By: Carrie Schaeffer, LCSW

Termination or interruption of a pregnancy for medical reasons (TFMR) occurs when the baby has been given a life-limiting diagnosis in utero or when the health of the mother is at risk during the pregnancy. Often, parents are faced with this heartbreaking scenario well into their pregnancy, when genetic tests or in-depth anatomical scans are done. Each of these family’s stories is unique. But, in my years working with these parents through Full Circle’s Perinatal Loss Group, one thing remains constant — these are wanted pregnancies and the grief that follows is profound and complex.  

“Regardless of how the news is given…
Regardless of how many tests are done…
Regardless of how long the testing takes…
The news of a life-threatening problem or handicapping condition in a pregnancy comes as a crushing blow.”

From A Time to Decide, A Time to Heal

The most common emotional reactions to this type of loss are in some ways similar to parents who suffer other types of pregnancy losses.  They feel shock, sadness, emptiness, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety and yearning. The plans and dreams that they had for their baby are suddenly gone.  

“My hand would go to my stomach where my baby used to be and I’d feel empty that he was no longer there.”

From A Time to Decide, A Time to Heal

However, parents grieving after a TRMR also face complicating factors that can intensify the pain of the loss and cause them to feel even more isolated in their grief. Stigma caused by the politicization of abortion causes some parents to feel hesitant to share their loss with family and friends. Those that do share their story often experience unacknowledged or disenfranchised grief if they are met with a lack of empathy or insensitive behavior by those closest to them. 

Some parents feel left out of the pregnancy loss community that does not always embrace TFMR families the way it does families who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.  

“I feel like I can’t share publicly how my son died because I am scared to death of the judgment I could potentially receive. I don’t think I can handle it.”  Maeve from, “Why So Many Women Lie About Terminating Wanted Pregnancies” (10/13/20)

Some emotional care suggestions for those who have experienced TFMR:

  • Recognize that everyone grieves differently.  Move at your own pace and try not to compare your loss to anyone else’s. 
  • If you have other children, talk to them about the loss in an age-appropriate way. Terminations Remembered has multiple children’s books about TFMR.
  • Talk to a family member or friend who is a good listener.
  • Join a support group and connect with others who have had a similar loss.
  • Meet with a counselor.
  • Practice compassionate self-care that includes light exercise, time outdoors, adequate rest, good nutrition, mindfulness techniques and healthy boundaries.

Lastly, remembrance is just as important to parents who have experienced TFMR as it is to parents who have suffered another type of loss.  Maintaining a connection to your baby is healthy and healing.

Some remembrance ideas include:

  • Hold on to keepsakes for as long as you need to. Save a blanket or stuffed animal as a reminder of your baby and something soft to hold when you are in need of comfort
  • Journal about your experience. Draw pictures to help visualize your feelings. Consider writing to your baby.
  • Memorialize the pregnancy by planting a tree, painting a garden stone or having a piece of jewelry made.
  • Create an annual remembrance ceremony for your baby. Choose a meaningful date such as the baby’s due date and honor their memory by lighting a candle, reading a poem or releasing lanterns into the sky or across a body of water. If no other date feels right, October 15th is the national day of recognition for pregnancy and infant loss.  

Resources for TFMR Families:

A Time to Decide, A Time to Heal by Molly Minnick, Kathleen Delp and Mary Ciotti

Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-six Women Share Their Stories of Interrupting a Much-Wanted Pregnancy by Christie Brooks

How to Carry What Can’t Be Fixed: A Journal for Grief by Megan Devine

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine 

Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide to Pregnancy After Loss by Amanda Ross-White

You are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Heart by Angela Miller – Articles on grief, online group support, practical advice, advocacy information, online “butterfly memorial garden” where you can leave a message to your baby – Blog written by a mother who experienced TFMR, the ability to share your story online, additional resources, store with books for children, online memorial where you can share your baby’s name.