Terminating a high risk pregnancy

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Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model.

How do you console a friend who has just lost her baby? This is the question I kept asking myself as I looked into the distraught face of my close friend. With no idea what to say, I simply held her as she cried and listened as she vented her grief and frustration. I made cups of tea and cried alongside her over what should have been.

My friend had already endured years of miscarriage and fertility problems, so discovering she was pregnant with a much-wanted baby was a dream come true. Finally the hoping, praying and steadfast resolve had paid off.

While she could barely contain her excitement, she was understandably nervous. In her early 40s, the risk for both her and the baby was quite high compared to those for a younger woman, as her obstetrician explained. Understandably, those first 12 weeks were an agonisingly long and tense wait for her and her husband. Only family and a few friends knew of their news, but as the pregnancy progressed her obvious morning sickness and a budding belly made hiding their secret more difficult. Slowly friends and acquaintances, particularly mothers, began asking pertinent questions.

As the 12-week mark loomed and her scan was imminent we let ourselves believe the happiness they so richly deserved was finally here. When the initial scans appeared normal we were relieved. With the necessary blood tests completed we waited for the results to be analysed and then her scheduled appointment with the obstetrician.

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It was at this point their joy gave way to desperate heartbreak. The combination of blood work and scans revealed serious health issues for their baby. Invasive tests were scheduled. My friend told me the fear she felt was like a tidal wave repeatedly washing over her, leaving her in a permanent exhausted and broken state. She describes this time as the most emotionally painful of her life.

I remember being anxious throughout both my pregnancies. Most pregnant women worry about the health of their unborn child. For some it's fleeting, for others it can be all consuming. To watch my friend experience the actual pain that so many of us dread was shattering.

With pregnancy comes immense responsibility and a multitude of decisions. My friend should have been choosing hospitals, baby names and prams. Instead she and her husband were forced to make a heartbreaking choice: continue with a high-risk pregnancy with hardly any chance of a positive outcome, or reluctantly terminate the pregnancy. The happiest time of their lives had become a living nightmare. And as she was now more than two weeks into her second trimester she had limited time in which to make a decision. So, with the support and love of her husband and the guidance and expertise of her obstetrician, they ended her pregnancy.

Afterwards, people were curious, of course. It's human nature for people to wonder, to ask questions, to be concerned. At first she was aloof, non-committal. She admitted she'd lost her baby but said little else.

She says now that a part of her wishes she'd never spoken of it in the first place, to spare her the pain of having to then reveal that she'd lost the much-longed-for baby.

The more people probed, mostly out of genuine concern, rather than morbid curiosity, the more she felt compelled to be honest.

While many people were understanding and supportive, what she wasn't ready for was the disapproving stares and the shocked whispers, when she explained that she and her husband, had chosen not to continue with the pregnancy. Despite the medical certainty that her child would be facing catastrophic health issues, she felt harshly judged, which compounded her horrible experience.

But ultimately it was my friend's choice. If she'd lived in the US state of Arkansas, she may not have had that right.

Having recently approved the banning of abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, only making exception for rape, incest or to save a mother's life, Arkansas' Republican-controlled State House is currently considering a "foetal heartbeat" bill, which would see abortion made illegal when a foetal heartbeat is detected. This can be as early as five weeks into a pregnancy and the bill does not include an exemption for any lethal foetal disorders.

Abortion has always been a contentious issue. Few subjects ignite such a high and intense level of emotional debate. Women have been fighting the battle to have control over their own bodies for centuries and it's clear the fight isn't over.

My friend made a choice. A heartbreaking, life-altering choice. She didn't make it on a whim. She didn't suddenly decide motherhood wasn't for her. She sat down with her husband and carefully considered all the options available to them as a united couple. She gathered expert opinion, she searched the depths of her soul and did what she felt she could reasonably cope with, and she did what she believed was right.

Despite the opinion of others, this was her choice to make and I respect her decision. If she had decided otherwise, I would have supported her every step of the way. That's what friends are for.

67 comments

  • It is the most terrible decision a couple will ever have to make in their lives and anyone who judges someone for that decision completely lacks any real empathy or understanding of the situation... people can be so intolerant and believe that their view of how things are or should be is the only view. Until you are faced with the decision you will never know how you will deal with it. Someone close to me has had to make the same decision and the guilt she has carried has been a heavy burden even though she knows that it was the right choice. So I say to your friend how brave she has been to make that choice after weighing all the medical information that she had.

    Commenter
    FLT
    Date and time
    April 18, 2013, 8:57AM
    • "It is the most terrible decision a couple will ever have to make in their lives "'

      Excuse me but I thought it was women who made the decision to have abortions as they have control over their bodies not men?
      Unfortunately so much of the backlash over abortions is also from women not men.

      Commenter
      david
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 5:21PM
  • Perhaps not waiting to your early 40's to start a family would prevent this happening. We are simply not programmed to have babies in our 40's. Complications over the age of 35 arise and with each year the probability of them gets higher.

    Commenter
    Tash
    Date and time
    April 18, 2013, 9:08AM
    • The woman talked about in the article had been trying for many years to start a family, as the second paragraph makes abundantly clear.

      Commenter
      Kate
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 9:58AM
    • @Tash - that's an insensitive thing to say. Did you read this line properly? Sonja says 'My friend had already endured years of miscarriage and fertility problems.' That's YEARS. Which means she might have started trying before 35 for all you know.

      Commenter
      Sheba
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 10:02AM
    • The article clearly states that the couple had endured years of problems while trying to have a baby. They didn't wait until they were 40. Way to be completely insensitive and lacking in empathy. You don't have any family members or close friends who have experienced this - do you?

      Commenter
      theminxsays
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 10:05AM
    • This woman didn't 'wait' until her 40s, she had been trying for years and fell pregnant in her 40s after previous miscarriages. And if women weren't 'programmed' to have children in their 40s, then they'd go through menopause in their 30s.

      Commenter
      Jace
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 10:08AM
    • Tash, next time you might want to read the article first before making incorrect assumptions and cruel comments.

      Commenter
      pb
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 10:25AM
    • Endometriosis alone affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide during the prime years of their lives. There are many other health issues that women go through that affect their fertility, age has nothing to do with it.

      A high risk pregnancy can also happen to a younger woman, genetics play a large role.

      You have a very narrow & and personally prejudiced view of the world.

      Commenter
      JI
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 10:30AM
    • I'm sorry @Tash, but you just don't have a clue. Do not judge this poor woman until you have stood in her shoes, felt her pain and made one of the most horrendous decisions a person should ever have to face. I've been there, I've experienced several painful miscarriages, and faced the same decision - to terminate or not to terminate. I chose to terminate, and this was one of the most difficult things I have ever faced. I think about it everyday, and I will do everyday of my life to come. I am now in my early 40's and know my chances of a healthy baby are slim, and I know it will probably never happen. The only positive for me, is I had a healthy child in my mid 30's. He asks regularly why he hasn't got a brother or a sister, and I feel very sad for him. But I am the luckiest person alive to have him, and I will never forget that.

      Commenter
      mm
      Date and time
      April 18, 2013, 12:08PM

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