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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

The impact of the decision

The feelings and emotions people experienced after deciding to end the pregnancy varied from person to person, and could change over time. Several women felt relief once they had made the decision, others felt guilty and wanted to put the clock back to when the pregnancy seemed to be going well. Some said they hadn't felt guilty at the time they made the decision or since, because they were sure in their own minds that they had acted in the baby's best interests. 

Looking back on the decision most people said they were still extremely sad about the decision to end the pregnancy, and wished they had not had such a difficult choice to make. (See 'Coping with bereavement'.)

 

She still finds it hard to accept the decision she made to end her baby's life even though she...

She still finds it hard to accept the decision she made to end her baby's life even though she...

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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I think it was, what I, what I couldn't and, and to be perfectly honest, quite often now, still can't get to grips with, is the fact that we made the decision to end that life and that was that. 

You know, it was, it was a case of we had made that decision [coughs] to end that pregnancy, and in effect, we know that she wouldn't have survived but we chose to end her life. And that's the bit, I just, I still now struggle to, to deal with. It's very, very, it's a very, again, double-edged sword. You know you did it for all the right reasons but you just, you just can't, sometimes you just can't accept that you did it. 

It's almost sometimes like I'm watching a video of somebody else, it's happened to somebody else, it hasn't happened to me. Very, very strange, sometimes very strange feelings. 
 
 

Feels sad that she found herself in a position of having to make such a difficult decision but...

Feels sad that she found herself in a position of having to make such a difficult decision but...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Yeah, I think it's for me, if I did this 100 times, this decision again I wouldn't change my decision. I don't have, knowing what I now know about the condition that the babies had and etc, etc, I don't have any dissonance about ending a pregnancy. I have a great sadness that I needed to face that decision and go through what we went through, but I never for a moment think either of the babies should have been born and been allowed to wither or survive for moments or days or whatever. 

What I, I think I feel uncomfortable with is people not understanding it fully enough, and drawing their own conclusions about why we did it. And perhaps them in some how viewing it as, you know, the kind of designer baby stuff, you know, that them viewing that in somehow this baby was mildly imperfect and that we ended it's life. Because in a sentence you can't get across, you know, why we did it and why we believe it was the right thing for us to do. 

And so I think that's why I sometimes feel uncomfortable about saying 'termination' because I know they won't really understand, you know, the difficult decision we took when we made that, you know, albeit quick decision, you know, the difficulty and how ill the babies were and all that kind of stuff. 

Most women said they had a tough time between making the decision and actually ending the pregnancy - one woman had been given 3 weeks to make up her mind and said it was like 'being in a black hole'. Women talked about finding it difficult to get to sleep at night and some had nightmares. Most women found they kept thinking about the decision and what it meant and felt tremendous conflict - much of which they kept to themselves. 

 

She felt guilty for making the decision and struggled with her conscience about it.

She felt guilty for making the decision and struggled with her conscience about it.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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Then by this time we were, we were talking to the midwife and she was sort of - we were ringing her - and whatever. And by this time I'd made the decision that I was going to terminate the pregnancy, which was the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life. It was, it was torment, pure torment. 

It wasn't, it wasn't easy, it wasn't straightforward. It was... my emotions were just all over the place. I was, you know, the little gremlins in the back of your head saying, 'You can't do this, you can't do this'. And then there was another one saying, 'It's the best thing'. And everything, my head was just about to explode. 
 

Some women experienced conflicting feelings about the baby.  Some said they felt they just wanted everything 'concluded' as quickly as possible, and then found they felt extremely maternal. Several women pointed out how awful it was having to make a decision at the time when they could feel the baby kicking. A few women said how sad it was to be grieving for a baby that was still alive inside them.

 

Her feelings about the baby changed radically and she felt very sad whenever she felt him kicking.

Her feelings about the baby changed radically and she felt very sad whenever she felt him kicking.

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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And that was just, I think my whole world had fallen apart and I was being told the most horrible news I could ever have, and then it was being worsened by her saying, 'Oh, and you've got to actually give birth to this baby.' And I think at that moment I felt that I had something horrible inside me and I just felt I wanted it out. And I just wanted them to say, 'We'll take you now and we'll put you to sleep and when you wake up it will be gone'. I just felt, 'Oh, get it out of me'. And I know it sounds awful, but that's how I felt. This baby we had wasn't the baby I wanted. It was a baby which wasn't going to live, and I just felt that there was something what I didn't want inside there. 

 But luckily the, that feeling only lasted a few hours. And when I got home and then, I think they gave us a picture, no, they didn't give us a picture that time, but when I got home I sat there and I thought, 'Oh, this poor baby, it's got little, short legs and little arms and the heart's not working. And this baby's survived all this time when they said that it, really wouldn't have expected it to'. And I felt really sorry for the baby then, and I think those feelings of, 'Oh, I just want to get it out of me' I felt a lot better to think, 'Oh, that poor baby'. 

And the worst thing as well was that a few days before this had happened the baby had started kicking. And that night after we'd been for the scan the baby was kicking more and more. And I just felt, 'Oh, this poor baby' and I just felt really sad for the baby and really sorry for it that it was never going have a life. 

 

Says it was traumatic to find herself grieving for a child who was still alive.

Says it was traumatic to find herself grieving for a child who was still alive.

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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He was very similar, he broke down in tears. And, and I think we just kept talking and talking and stating sometimes the obvious or repeating, because we knew that we had to talk through all the information and make sure that we had, when we'd made our decision, that it, we were both sure on what we were doing. 

And he was very, obviously very worried and very supportive towards me as well. Because all this is carrying on, but you've still got your baby who's alive and kicking with you at the time. And it's at that point where it's very difficult because you're already starting to grieve when you, when you're coming to terms with knowing that you're going to end your pregnancy. And yet your baby's fighting kind of, well, because our baby's condition wouldn't deteriorate until we gave birth to her, it was like our baby was growing and was fit, although she wasn't. And you're, you have all that bonding, and you're having to grieve very early and yet you can still feel her kicking and being part of you. So it's a very traumatic time.

Some of those who had a strong faith said it had been difficult making the decision in the first place, but had also found it took them a long time (more than a year in most cases) to cope with guilt. (Also see 'Counselling and other kinds of support'.)

 

Her Catholic faith affected how she felt about her decision and it took more than a year for her...

Her Catholic faith affected how she felt about her decision and it took more than a year for her...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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Anyway so he obviously confirmed that there the baby wasn't going to be able to survive, if anything it wouldn't survive the birth, I mean it wouldn't survive the pregnancy, and most likely not survive the birth. So he sort of gave us our choices and one of them was to terminate the pregnancy, which for me was horrendous. I mean for me, I'm actually a Catholic so for me this was a very difficult decision to make, and it's obviously against my religion to do things like that, so I found that quite hard. 

And, and yes, so it, I think it must have taken about a year for me to completely, gone back to my normal self. I mean it still hurts when I think about it, but I've accepted it I think. And I think it's just one of the things that I didn't want, I found before the guilt was really getting me down, and just the fact, you know, I just hated the fact that I was put in that position to make such a decision, because I thought, 'That's so unfair' you know, 'How can, I, how can you decide to end your baby's life?' It's the worst decision anyone will have to make. But I came out of it all right on the other side.

One positive outcome for several women was that coping with the termination and its aftermath had helped to make them stronger emotionally. 

 

She finds she feels a stronger person in some ways than she was before she ended the pregnancy.

She finds she feels a stronger person in some ways than she was before she ended the pregnancy.

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I think it's changed me as a person by, in certain respects I think I've become stronger in a way. I will, I'll sort of fight to get answers, I won't let things slip away, I need, I need the information. 

And this, I think this, this time, with this pregnancy, I was much more forceful. Obviously with the first time round you're a bit unaware as to what goes on. But I think I made sure that things went my way and how I wanted them to go for my reassurance.
 

Last reviewed July 2017.

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