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Concealed Pregnancies not a thing of the past
The Examiner 24/05/2006

by Catherine Shanahan

Fear of social stigma and upsetting family means women continue to hide pregnancy, forfeiting ante-natal care to the detriment of their unborn child, new research has found. The report - Concealed Pregnancy: A case study approach in Irish setting - said neither denial nor concealment of pregnancy were a thing of the past. Instead the research, carried out by Catherine Conlon of the Woman's Education, Reasearch and Resource Centre (WERCC) UCD, on behalf of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the Health Service Executive, found women continue to conceal and deny pregnancy for a variety of societal, cultural and psychological reasons, including:
  • Fear of upsetting or dissapointing parents or to protect the family from the stigma  relating to pregnancy.
  • Fear of rejection from parents
  • To conceal sexual activities
  • To facilitate placing the baby for adoption and to avoid others getting invovled in decision making
  • To conceal relationship with biological father to avoid threatening current relationship
The report warned of the consequences of hidden pregnancies  - defined as a situation where a woman does not present for ante-natal care until past 20 weeks gestation - could be highly detrimental to medical outcomes for mother and child.  It meant there was no opportunity to detect foetal anomalies, and  "for one woman this left her entirely unprepared for the delivery of a stillborn baby", the report said.  Moreover, studies had shown low birth weight, delivering preterm, neonatal death and risk of maternal mortality were more common in women who conceal pregnancy. Consciously denying pregnancy sometimes entailed drinking to forget, the report said, while concealing a pregnancy entailed isolating themselves from family and friends so as to go unnoticed, trying to contain the development of the pregnancy by excercising and dieting and planning to place the baby for adoption and in some cases, hiding the signs of labour. Of 51 women involved in the study at 2 hospitals - one in Dublin and one in the West - eight had not presented at hospital until they were in labour.  Two thirds of the women presented to the hospital for the first time at seven months.  This presented particular challenges for medical staff who were  without  a patient history or due date. Catherine Conlon, author of the report, said one of the most striking aspects of the study was was that women of all ages, of all social backgrounds, both married and single were in the sample group. Olive Braiden, Chair  crisis Pregnancy Agency, said they would be "examining how we can incorporate the information in this report into our work. "One of the practical suggestions in the report is the establishment of a forum for the sharing of information on concealed pregnancy.  This is something we will be doing. Ms Braiden said it was "tragic" some women still felt the need to conceal pregnancy. The Stats
  • Of 51 women that took part in the study, 70% of those concealing pregnancy were under 25
  • Eight women presented to hospital at between 36 and 39 weeks; three at 40 weeks and over.
  • 45 of the women in the study were Irish
  • 27 women described themselves as 'living with parents'. Regarding marital status the cast majority - 47 women were single
  • In some cases women had no ararngements made to be absent from work and attempted to fir childbirth in with their usual working conditions.