When the Pregnancy is Terminated
Termination is not an easy option. It is traumatic and sad. The grief and emotional pain can be overwhelming, and couples should have time to talk through the details of the termination and discuss any fears, questions,or special requirements.
They need to know:
- How the termination will be performed
- Type of pain relief used
- Place of delivery
- 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’.
‘ It would have been nice if someone had contacted me before the termination to explain the practicalities of it all. Afterwards the hospital staff handed out literature etc. for a miscarriage. The situation is entirely different and left me feeling that I was not being listened to or understood at all.’
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.
‘At my local hospital terminations are carried out on a gynae/ surgicalward. I did not mind this at all because I did not want to encounter anymums and babies, and I was grateful for the privacy of a single room.’
‘We were told that survival was remote, and we weretreated in a sympathetic and supportive way by midwiveswho had obviously seen it all before. We were grateful tobe able to have a normal delivery on a delivery suite with midwives in attendance. It took 24 hours and we were encouraged to hold our son. Despite the obvious physical imperfections he looked beautiful. We named him and photos were taken. Then he was wrapped up and taken away and we did not see him again.’
‘The baby was given an injection. She was now at peace and I was induced at 9am. Although she was in breech presentation the birth was not too difficult and I was offered as much pain relief as I needed but I wanted to remember her birth and not block it out.’
‘I was very shocked to discover I would have to go through a normal labour and birth.’
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, handprint etc. Parents may want to see or hold baby, and this can help to release grief. If a parent does not want to do this, photographs may be taken, and footprints, and handprints.
‘She was beautiful, only 2lbs 7oz but with masses of dark hair. Her skin waspink and she had lovely rosebud cheeks. Her hands were perfectly formed,no extra fingers! although her right hand was clenched. She had a cleft palate and lip on the right side of her mouth and her eyes were fused butshe had a perfect little nose. We kept her with us all night, cuddling her and taking pictures. We finally let her go. If we had kept her any longer we both felt we would not have been able to part with her. We said goodbye through the tears. We now felt lost, empty and alone’
‘I contacted the Sister on the ward to ask for another photograph andsomeone actually delivered it to my house. Inside was a note from the Sisterand Staff Nurse wishing me well and saying they hoped the remainingmonths of the year were more peaceful.’
‘No-one told me I could see the baby, and the shock of being asked justafter the birth prompted me to say a long regretted ‘no’.
GOING HOME AND NO LONGER PREGNANT
The mother is usually able to go home shortly after the birth. She willexperience vaginal bleeding and sometimes her breasts will be tender and produce milk. This is normal. Any worries should be discussed with themidwife or your doctor.
‘A visit afterwards at home would have helped. I found my physical state very hard to cope with. After twenty-three weeks I was not prepared for so much ‘flooding’, breast pains and bleeding, and I had had one successful pregnancy.’
(see also Funeral Arrangements 2)
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.
'I had no idea the body of our baby would be returned to us after the post-mortem. I wanted to bury her. It had all happened so quickly andunnaturally that the funeral itself was reassuring and an affirmation of her presence in our lives.'
'We saw her in the Chapel of Rest the day before her funeral. She had a big white teddy beside her from Emma, a small teddy from my sister and a gold cross that I was given on my birthday. We dressed her in a tiny white dress and wrapped her in a tiny white shawl. She looked so peaceful.'
'There were lots of beautiful flowers, the Service was a lovely one, and everyone in the family came and supported us. We know that now we onlyhave our memories, a few photos, and a small place to visit. This seems such a little amount for such a lovely baby girl.'
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.
‘Immediately after the termination I felt great relief at having been in control of the situation. Later I suffered grief and my partner suffered considerable anger.’
‘My wife suffered a deep sense of guilt that we killed our baby. She says she sometimes wishes she had carried him for as long as nature intended, and that if it happened again she would act differently.’
‘Everyone from the scanners to the consultants were very unsympathetic tomy feelings. They expect you to accept tragic news so easily.’
‘One of the special memories we have is a song we heard while trying todecide what to do. The song is called ‘I will always love you.’ This sums uphow we feel about our baby and how we will always feel.’
TELLING YOUR OTHER CHILDREN
(see also How Brothers & Sisters are Affected)
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 childmight 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.
‘We are now beginning to pick up the pieces and our young daughter asks lots of questions. We try to answer these honestly in the best way we can.’
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 rightway 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 signof weakness, the loss of a baby is devastating, and anniversaries can reawaken the sadness. It can help to talk to other parents who have been through a similar situation and SOFT can put you in touch with such parents. Also see ‘Other Sources of Information and Support for Parents’.