Ending a wanted pregnancy
While most terminations take place because the pregnancy was unwanted, this is not always the case. Making a decision to end a wanted pregnancy can be extremely distressing and isolating, for the pregnant woman herself and for those around her.
If you have received a diagnosis of a serious fetal or maternal health problem, or experienced a sudden and drastic change in your circumstances, you might be considering ending your pregnancy. Women and couples consider this for a broad range of reasons - most often because of fetal or maternal health problems, but sometimes also due to a significant health issue or accident to a partner or existing child, a breakdown of their relationship, an escalation in violence, a sudden change in financial situation, or other big and significant life events.
Ending a wanted pregnancy can be a very difficult time, and often involves a broad range of factors that may impact on your decision making or your feelings toward your decision. You might feel, among other emotions:
- unsure about your capacity to deal with the lifelong needs of a child with a disability;
- concern about the suffering and the quality of life of the child;
- worried about the pressure on your relationships and the needs of others;
- challenged by the thought of bringing a child into the world when their parent may be too sick to care for them;
- conflicted by different values and beliefs about abortion;
- overwhelmed by uncertainty;
- struggling to deal with a decision about your pregnancy on top of other significant events taking place in your life.
Where a wanted pregnancy is being ended due to fetal abnormality or maternal health issues there can be lots of medical information to take on board at a time of stress. This information can be difficult to remember and hard to make sense of. A support person can be invaluable at this time.
“My mum was great. She came to all the appointments with me. She wrote lots of stuff down when I was too numb to even hear what was being said.”
“We knew how much she would suffer as we already had a child with that disorder. We knew how hard it would be, but ending this pregnancy almost felt like not validating the worth of our existing child.”
When maternal health issues are at the centre of the decision this can be a complex emotional time for all involved.
“There was something badly wrong with my ovaries. Cancer, they said, and recommended my pregnancy be ended so I could start urgent treatment. I felt very sad, but most of those early days I was not sure how much of my “sad” was for me and how much was for my pregnancy. The feelings were just so muddled and overwhelming. But this pregnancy saved my life. If I had not had that ultrasound I might have known about the cancer until too late. And when I think about how this pregnancy saved my life and I ended its, well I just weep some more.”
Sudden or dramatic changes in life circumstances that lead to the ending of a wanted pregnancy can be a hard and lonely road. Some examples of these sudden changes may include:
- the unexpected ending of the relationship with the man involved in the pregnancy
- violence in the relationship starting for the first time or escalating.
- loss of employment or housing
- serious illness of someone in your care
- an unexpected life event impacting on the wellbeing of the woman or others close to her (eg a serious car crash involving a family member).
Women often speak of feeling very conflicted and responsible at this time, and may struggle to identify or hold onto what is most important for them in the decision making process.
Whatever the circumstances of that lead to the ending of a wanted pregnancy it is important to grant yourself the permission to grieve if you need to. You do not have to deny your feelings because a decision was made to end the pregnancy.
Choosing a method for ending your pregnancy
Some Queensland hospitals may offer therapeutic termination where an advanced pregnancy has been deemed to be non-viable, although circumstances may vary from one hospital to another. Hospitals will generally do this by induced miscarriage. Medicine is used to bring on a labour and the woman goes through a delivery process. There are also private clinics that can offer a surgical alternative up to 19 weeks and 6 days in Queensland and up to 23 weeks and 6 days in Victoria.
The method you prefer will depend on what is important to you in the process. Some people choose medical induction because it allows them to experience a birth and to spend time with their wanted pregnancy before they say goodbye. Some women may choose a surgical extraction because they feel it may be physically easier and less emotionally confronting for them. It is a very personal choice.
Where a pregnancy has been planned or an unplanned pregnancy has been embraced, the woman and the man involved as well as others around her may have begun to engage in shared hopes and dreams about the future. This may set the tone for much greater involvement in decision making particularly where a fetal abnormality has been diagnosed. Very often the couples who consult us for support at the time of making a decision in relation to a wanted pregnancy are doing so collaboratively. This brings with it its own complexity, requiring the couple to navigate uncharted territory with each other.
“A couple had come into see me after diagnosis of a very rare fetal abnormality. When I asked directly about where they both stood on the decision about the pregnancy, there was this long silence as they looked at each other, neither wanting to be the first to say out loud what they felt in case the other felt differently, perhaps afraid to open up a gulf between each other. When I asked them each to name their decision as a percentage, one said 52% towards ending the pregnancy and the other said 51% for continuing."
Whatever your reasons, ending a wanted pregnancy can be not only difficult but isolating; some women say they feel they don't have a 'right' to grieve for their pregnancy or the baby they may have had, while others say there seems to be no formalised way to process or acknowledge the ending of a pregnancy this way. It's important to know that you are not alone in having made this decision, although it might feel that way if you don't have anyone to talk it over with, or to share your experience with. Some women find it useful to listen to or read other women's experiences. There are some wonderful organisations and websites that work specifically with and for women and couples who have made the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy:
SANDS: Sands Queensland provides support, information, education and advocacy for parents and families who experience the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death or other pregnancy losses, including termination. Their website has a broad range of useful resources, many written from people with a personal experience of pregnancy loss. Their Support Line (1300 072 637) is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering confidential support.
The Ending a Wanted Pregnancy website: whilst American it provides a range of information, resources and women’s stories shared from a pro-choice sentiment.
healthtalk.org: a UK site that provides free, reliable information about health issues, by sharing people's real-life experiences. It includes a several short videos of people talking about ending a wanted pregnancy on account of fetal abnormality.