Before a pregnancy is terminated you need to know
- How the termination will be performed and the pain relief used
- Place of delivery, and length of labour if after 12th week
- Support that is available afterwards
Termination Before the 12th Week of Pregnancy
Up to the 12th week of pregnancy the termination is usually performed under a general anaesthetic when the cervix is dilated and the fetus removed. This is a fairly quick procedure and may be performed on a day patient basis. Afterwards the mother may have abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. Both are normal although any worries should be referred to a G.P. One major aspect for many parents following this type of termination is that there is no baby to see and therefore a distressing lack of ‘real memories’
Later in pregnancy a termination usually takes the form of an induced labour when prostaglandins are given by either vaginal pessaries, a catheter via the cervix, or an intravenous drip into the arm, and results in the delivery of a stillborn baby. In late terminations some hospitals offer the option of an injection to the baby allowing it to die before labour begins.
Termination at a later date can be long but need not be painful as a wide range of pain killing drugs are available. Oral medication to soften the cervix may be offered prior to hospital admission in order to make the labour shorter and less painful. Sometimes a D and C operation is needed afterwards to remove any of the placenta, which may be left in the womb. Most hospitals are happy to allow dad or another birth partner to be present throughout the hospital stay.
After the Birth
Parents can plan and discuss what they want before the birth so that a ‘memories pack’ can be prepared with locks of hair, name band, hand print etc. Parents may want to see or hold baby, and this can help to release grief. There is no rush in deciding if you do or do not want to see the baby as this is a time for reflection, and any decision could be regretted if you rush to leave. If a parent does not want to see their baby, photographs may be taken, and footprints and handprints.
Going Home and No Longer Pregnant
The mother is usually able to go home shortly after the birth. She will experience vaginal bleeding and sometimes her breasts will be tender and produce milk. This is normal. Any worries should be discussed with the midwife or your doctor.
Parents often choose to name their baby, and have a funeral which some see as an acknowledgement of the baby's life. Should you choose not to have a private funeral, the hospital will ensure your baby is laid to rest with dignity. You may be asked for permission for a post-mortem, and it is up to you to agree or refuse.
Baby loss after termination for abnormality is relatively new and not well understood by those without personal experience. Parents are sometimes expected to get on with life and the loss is not acknowledged. Those around you, and even you yourself, may expect to feel better when the termination is over, but this is often not so and the weeks and months afterwards can be a time of great anger, guilt, sadness and even depression.
Telling Your Other Children
If you have other children explain to them the baby had severe health problems, and this was nobody’s fault. Some children have definite ideas about the morality of termination, and confronting these can be hurtful so you may decide to wait until you feel stronger emotionally. Likewise a child might hold you responsible for denying them a much wanted sibling. Depending on their age you may not want to tell them the precise details of the termination.
Grief After Termination
At whatever the stage of the termination, there is likely to be a great sense of loss and many parents describe a feeling of emptiness. There is no right way to grieve and no time limit for grief. We are all different and family and friends need to respect the way parents handle their grief in whatever way they wish. Bereavement begins as soon as a parent realises the baby has a serious problem, the dreams of a perfect child are shattered, and the future seems unsure. Some may view a termination of pregnancy as a solution and may not acknowledge your need to grieve at all. Only you knew your baby, others will not mourn in the same way, as they have no memories of their own.
Help from hospital and community medical staff should be available and some parents are offered specific counselling. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness, the loss of a baby is devastating, and anniversaries can reawaken the sadness. It can help to talk to other SOFT parents who have been through a similar situation.