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Grief following elective termination of a pregnancy

Deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy is difficult and can result in many mixed feelings. Being able to talk through the decision-making with a trusted GP or a counsellor can be helpful in that it enables a woman to explore the choices she has.

An elective termination or abortion, is the interruption of a pregnancy before the 20th week of gestation, at the woman’s request for reasons other than maternal health or foetal disease.

Decision Making

The decision to terminate a pregnancy or not can be a very difficult time for a woman. It is important women (and their partners) faced with this situation receive as much information as possible about their options. Information and support from doctors and counsellors can be vital at this time.

Some women may feel they receive mixed messages from society about the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of choosing to terminate a pregnancy. For some the issue is a very private matter, and a woman can feel very alone in coming to terms with the experience and their decision.

It is important to remember that women have the right to make a decision about their pregnancy, and that they should not be pressured into doing something they may not wish to. Grief and sadness are normal after a termination, even if there is a sense of relief as well, but with good support and counselling, they do get through it.

Factors Affecting Grief

There is no ‘right’ way to feel after a termination. Common feelings may be as varied as relief, gratitude, sadness, anger, guilt, confidence and doubt, possibly all at the same time. As there is no right or wrong way to feel, it is important to know that your feelings count, no matter what they are.

Some women describe a sense of loss, while others a sense of relief. Sometimes a new loss can bring back sadness associated with previous losses.

When people experience a loss, they may need to grieve. Grief is a painful but necessary process, and is never smooth. Sometimes feelings of grief do not appear immediately after the termination but can come months or even years later.

Others, such as family and friends, may be unaware of the termination or may see it as an act of choice and so not recognise the need to grieve. People grieving a termination can feel very alone.

Grieving

Just as there is no ‘right’ way to feel, there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. Some women may feel a need to make some sort of sense out of their experiences of unplanned pregnancy, of having to make hard choices and of the physical reality of the termination itself.

For many women there may be a mixture of both positive and troubling feelings:

  • Sadness and grief can be normal reactions to a crisis such as an unplanned pregnancy
  • crying is a normal reaction to grief
  • it can be helpful to speak to a supportive person such as a counsellor or GP
  • the partner may also experience feelings of grief

Other Resources

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Page last updated: 24 September, 2019

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