Medical termination of pregnancy
The sweetest news you can receive when you are trying to have a baby is ... your partner is pregnant!
The worst news you can get if you are already thinking you will become a parent is…. that you will not.
Pregnancy ultrasounds are meant to be joyful moments, an opportunity to meet your baby and watch them grow. A parents’ worst nightmare is finding out there is something wrong with their unborn baby.
Learning about a serious abnormality affecting your unborn baby almost always comes as a shock – one moment you are pregnant, and the next you are facing one of the most difficult decisions of your life. Feelings of shock, disbelief, confusion, intense distress, guilt, and self-blame are all common emotions.
Most parents are unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster that follows, many will struggle with the heart wrenching decision making process. This is only natural, as parents we always want what’s best for our children and families. We see ourselves as protectors, the ones responsible for keeping our babies safe.
You may be wondering how you will cope, how your decision will impact your family, and what you will tell others.
It’s important to give yourself time to absorb the news and fully comprehend the range of possible outcomes for your baby and how these may affect you and your family.
Whether you decide to continue with the pregnancy or terminate the pregnancy, your decision is valid. No one can make this choice for you. You must be guided by your own values and what is right for you and your family.
Red Nose provides non-judgemental and caring support through our professional counsellors as well as our peer supporters. Our peer supporters are parents, just like you, who have gone through a similar experience. Our counsellors and peer supporters will acknowledge and honour the close bond you have already formed with your baby, even at the early stage of pregnancy, and understand the intense grief you may be feeling. Their understanding and support can make a big difference.
The following information is designed to help you understand what happens next, and some important things to think about now and once you have made your decision.
Learning that your baby has a serious condition
If your baby has a condition that means they will die before or soon after birth, your doctor will provide information and options on continuing or ending your pregnancy.
Your obstetrician and genetic counsellor will explain the abnormality to you and help you to understand what it means and how it will affect your baby. Remember that you have a right to clear and unbiased information that is delivered compassionately and comprehensively, so you can make the decision that is right for you, your baby and your family. It is also okay to seek a second opinion if it will help.
In this time of distress, it is common to experience a range of emotions including shock, disbelief, confusion, sadness, stress, guilt or self-blame, and feelings of powerlessness.
It’s important to give yourself time to absorb the news and fully comprehend all of the possible scenarios for your baby and how these may affect you and your family in the short and longer term.
Keep in mind that you may find it hard to take in information. Having a close friend or family member attend appointments with you or writing your questions down can help.
Continuing your pregnancy
You may choose to continue your pregnancy and allow your baby to live his or her life, however long that may be. In this instance, early preparations can be made for the palliative care of your baby. Your doctor will be able to help you make this plan.
Palliative care plans are designed to ensure that your baby is comfortable and that their short life is as good as possible. This means providing special care for your baby while avoiding medical treatments that would not be helpful or separate your baby from you.
If you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies, and one of the babies becomes unwell, your doctor may have a conversation with you about continuing your pregnancy so the healthy baby has a better chance of survival.
Deciding to end your pregnancy
Some parents make the decision to end or terminate their pregnancy. Your doctor will be able to give you more information on the available options in your circumstances and explain the timeframe in which you need to make your decision.
Your doctor will also advise you on the medical procedures they propose to undertake. These will vary depending on how many weeks pregnant you are at the time.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. This will help you to feel comfortable and empowered as you make your decision.
Some common questions could include:
- Where will the procedure take place?
- Can my partner, family member or friend stay with me?
- Who will be looking after me?
- What will my baby feel?
- When will I be able to go home? Or will I be able to stay in the hospital if I want to?
- How will I feel afterwards?
- Is the procedure painful? If so, what pain relief can I have?
- Will I be able to see my baby afterwards?
- What happens next?
- Will I be able to get pregnant again in the future?
After your baby has died
After your baby has died, you may have only limited time to spend with your baby. That’s why we recommend, if this is something that you want, to spend time soon after your baby’s birth to create keepsakes and memories. These memories and keepsakes will stay with you forever and help you to remember your precious child.
Memory making can be undertaken whether you are able to see and hold your baby or not. Red Nose has special information for parents to help you make these memories and keepsakes.
Your grief following the termination of your pregnancy is real and valid. Don’t expect too much of yourself. You have a right to recover in your own way. For some parents this will happen quickly, for others it may take a long time.
It’s important to remember that grief is a normal healing process for which there is no set timeline. Before they experience grief, many people expect grief to be finished at some stage – but grief following the death of a precious baby never really ends, it just becomes easier to manage with time.
People also grieve differently, no way is better than the other – they’re just different. It’s important for partners to show understanding, patience and to communicate openly to prevent potential relationship problems and conflicts.
For parents who decide to end their pregnancy, their feelings may be complex. Some may initially feel a sense of relief that the experience is over. Some parents may feel selfish for their decision, with their love for their baby conflicting with the needs of the rest of the family. Sometimes one parent carries more guilt, sometimes others feel blamed for the decision. All of these reactions are normal.
People who are grieving find their feelings of loss and sadness come and go. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and the baby’s due date are commonly more difficult days, as parents remember their baby and think of the ‘what if’s’ of a little life never lived. Other stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, work or financial pressure can also bring up grief emotions.
Red Nose can help you navigate your journey of grief and is here to support you in whatever way we can.
Other people’s reactions
Many parents who choose to end a pregnancy through medical termination are unsure of what and how much to tell other people for fear of judgement or feelings of guilt.
If you do decide to tell people, how much you tell them is entirely up to you. You may want to talk about everything that happened, or only that you lost your baby.
You are the best judge of what you are comfortable sharing with others, so take some time to think about it, and tell people only when you feel ready.
You may encounter people who don’t understand or can’t accept your decision. Even those who are close to you may not be able to support you in the way you had hoped.
Red Nose is here for you, and we can connect you with other bereaved parents who have been through the same experience as you. This can really help, as they can provide an understanding and non-judgemental ear to listen to your feelings, and even provide advice for things that helped them on their own grief journey.
What to tell your other children
If you have children who knew about the pregnancy, they may be aware of your sadness or distress. Try to provide a simple and honest explanation of what is happening. Some people may say “the baby is not growing properly”, others simply say that “the baby has died”.
Your children may need comfort, reassurance and time to deal with their emotions too. Children grieve too, and Red Nose has special support services available for children dealing with the grief of the death of a sibling.
Ending a pregnancy through medical termination can have a devastating impact on families. Parents often say it is the most difficult decision they’ve ever had to face.
Sadness and grief are normal reactions, but with good support parents do get through this experience.
Parents often fear the problem will recur in a subsequent pregnancy. Your doctor can discuss the possibility of future pregnancies being affected. Red Nose also has special support materials for people contemplating getting pregnant again following the loss of a baby or child.
Red Nose Grief and Loss Support services are available for anyone affected by the loss of a baby or child during pregnancy, infancy and childhood. We provide free support and counselling to families that have had to terminate their pregnancies. Call our 24/7 Support Line on 1300 308 307 to speak to someone today.
Last reviewed: 25/9/22