Grief following termination of pregnancy for medical reasons

Few who conceive a pregnancy expect to have to terminate it for medical reasons and or expect that what would normally be a happy event will become one of sadness and grief.

Why Does It Happen?

There are a number of tests routinely undertaken to monitor a baby’s development in the uterus. When one of these tests reveals an issue, it can come as a shock to learn that something is wrong. It may be that there is a problem with the baby and the prospective parents are faced with the difficult decision of terminating the pregnancy. Or it may be that there is a problem with the health of the person carrying the baby, and the doctors advise against continuing with the pregnancy.

Factors Affecting Grief

For many expectant parents news of a serious pregnancy complication comes out of the blue.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy can be a very difficult time for any parent. It is important that parents faced with this situation receive as much information as possible about the baby’s condition and their options. If parents feel they have been pressured or rushed into a termination decision, this can impact on their grief.

Other common experiences are that:

  • expectant parents may question why this should happen to them in particular. It may be difficult to believe this is really happening
  • both parents may feel guilty that they have passed something on to the child, or that there is something wrong with them or their side of the family. They may feel they have let other people down
  • couples may worry about future pregnancies and some may avoid having sex for fear of conceiving another affected baby
  • for some parents news of a complication may not be unexpected. There may have been an inherited condition in their family which has appeared in their baby but it can still come as a shock that to learn that their child is affected
  • often there is the anxious process of further tests on the baby in the uterus to help confirm their condition. Parents may worry about the impact of the termination procedure, and whether it may cause difficulties for future pregnancies
  • any problem with health which requires a pregnancy to be terminated may cause significant problems for the couple
  • the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy may cause feelings of guilt, both in the moment and into the future.

Grieving after a Termination

Coming home after a termination can feel very empty and support from family and friends at this time can make a lot of difference. On-going support from others such as your GP, counsellors and family can be important as you to come to terms with the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Sadness and grief will be common reactions to such a crisis.

It may be useful:

  • to allow yourself time to grieve, to cry, and to talk about the emotions being experienced
  •  to spend time with the people who help you feel most comfortable and supported
  •  to find someone to talk to who will understand and listen
  • to contact a support group and talk to other parents who have had a similar experience.

For the parent who did not carry the baby, it may be difficult to know how to comfort and help their partner while dealing with their own grief. Talking to each other can help you to be aware of each other’s feelings and need for support. It can be helpful for both partners, and other family members affected by the loss, to speak to a counsellor or trusted GP.

Having Another Baby

Doctors and medical specialists are there to support and guide planning for another child. It is important to make follow-up medical appointments so that doctors can give advice about future pregnancies and provide further support and information.

Future pregnancies with healthy babies may be possible, but in some circumstances genetic counselling may be advised.

Other Resources

Beyond Blue

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Page last updated: 20 December, 2021