“I had to think: This is not a child”: A qualitative exploration of how women/couples articulate their relation to the fetus/child following termination of a wanted pregnancy due to Down syndrome

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  • Stina Lou
  • Dorte Hvidtjørn, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • Mathilde Lindh Jørgensen, Denmark
  • Ida Vogel

Objective: Termination of a wanted pregnancy due to fetal anomaly may generate complex feelings of grief and loss. The aim of this study was to explore the different ways that women/couples articulated their relation to the fetus/child following a termination of pregnancy due to a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Method: Qualitative interview study with 21 women/couples who had recently terminated a wanted pregnancy. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: The analysis identified how some women detached themselves from the fetus/child following the diagnosis by mentally separating from the fetus/child, by acting as if they were not pregnant (e.g., by drinking wine), or by deliberately using the term ‘fetus’ to designate the fetus/child as a biological entity. The analysis also identified accounts of attachment such as singing a lullaby to the fetus/child or using the term ‘our child’ or ‘my baby’. However, accounts of detachment and attachment often intermingled and changed over time. Following the termination, many women/couples felt ambiguous about the sonogram as a symbol of the potential child. Overall, the analysis showed that the relation to and the meaning of the fetus/child was ambiguous and open to reinterpretation. Conclusion: The main contribution of this study is the identification of how articulations of attachment and detachment are not mutually exclusive but coexist and may change over time. Furthermore, we argue that detachment does not equal indifference. Thus, healthcare professionals must support the couple in finding a terminology and a narrative that are meaningful for them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100606
JournalSexual & Reproductive HealthCare
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

    Research areas

  • Bonding, Grief, Qualitative research, Termination, Terminology

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