When pregnancy is ended for medical reasons

While pregnant, you may have received devastating news that your baby had a serious medical condition. Sometimes this means that the condition would significantly limit life expectancy or quality of life if your baby survived pregnancy. You may also have been told that you or your pregnant partner has a medical condition that is life-threatening should the pregnancy continue. 

When Pregnancy Is Ended For Medical Reasons
Coping through tough decisions

This can result in what may seem like an impossible choice to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons, and it may have felt that there was no other option. These decisions are complex and can cause significant distress for parents. They are often made with the utmost care, love and concern for your child. In this situation, you may have begun to experience feelings of grief before the loss of your baby. This is a normal response; and it doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to grieve afterwards.

This type of pregnancy loss usually adds layers of feelings and thoughts, such as increased shock, sadness, guilt, anger, and intense loneliness. Your distress may include a sense of social judgment or conflict with personal values or spiritual beliefs, and this can cause increased isolation. It may also contribute to feelings of not quite “fitting in” to other situations of pregnancy and infant loss. Remember that each grief journey with respect to infant loss is individual, and all parents are entitled to grieve as you cope with the loss of your baby and the future you had imagined. Most importantly, remember that this very difficult situation has no bearing on how much your pregnancy was wanted or how much you love your baby. 

“Deciding to end my pregnancy was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I realize that feeling badly doesn’t mean I made the wrong decision; it just means I was forced to decide between ‘awful’ and ‘horrible’.”

Getting through the first days and weeks

In the first days and weeks, you may have a range of intense feelings and thoughts. In the earliest days or at certain moments, you may feel numb. Your grief is likely to affect you on many levels. For example, you may have trouble sleeping or want to sleep all the time; you may feel hungry or have little appetite. You may be unable to stop crying, or not cry at all. You may be replaying your experience of the loss over and over. You may think, “I can’t believe this is my life”. 

What may help

Keep in mind that whatever thoughts and feelings you may have, they are normal, as are any “what if” questions. It’s important that you allow your grief to include all of these, no matter how painful, and to find other people who will support you as you process what has happened.

Remind yourself that you have been through an enormously difficult experience. You’ll also need time to heal physically and to find out how best to care for yourself. Pay attention to your body. Don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider about milk supply, wound healing, and pelvic health, etc. 

Support from family and friends: 

  • Think about what might and might not be helpful to you at this time, and who can best support you. This might be one or two trusted family members or friends who are able to listen and be with you as needed. 
  • Consider asking someone to stay in touch by checking in with you on a regular basis, even if you sometimes don’t feel like talking or having company. 

If you work outside the home: 

  • Your health care provider can likely provide a letter to your employer supporting a leave of absence. 
  • Ask your employer or healthcare provider for information, or ask a friend or family member to inquire about leave or other benefits available to you through your provincial or territorial government about leave or Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.  
  • Your co-workers can support you best when they know what you need. Whether or not they knew that you were pregnant, you can decide what you would like your workplace to know and how/whether you wish to be approached upon your return. For example, you may want them to say nothing, or you may prefer an acknowledgement but no uninvited conversation. You may feel okay about more open discussion but want to provide them with a “helpful vs. unhelpful things to say” list. 

Neighbours and acquaintances:

  • If people living near you were aware of your pregnancy or witnessed emergency services visiting your home, you may want to prepare yourself for questions or expressions of concern. 
  • If you have a trusted friend in your community, consider asking them to act as your spokesperson until you feel ready to speak with people yourself.
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Difficult decisions are made with love and compassion