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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Leaving hospital and going home

Leaving hospital and going home after ending a pregnancy is the time when parents try to resume their normal lives and begin to take stock of what has happened. 

Everyone wanted to be at home again to be with their families and to have time to grieve for the baby. But many women described how torn they felt between wanting to get home and feeling a strong urge to remain physically close to the baby - several explained how difficult they found it to walk away from the hospital without the baby and how it went against all their instincts. 

 

Describes how she found it very difficult to leave the hospital.

Describes how she found it very difficult to leave the hospital.

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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Well I spent the night in hospital after having the termination. Actually I had quite a good, good rest, having been through all the, the trauma of the decision-making and giving birth and losing the baby all in. And when we got up in the morning I wanted to see her again, I wanted to say goodbye to her. So we, the nurses very kindly brought her in for us, and we had a cuddle and said goodbye. 

One of the in, enduring memories I have was leaving the hospital, it went against every ounce of instinct in my body to leave my baby in a fridge in a the hospital. I just so desperately, desperately wanted to take her home with me dead or alive, I just wanted to keep her warm and look after her and... its one of those sort of almost out-of-body experiences, walking away from the hospital to the car. I can remember every move, every movement, every muscle I was aware of all of the bits of my body, and it was like trying to walk with lead, pulling myself away from the hospital. 

I just wanted to run back and get her. It was a really intense experience leaving, having said goodbye, to actually do that, walking away. 
 
 

Says that she felt relieved that the termination was over and that she and her husband could get...

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Says that she felt relieved that the termination was over and that she and her husband could get...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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And that happened and I came back. And my husband was given like a camp bed so he could stay in the room. And I don't think I could have managed it if he hadn't been there. I don't know how I would have coped. And it's not something you kind of expect that they'll say you can get a camp bed and your husband can stay with you in hospital. But at the time I didn't think much of it. But when I'd got back from the theatre and he was there, and all night I just kept saying, 'I love you and I'm glad you're here'. And it was just, I just needed him to be there. But I felt, I don't know, in a way I felt great. I felt, 'right, it's done now, it's over with. Tomorrow we can go home and get on with our lives.' 

And the next morning I got up and had a shower, my husband was still asleep, had a shower and got kind of freshened up. And I phoned my dad and I phoned my mother-in-law and I was like, 'Look, everything's fine. It's, you know, it's all done'. And my husband had phoned them that evening but I felt like they might want to know that I was okay. And it was, 'Everything's okay and we're coming home soon. And, oh, I'm glad it's over with'.

Though no one we spoke to had chosen to take the baby home with them, several women said that they had considered the possibility. (See 'Resources').

Several women who had ended the pregnancy surgically and who hadn't been able to see or hold the baby, said that they felt 'empty' and let down because emotionally they felt that they should have had a baby to take home. 

After the termination many women had stayed in hospital overnight and had appreciated being in a quiet and private room where they were able to rest and keep the baby with them through the night. Several women said that they had been asked if they wanted to write something about the baby in a memory book kept at the hospital and had been glad to do so.

Some women said that staying any longer than necessary in hospital, particularly when they could hear newborn babies crying in rooms nearby, had been difficult and unsettling. One woman described how she had felt the need to hold a baby, and how grateful she was to another woman who let her hold one of her newborn twins for a time.

 

Explains that some hours after the termination she heard newborn babies crying and that she felt...

Explains that some hours after the termination she heard newborn babies crying and that she felt...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
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That night was very difficult because there were live babies on the ward and I could hear them crying and the nursing staff were lovely they were very sweet, they came in from time to time and visited me, I wasn't very good company. And one of them said, I mentioned something about one of the baby's crying and she said there was a lady who'd just had twins and they were very unsettled. 

And I had said to her that one of the things that was so difficult was that when you have a labour and you give birth to a baby you have an overwhelming physical feeling of needing to hold the baby and I think that was very much my physiology taking over. And I actually needed to hold a baby. And she was, I told this nurse and she went next door to the lady who'd had twins and asked if I could borrow her baby for a little while [smiles] and she said the babies were awake anyway and that she had explained to this lady the situation I was in. And the lady had said that was fine, I could cuddle her baby which, I've never met that lady but I so appreciated. 

Several women talked about how they felt their partners had wanted to get away from the hospital as quickly as possible and that they were grateful to them for being patient and understanding. Several men we talked to recognised that their partners had found it very difficult to leave the baby behind. 

 

Describes how she hadn't wanted to leave the hospital because she knew she wouldn't see her baby...

Describes how she hadn't wanted to leave the hospital because she knew she wouldn't see her baby...

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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That was probably the hardest part. And that, we, I would say we were, we were told we could told about 10 in the morning, and it probably took us 2 hours, or me, 2 hours to say, 'Right, I'm ready to go now.' As soon as, we'd get ready, 'No, I can't go, I need to have just a bit more time.' 

And it was, it was sort of, it was very difficult to leave her because I knew that was it then; that I wouldn't see her again. She was, she was going off to the regional hospital where she'd first been diagnosed, for the post-mortem, and we were told that it would take some weeks, so I knew that there was no way of seeing her when she'd come back. Being so tiny to start with, they'd explained to us that it wouldn't nice to see her when she got back. 

So it was kind of, 'Right, we'll go... just 5 more minutes... just another 5 minutes.' And that's how it went on as I say, for about 2 hours. And actually walking out of the hospital was probably, was horrible. It was like I'd, it, well I had, I'd left part of me behind and, and it was very difficult. It was, we got about half way out the sort of hospital doors and I said, 'I need to go back,' and he said, 'no, we're not going back now, we've done it.' And, and I'm glad he did because I think I would have been backwards and forwards all day because I think, you know, he knew that he needed to tell me that, 'No, we're not going back now, we're going home now,' or you know 'We're going to go and get the photos' or, and that did me a favour, I needed that sort of gentle shove in the right direction, to say, 'No, come on, it's time to go.'

Being at home

The time between leaving hospital and the baby's funeral was described as 'strange', 'unreal' and 'surreal' by many people. Some said that they had experienced several different emotions at the same time - relief that the experience was over, sadness for the loss of the baby and the pregnancy, resentment that they didn't have a baby and anxiety about the funeral/post mortem and whether or not they should have another baby. Several people with other children waiting for them at  home said it had been difficult hiding their emotions.

 

Describes going to fetch his other child the day after the termination and how he realised that...

Describes going to fetch his other child the day after the termination and how he realised that...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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We stayed overnight in hospital, you know, lovely bed with nice rubber sheets, so we didn't get much of a sleep anyway on a nice hot night like it was. We stayed overnight, our little boy was with my wife's parents, and the following day once we'd signed whatever needed to be signed, and given permission for the post mortem and it had been explained to us that if we wanted a funeral we could, and where the crematorium or the cemetery that the hospital used was... this one and we could go and have a look at it or whatever. 

So we came home, we went round to my in-laws to pick our little boy up. Which was... I was emotional enough as it was, I mean just to walk in and just try not to be upset because he would wonder why we were upset, but kids aren't stupid are they? He knew something was up, even at the age he was so.  

Yeah, and then just sort of try and get on with life. But [sighs] it's very difficult to, knowing that there wasn't a baby inside my wife anymore, and her tummy wasn't big anymore, she couldn't feel the baby moving anymore, there wasn't going to be a happy ending in another, another 18 weeks or whatever.  

And then you know you try and get on with normal life, and come into contact with people who, who know or knew that she'd been pregnant the last time they saw her, and now she's not pregnant, and it's answering all the questions that might come up then. 

So I think I phoned a few of our closest friends just to let them know what had gone on. Just to let them know that we'd lost the baby. And I think the grapevine starts working a little bit, and people start to hear that's what happened. And from a personal point of view, what I didn't want to happen was for the house to become full of flowers. So everyone I was speaking to I was saying, 'If you want to, by all means send a card if you, if that's what you're going to do, but don't send flowers, don't'. 
 

She found dealing with her young daughter's questions when she got home was very difficult as...

She found dealing with her young daughter's questions when she got home was very difficult as...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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And finally we went and we came home. And, [swallows] and my mother was there and my daughter and my daughter came running up and she said... [sighs] and she started touching my stomach and asking, talking to the baby again. And so we straightaway took her upstairs and told her that the baby had died and that it had been born too soon and, it was just awful. I can't, I don't know, it was awful. 

And she's, I mean it was, it was good as well because she immediately said, 'Oh when can we have another one?' and you know all the sort of things that a little 3 or 4 year old would say. And, 'Well where is it?' and I thought well that's a really good question. And, 'Can I see it?' and you know, 'Where is it?' and I didn't feel up to explaining coffins I just, so we kind of, you know we, we tried to answer her questions but, anyway we told her straightaway. And I just thought 'oh if only we hadn't told her I was pregnant'. However, so she knows that she's got a dead brother or baby who didn't grow to be a baby properly. 

And, so we talk about that sometimes and that's actually, I'm quite happy that she knows that. And one day we'll explain about the decision we made. But it was just good to get home and at the same time I sort of was very aware that this baby was still in a fridge in the hospital which was pretty bad. And it was, unfortunately it was 18th of December so it was one week before Christmas, there were going to be no cremations at the end of December, they had put them at the end of January. So there was going to be a 6-week wait, plus I had Christmas to face and I was supposed to be going to [place] to see my... we were all going to [place] and it wasn't Christmas you know we hadn't bought any presents, we kind of just said 'We're not doing Christmas this year'.

But we decided we should still go to my parents for Christmas, partly because of my daughter and just you know can't just completely blank everything out. But it was the wrong decision it was just awful, absolutely appalling. 

Parents talked about the help and support they received from friends and family who listened to them, helped with other children, cooked meals, did their shopping and answered the phone. However some parents found that bumping into friends, neighbours and colleagues who didn't really know what had happened could be very awkward and that generally people were embarrassed because they didn't know what to say or how they should respond to news of the baby's death. 

 

Explains how difficult she had found it when an acquaintance approached her in an insensitive way...

Explains how difficult she had found it when an acquaintance approached her in an insensitive way...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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I think one that just springs to mind was coming out of hospital and a neighbour ringing up and said, 'You had a...' - this was after the termination - 'Oh, you had a car seat for that baby, didn't you? I know somebody who needs one. Could they have it?' And this was about, I don't know, the day after I came out of hospital. And I swallowed hard and just said, 'I don't think so' [laughs]. And she had no idea, I do know she had no idea that it was an insensitive comment, just no idea, just wasn't thinking. And I thought, 'Oh well, that's her problem,' and I thought, 'Why should I make it worse for her?' 
 

Describes how he responds when people ask him questions about his family.

Describes how he responds when people ask him questions about his family.

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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I'm sure sometimes other people are more uncomfortable than me. The classic is, you meet someone for the first time through work, through whatever, and they see you've got a little boy, 'Are you planning anymore?'. And it's a question that, that you ask, we don't, we as a couple now don't ever ask that question. If people want to tell us that they might be planning more or, or not, or whatever then we'll let them tell us but we don't ever ask because you don't know the situation or. 

What do you say if they ask you that?

When they ask if we're having any more? I'm like, my initial reaction is normally, 'That's a difficult one'. To which they'll ask, 'Why?'. And I say, 'Well we lost a baby, x months ago'. And the usual response to that is, 'Oh well you never know what might happen'. To which I say, 'Well [laughs] it's not as simple as that because our little boy is an IVF baby, and yeah, it's not as simple as that'. Which normally shuts people up [laughs].

No, I mean when people, people then will, will apologise and they'll say, 'Oh sorry'. 'Well what are you saying sorry for? Because you didn't know'.  

In the days after the termination most women experienced the physical after-effects of childbirth such as bleeding and lactation. Several women, including some who had had a surgical termination, experienced bleeding. Though bleeding generally stopped within a week or two, several women whose bleeding got worse returned to hospital for further treatment. Several women who had not experienced childbirth before, said they had been unprepared for bleeding. 

 

She felt unprepared for the amount of bleeding she experienced after leaving hospital and says it...

She felt unprepared for the amount of bleeding she experienced after leaving hospital and says it...

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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And they took her away again. And we just kind of left there and they brought us some food - it was morning by that time - and it was kind of you know, 'whenever you're ready, just time to go home'. And that was weird, because you didn't really know what to do with yourself. So I got up, I went and had a wash and got dressed and I dozed for a little bit, and then it was afternoon and we just kind of left. Now they brought us this book, where people had written things. And I think we wrote something, but I don't really remember. 

And then you just leave, and it's the strangest feeling in the world, because you don't want to go, because you know when you leave that it's over. It's like the weird things that go through your head, you just think that like, 'If I don't leave, maybe there's still a chance everything can be okay.' Stupidest thing - it's done, it's dusted - but it's just that sense that you just can't go. It's just you're not supposed to leave. But you do, you leave and you go home and...

And I went home with the maternity pads - and 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 - because you know you need them for about a week - and having to go through Tesco's down the baby aisle, because 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.
 

Although women who had ended the pregnancy by induction had been told to expect that their milk would come in and had been given medication to help, several said they had still experienced swollen breasts. 

 

Explains that it was difficult to leave the baby behind and then deal with the physical after...

Explains that it was difficult to leave the baby behind and then deal with the physical after...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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I think the hardest part was leaving [the baby] at the hospital, and not bringing her home. And then obviously with any pregnancy your body gets ready to feed the baby, so 3 days later your breasts are engorged and you've no baby to feed. So again that's quite an upsetting thing which you don't anticipate until you're in the hospital and the midwife is discharging you know saying you've got this to expect.  

And coming home without a baby - your arms have nothing to do - there's nothing to hold, and there's a big ache and a huge void that says 'well where's my baby to hold, you know'? 

For many women seeing a midwife at home as part of the hospital follow-up had been extremely helpful. However when information about the termination did not reach the community midwives or the GP in time to stop reminders being sent out about antenatal appointments, some parents felt let down by the system. 

 

Describes feeling angry to be asked why she hadn't attended an antenatal appointment after having...

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Describes feeling angry to be asked why she hadn't attended an antenatal appointment after having...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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I hooked into the support service at the hospital, I was very focused on the hospital, tremendously focused on the hospital - for me it was terribly important. I think that's because that's the only place that [baby] had ever been. And, and so I was focused on that, and the GP I wasn't interested in, because they didn't really help me throughout the pregnancy, or done terribly much to, you know, make me feel overly confident.  

The midwives, I received a letter after terminating, was it after we'd terminated... after we'd terminated the pregnancy, I was due to have an ante-natal check-up with the community midwives at the surgery. Of course there was no point in me attending because I was no longer pregnant, so I phoned them to notify them. And I think it was about half an hour before the appointment because I suddenly remembered, and I then got a letter two days later saying, “Why didn't you turn up for your appointment?” So I was so, you know, incensed by it, well my husband was, [that] we wrote to them. 

Being back at home and yet still waiting for post mortem results could be particularly difficult for parents because they couldn't have the funeral or say goodbye to the baby formally. (See 'Saying goodbye to the baby' and 'Deciding whether to have a post mortem'.) 
 

Last reviewed July 2017.

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