. And because of [the baby's] condition we went for a scan very early on at 15 weeks and they were able at that point to tell us whether this baby's heart was okay. 

And of course it was a highly emotional time, because it brings back all the fears, all the worries, just going to the same place, same room, same person scanning, all the emotions. It was a very, very emotional time. 

Again the cardiologist said that, you know, he wouldn't be talking much and to lay still. And I can remember at that point I had my locket with [the baby's] picture in it and just holding on, and, and just kind of looking at the ceiling and just hoping and praying that everything would be okay. And I can, can remember him saying, 'Oh, yes, everything looks fine'. And I think I just stood up and dissolved in floods of tears and the poor man was thinking, 'Well, I've given her good news this time'. 

So we went away knowing that this baby's heart was okay which was a big relief. But we were still very scared - we had other tests to go through - we still had to go back to see the cardiologist at 24 weeks for a more detailed scan. Everything was coming back fine, but you're just on tenterhooks until the day we'd got that little baby in our arms. 

And it was great, once she'd got here, but you also felt a bit cheated that you weren't allowed, or you didn't allow yourself to enjoy that pregnancy, because it was very, an emotional time from grieving for our baby, but also the worries of this baby being okay and kind of not believing it until you see it. 

Some women were determined to have another baby, whether or not they faced a greater risk than usual of having a baby with problems. Several described feeling 'consumed' by wanting another baby, and said they knew instinctively that they needed to have another child. Some felt at the time that being pregnant again would make them feel better about the baby they had lost, even though they knew that one baby could never really 'replace' another. Although several women said that once they were pregnant again they felt sure that the baby would be fine and had enjoyed the pregnancy.

 

She was determined to have more children and was very pleased when she became pregnant.

She was determined to have more children and was very pleased when she became pregnant.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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So you know, I got the machine rolling, because you know - I will get pregnant - it was like a military campaign in the household to get pregnant. I bought these pee-on, pee-on sticks, ovulation sticks, it was like, 'I'm not going to miss D-Day, it's going to happen this month'. And my husband's saying, 'Just calm down, calm down. It might not happen.' And I'd actually read in this book that a lot of people, or some people, not uncommonly, get a kind of sub-fertility because their anxiety levels and everything are so great that they get quite, fixated about it. 

So anyway, the campaign commenced and I got pregnant that month which was great. And I'd been taking my high dose of folic acid which gave me a risk rating of 1 in 100 for another baby with neural tube defect, which was what we thought at this stage the baby had had. And I just was, you know, my cup was half full, it was 99 chances out of 100 that the baby would be fine and I didn't really believe anything other than it would be fine. 

 

She felt she needed another baby to fill the void in her life left by the baby she had lost but...

She felt she needed another baby to fill the void in her life left by the baby she had lost but...

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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So just backtracking, to me basically, completely going to pieces, it was basically around the fact that the only way I could see myself really moving forward with the grieving was to get pregnant again. And I know some people say, 'Oh, you know, you can't replace a child,' I wasn't replacing it, but I needed to fill that void that I'd got. You know I knew I wanted two children. Always had and, you know, what had happened wasn't going to change that longing to have two children. And then to sort of find out that your husband sort of doesn't know whether he wants to go that way was, was absolute sort of shock. 

 

Describes how happy she was about her next pregnancy and how it went well from the start.

Describes how happy she was about her next pregnancy and how it went well from the start.

Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
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I knew this was my last chance, I was 40 years old, this was my very last chance. No, I was 41 actually just turned 41 when I found out I was pregnant, and I just didn't want to risk this baby in any way and the earliest results they could give us was if they did a CVS and I felt the risks were too high. 

So we went for nuchal folds and that was absolutely fine. And I felt really confident, but as well, I knew in my mind that this baby was fine, it was totally different experience. I instinctively knew she was alright. I felt well - still sick - but I felt different, and it was just amazing, it was just an amazing feeling really. And I just felt very confident. 

So after the nuchal fold scan, had the usual scans, and then we went back at about 20 weeks I think. And we, first of all we were with a cardiologist for absolutely ages, and the heart was absolutely fine. Then they did an anomaly scan and at that stage we took my older daughter with us, because we'd told her by then we felt happy that there was no problem. And she was very excited, and they told us the sex of the baby so it was a little girl, which was wonderful, because, I don't know whether it was a replacement feeling or what but we just wanted another girl. 

And everything looked absolutely super and they did all the spine was lovely. The only thing that was a problem was that her kidneys and the, her renal pelvises were enlarged but I wasn't too concerned about that because my elder daughter had the same on her scans. 

But the thing that really shocked me was they actually reduced my odds for another Down's syndrome baby by doing that, they took that in to the equation, so the odds came down to something like 1 in 135 - but I still felt really confident. And my consultant offered me another amnio just to make sure, but I decided not to go ahead with that, and everything' I didn't feel I needed it, there was no point, everything felt different, everything felt right. 

Other women felt they needed time to get over the termination before deciding whether they could cope with another pregnancy - several disagreed with the widely held assumption that having another baby as soon as possible was the best way to 'get over' their loss. Some people had found the termination so upsetting that they simply didn't want to go through pregnancy again. Others had wanted another baby but had found, for whatever reason, that they couldn't.  Several women said they had struggled to accept that they would probably never have another child. 

 

Neither of them feel ready to have another baby because they haven't yet come to terms with the...

Neither of them feel ready to have another baby because they haven't yet come to terms with the...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Male
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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. 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.
 
 

He doesn't feel strong enough to go through another set of IVF and another pregnancy and is...

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He doesn't feel strong enough to go through another set of IVF and another pregnancy and is...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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No the experience we've been through has affected me as regards, do I want any more children a lot more than it's affected my wife, because I know for a fact that she would love to have another baby. And I'm still not a hundred percent sure that I'm strong enough to go through either another set of IVF and all that's involved in that, or another pregnancy, not knowing whether or not that's going to turn out alright. 

I don't think or I couldn't go through another termination - that's how I feel at the moment. So there's a big part of me at the moment that's says, 'we've got our little boy, we never thought we were going to him in the first place so, let's be thankful for that'. But [laughs] he's so good with other kids, it's almost, you know, if we, if that's the decision we make are we depriving him of a little brother or sister that he would love to bits? Depriving him of a playmate, I don't know, I don't know.

There's a bit question mark there.

There is a big question there. Because if I knew that [my wife] could get pregnant tomorrow, and that we would go through the pregnancy with no problems whatsoever then I'd say, 'Yes.'
 

Explains that she hasn't been able to conceive again and that she feels blessed to have one child.

Explains that she hasn't been able to conceive again and that she feels blessed to have one child.

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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I'm sure I'd feel a hell of a lot worse if I didn't have one, but I haven't been able to conceive again after, since then, but in a way that's inevitable I think so that was already there as a possibility I guess, and we're certainly not trying any more, so. that's fine. But you're right to have one child is a complete blessing, I mean it's fantastic. If I didn't have her I think it would mean something much, much worse, I'm not sure, I don't know. 

But it does make me realise how blessed I am to have one child. Kind of, yeah I mean going through the processes is, it isn't all appalling, there is, there are parts of it which, because it changes you, it actually develops your awareness of. I'd say more meaning in terms of what it is to have a child and how grateful you can be for the one that you have got.

Several women who had been through two or more terminations for fetal abnormality said they were still considering trying to have another baby though they realised that others, including their partners, couldn't understand their persistence. 

 

Having ended two pregnancies because of neural tube defects she is pregnant again and explains...

Having ended two pregnancies because of neural tube defects she is pregnant again and explains...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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But I'm now 5 months pregnant. So I didn't learn my lesson after all. But I did this time I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to go through it, because I was very very aware of what my risks were. They'd also told me that because I'd had two, you know, incidents of a baby being diagnosed with a problem, that they couldn't say, they couldn't say for sure whether or not there was a link between the two. Because they were both to do with the neural tube defects, they thought there was, there might be a chance that they were linked. So they thought in the worst-case scenario I had a 1 in 20 chance of this happening again, which I think is quite high, a 1 in 20. 

And, but I, so it took me a long time to decide whether or not I did want to do this again. My husband was initially completely against it. He was so, you know, he was so traumatised by what I'd been through, especially having my own health having been at risk as well. So he was not at all keen. But he thought, 'Let's just stop here'. And he was probably very sensible. 

But it took me a long time. I couldn't accept that. I thought, 'I have to...' - and I don't really know whether I wanted another baby, because I sort of felt like I'd had one healthy baby, then one termination, then one healthy baby, then one termination, and I thought I didn't want to end my pregnancy years on a negative. 

That sounds extremely selfish and, but, I don't know, and I couldn't accept that I would never ever have another baby. I thought, 'If I have another baby and I can do it right this time maybe that will help me'. I don't know what I thought. I mean, anyway, I had, I did, we did decide to go ahead with it. And I've now had quite a few scans, I've been monitored very carefully and so far so, everything seems to be progressing normally. And I did take my 5 milligrams of folic acid this time round, a long time before. 

I mean all I can say is that in this pregnancy I have been very very anxious, especially in the first few months. And just going for the scans I think I've, I've been, I haven't been as scared. I think this is the worst I've been, I think. I was literally trembling when I went inside. Every scan I've been to I've just, I can't talk, I can't move, I can't, you know, I just, I'm in shock. Until he says everything's all right I'm like a mess, a right mess. And I d-, I think, I don't know if, that's normal I suppose. 

I hate going for scans, I think they're you know... I know I've put myself through this as a choice, I knew it was going to be like this. But then you never really realise what it's going to be like until you go through it again.

Most women who had gone ahead with another pregnancy had felt anxious about the baby until s/he was born. Some said they had dreaded each scan and test, and several declined the amnio or CVS because they didn't want to risk losing the next baby, but others wanted every test possible.

Many women valued seeing the same health professionals throughout the pregnancy and appreciated their support, however despite this extra care, several women still felt extremely anxious. Several women realised with hindsight that they hadn't enjoyed subsequent pregnancies as much as they felt they would have liked. One woman said she hadn't got as attached to the baby during her next pregnancy because she worried that something would go wrong. 

 

Describes how she was pessimistic throughout her subsequent pregnancy but that after her son was...

Describes how she was pessimistic throughout her subsequent pregnancy but that after her son was...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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So we started trying again and it, we didn't take long but I think it was about 4 or 5 months and that was difficult because every time your period starts, you know, it's those feelings of failure and disappointment and sadness all come flooding back. And once you've made that decision that, right, I'm ready to be pregnant, it's, I want to be pregnant now please. 

So for a few months it was difficult and then I found out I was pregnant and it was alright but I was very pessimistic and paranoid for 40 weeks, which isn't very nice for 40 weeks to feel like that when you should be happy and 'isn't it wonderful', and people asking about names and things like that, and I just couldn't have that conversation. It was, until this baby's in my arms, in fact, until this baby is in the house, away from the hospital, I can't think about me actually having the baby. 

So it was a very long pregnancy, very - how to say it - a very pessimistic pregnancy. And then [the baby] was born. His delivery was okay but at, he got very distressed in the delivery and at one point his heart rate plummeted and the midwife had to get the doctor. 

And I mean, this is just looking back, I just thought it was awful because I laid there thinking, 'This is it, this is where the baby's going to die'. You know, just lying there waiting for it to happen, almost like resigned to the fact that, 'This is it'. 

And then when he was finally born he was very distressed and the paediatric team took him straight away and I could see sort of metal glints and oxygen tubes and suction, and I lay there waiting for them to turn round and say, 'I'm so sorry.' 

So when they turned round and went, 'Here's your baby,' it was like oh reality. Suddenly I can relax and he's alright and it was quite a shock. But I was quite surprised at how resigned I was to the fact I was going to lose this baby as well. 

And then he, I mean, he was born and he was fine. He was born in the evening, quite late in the evening, about 9 o'clock, and then the next morning I was, I want to get out, please, because I just wanted to take him home and just put him in the car and drive away and, which we did and, drive away, looking back thinking I'm never going in that hospital again. That's it.  

And then when, when he came along it was like a ton of bricks off my shoulders. Suddenly I realised I'd been carrying [that] round for 2 years, and then suddenly I'd not got it. 

When another baby is born

Most women described how happy and relieved they felt once they had given birth and were holding a healthy baby in their arms. But for some women the strain of the pregnancy was such that they had decided not to go through pregnancy again. 

Everyone who had been able to have another baby since the termination said the baby had brought them great happiness and how lucky they felt to have another baby. However several other women said that having a new baby had renewed their feelings of sadness about the baby who died. 

 

She found herself getting depressed after her second baby was born at a time when she should have...

She found herself getting depressed after her second baby was born at a time when she should have...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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So after I had my second baby in, I got depressed. And I think I found it really hard to accept that, because the midwife had told me or the health visitor, I can't remember, she told me, she spotted it, and she sort of said, 'Well, you know, it looks like you're getting depressed again'. I was convinced I wasn't. I thought I didn't want to because it was almost like, you know, 'How could I be depressed? I've just had a healthy baby'. I had no reason to be. But, and then I realised, I mean I couldn't help it, I was just, I was really really happy, it was a very strange thing, but at the same time I just, I felt so unhappy at the same time and, and also very worried. And I just, I don't know, I, and the worse thing was for me, well, I don't know if it's worse, but the actual, the sec-, that baby, that second baby I had looked so much like [the baby who died] I just, I think that really didn't help either. And it, I sort of, you know, I thought, I don't know, I just felt, I, not that I didn't love him or anything like that, but I just, he that baby could not replace [the baby who died], nothing could. And I didn't want, and everyone seems to think, 'Well, if you've had another one, surely you're fine by now, you're better' -but it wasn't as simple as that. 

 

Describes how difficult she found her second pregnancy and that her new baby often makes her...

Describes how difficult she found her second pregnancy and that her new baby often makes her...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I was very, with the second pregnancy, I was sort of worried all the way through. And obviously all the health care professionals were monitoring me a lot more closely, I had more appointments. It didn't help that at 7 weeks pregnant that I had my appendix taken out either [laughs]. But we certainly had a lot more scans and more regular contact with the midwife.  

I was worried that when the time came for actually going into hospital to have the second baby, I was quite sure that I needed a private room because I thought I was going to be very upset reflecting back on the first pregnancy. As it happens, things didn't really turn out as they should, and the second baby arrived 6 weeks earlier than she should have done. So it was all a bit of a whirlwind and the concentration was fully focused on her to make sure that she was fit and healthy, ready for, whenever the time was ready for her to come home. 

Sometimes when she cries, this is more when she was first born, I used to sort of think and, and look, 'What would, you know, the first baby have been like?' And that bit could be hard sometimes, to think back what the first baby would have been like. Was this baby a carbon copy of her, or you know, how different would they have been as sisters and things like that really.

And... the whole experience the second time round, it was probably in a way as traumatic in places as the first, [dog barking] because we were having extra scans and it was bringing back all the memories of the first time round.  I couldn't remain relaxed throughout this pregnancy until probably about three-quarters of the way through, because we then, we did actually, the consultant I had this time round was very very cautious, maybe overcautious at, sometimes. And we did have to go back to the specialist hospital for about a one-minute appointment, for them to say there, 'We don't really understand why you're here. There's no problems'. 

But, you know, it wasn't until that point, when they'd given the reassurance there that things were going to be okay this time around. And it doesn't make, you know, it doesn't make the pain any easier of losing the first baby, and, but the pain doesn't go away, But with time it just falls back to the nice memories, and you just have to think of what the baby looked like, just a tiny, tiny baby - perfect. 

Having another baby and its impact on marriage/partnerships

Some people said that the experience of ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality had strengthened their relationship, but others felt that the experience had put an emotional distance between them for a time. Several people described how they had felt differently from their partners about having more children. 

Generally women said they felt more strongly about wanting to have another baby than their partners, and they realised that men 'went along' with what they wanted. Some women felt they had put their husbands under strain by trying to have another baby before they themselves were really ready mentally or physically. 

 

Looking back she realises that she put her husband under strain because she was so determined to...

Looking back she realises that she put her husband under strain because she was so determined to...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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He was putting on a brave face for me. 

And I was desperate to get pregnant again and that was the most important thing to me. And month after month I didn't. And I think that was a strain on my husband as well, worrying that physically I wasn't back to normal, mentally I wasn't, and I wanted a baby and it wasn't happening. So I think my husband was just, I think he felt bad himself but his main concern was me, again he just was worried about me. 

And we spoke about things and it brought us closer together, definitely. And it made us appreciate things more. And it made me a lot more sympathetic towards other people and made me realise that things aren't always straightforward. And you just, I just think it did, we did realise how lucky we were in a lot of ways. And now it makes us realise how lucky we are that we've got our son. 
 

Most men were concerned about the effect on their partners of ending another pregnancy if the baby had the same or similar problems. One man said that he hadn't wanted his wife to go through the same thing all over again; someone else had had a vasectomy to make sure his partner didn't get pregnant accidentally. One man mentioned that having sex again after the termination had been difficult for a time because he felt the baby's problems reflected on him as a man. 

 

Describes how his physical relationship with his wife was affected by worrying about the risk of...

Describes how his physical relationship with his wife was affected by worrying about the risk of...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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Yeah, I, yeah. I mean the other thing I think I'd like to say is when my wife fell pregnant again. After the termination maybe about 3, 4 months, we got called in to see the geneticist and they thought you know we'd got all the information back, and maybe have some idea what went wrong, and would that affect another pregnancy because she's dead scared to go to get pregnant again. So I mean there's all these other things, knock-on effects like your sex life's different because it's, oh my God you know is it, is she going to get pregnant, is it, do you know I mean, and what would happen then? And there's all these sort of emotional loading you get you know, to have a physical life after that. A lot of people split up because of it, you know a lot of people do so I mean the only, it's [laughs] the only thing I'd say is to be as open and honest as you can, because it is a terrible strain emotionally - physically it causes a lot of problems. You have to communicate it's important to do that. 

I mean nobody's a perfectionist, but I think in, there is that error you know there, and there is always that thing that, you know, if your wife becomes pregnant is it going to end up in this sort of way again? Are you going to put yourself through this sort of thing? So if in doubt you don't end up being, I suppose, turned on or whatever, because there's always, there's that block, there's that, there's that psychological barrier that you have to, at some stage, you have to overcome, you know. 

And I think the only way you can do that is by talking to your partner, that is the only thing is, because you know, if she doesn't know what your feeling, she's going to feel rejected, and she needs that physical - not particularly sex - but she needs that physical, yeah, contact. Unless you go through it you won't know, you won't know that but, you know, yeah, communication is'

It's communication and trust then isn't it?

Yeah. If you do go through it does make you stronger, it does, it does. I mean we ended up having counselling for a while after that you know with Relate, because of a lot of other things you know - we had stress of moving and other things in your life you know that you don't need - and that actually ended with my wife being pregnant again [laughs]. So it does work, it's not, it's not all over and you know, and we've got a lovely family now, so things, things do, I think things do get better.

Many people said that being able to get pregnant, having children and having the family they had always wanted had become even more important to them since the termination. Several women said they now thought of pregnancy as 'a miracle' and thought that no one should take pregnancy or having a healthy baby for granted. 

 

She looks back on all the things that have happened to her and feels that she is more...

She looks back on all the things that have happened to her and feels that she is more...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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He was, you know, it was just wonderful to have him and he's just brilliant. And both of them, I mean, my daughter will always be special because she was around when it was happening and she kind of reminded me that, yes I can do it, I can have a normal baby. And she kind of pulled me through the bad times. And then I've got [the baby] who's just so special because he, you know, plus, you know, if we hadn't have gone through that we wouldn't have him. 

It's that kind of, when you look back and reflect on it, you know, for whatever reason I just sort of think, you know I had to go through that experience, and it's made us better, it's made us appreciate life more. It made us appreciate our children completely, you know, and never take for granted what we've got and how wonderful they are.  

And, you know, if we hadn't have got through that we wouldn't have him, you know, we wouldn't have 4 years gap between our children and all the implications that has. It's just, you know, you look back and you think, well that, obviously, was just the way it was meant to be. 

Last reviewed July 2017.
 

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