Pregnancy as public property: The experience of couples following diagnosis of a foetal anomaly

Sally-ann de-Vitry Smith, Jennie Dietsch, Ann Bonner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pregnant women find themselves subject to comments and questions from people in publicareas. Normally, becoming 'public property' is considered friendly and is relatively easy for pregnantwomen to deal with. However, following diagnosis of a foetal anomaly, the experience of being publicproperty can exacerbate the emotional turmoil experienced by couples. Original research question: Whatis the experience of couples who continue pregnancy following the diagnosis of a foetal anomaly?Method: The study used an interpretive design informed by Merleau-Ponty and this paper reports on asubset of findings. Thirty-one interviews with pregnant women and their partners were undertakenfollowing the diagnosis of a serious or lethal foetal anomaly. Women were between 25 and 38 weeksgestation at the time of their first interview. The non-directive interviews were audio-taped, transcribedverbatim and the transcripts were thematically analysed.Findings: A prominent theme that emerged during data analysis was that pregnancy is embodiedtherefore physically evident and 'public'. Women found it difficult to deal with being public propertywhen the foetus had a serious or lethal anomaly. Some women avoided social situations; others did notdisclose the foetal condition but gave minimal or avoidant answers to minimise distress to themselvesand others. The male participants were not visibly pregnant and they could continue life in publicwithout being subject to the public's gaze, but they were very aware and concerned about its impact ontheir partner.Conclusion: The public tend to assume that pregnancy is normal and will produce a healthy baby. Thisbecomes problematic for women who have a foetus with an anomaly. Women use strategies to help themcope with becoming public property during pregnancy. Midwives can play an important role in reducingthe negative consequences of awoman becoming public property following the diagnosis of a foetalanomaly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-81
Number of pages6
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

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