The diagnosis of a life-limiting condition in an unborn baby is always devastating. These hard cases played a big part in last year’s referendum and moved many people to vote to repeal the 8th amendment. However, new studies show that the vast majority of couples who carry these babies to term are glad that they did so, and also result in more positive outcomes for them in terms of how they feel afterwards. It is a pity this wasn’t more known last year.
A recent piece of research
, involving more than 400 parents, showed that more than 97pc of them did not regret continuing pregnancy affected by a life-limiting fetal condition. This confirms previous studies.
The researchers hypothesise that pregnancy continuation allows more time to women to grieve and eventually reach acceptance of the diagnosis. Also, they may receive more support from family and friends as the loss of their newborn is a more visible and acceptable.
Psychiatric symptoms such as post-traumatic stress, grief and depression are common after a pregnancy loss due to fetal anomalies but almost all women who decide to give birth, do no regret their choice. “Continuing the pregnancy allows more opportunities to find meaning and for memory making, such as opportunities to hold and care for the baby, take photographs, create other keepsakes and perhaps participate in research, tissue or organ donation, all of which can contribute positively to the grieving process”.
All parents “expressed feeling about needing to be as close to their infant as possible”, in the form of physical intimacy and also in enjoying the limited but precious time with their child. Focusing their love on the present moment and also on memory-making allowed them the opportunity to find meaning in their suffering.
This confirms what we heard during the referendum campaign from families who had similar experiences, who felt pressurised to abort.
The Duke University study also inquired about the psychosocial support provided by religious communities to grieving parents. They compared those involved in Organisational Religious Activities (ORA), such as attending church services, to those who expressed their religiosity more individually, in activities such as personal prayers, meditation, etc. (No Organisational Religious Activities or NORA)
The researchers suggest that attending church or other religious meetings contribute to reduce grief following pregnancy loss, probably due to the support provided by faith-based communities.
All these studies prove that even if their baby is doomed to die, those who do not choose abortion have more positive outcomes. These parents transform their tragedy into a profound and intimate opportunity to meet, hold and cherish their child.
Even though we now have legalised abortion in this country, couples faced with news that their baby will not live long past birth should be made aware of studies such as the above so that they can arrive at a fully-informed decision.