Concealed pregnancies are still occurring, study finds

Concealed pregnancies are still occurring in this country even though mother and baby homes no longer exist and the women, choosing to hide pregnancies, are of all ages and social backgrounds, according to research from Trinity College Dublin.

The research, which is to be published in full early in the summer, found that some of the women had suffered “traumatic life experience” and some had found difficulties during pregnancy in accessing information around adoption.

Many of the 30 women interviewed believed adoption had been the right decision for them and their child. All of the women would have avoided antenatal healthcare.

The authors of the research had harsh words for elements of the press whose “sensationalist, insensitive and negative” reporting of the Baby Maria and Baby Alannah cases in 2015 and 2016 may have served to further drive affected women underground.

The women who participated in the survey also noted how helpline telephone numbers were not highlighted in media coverage with the only numbers reportedly offered being that of garda stations. This served to make already traumatised women feel like criminals.

The researchers are calling for the development of media reporting guidelines around concealed pregnancies so that such stories are treated more sensitively and responsibly as such women have been through a “traumatic, isolating and lonely experience”. Negative coverage can “contribute to notions of deviancy or victimhood”.

Associate Professor at Trinity’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, Joan Lalor and HRB Research Fellow, midwife and lecturer at the University of Limerick, Sylvia Murphy-Tighe also warned too many presumptions are made about the cases.

Sylvia Murphy-Tighe said: “We know that concealed pregnancy can be a life-altering and difficult experience. Despite this, there were repeated calls for reunification of the mother and infant in the case of Baby Maria and yet no helpline numbers were offered. This demonstrates a serious lack of understanding in relation to the difficulties involved.”

The women who took part in the Health Research Board-funded survey were Irish and also from a number of other nationalities. They were aged 15-35 and from all social backgrounds.

Sixty women came forward to share their experiences of concealed pregnancy. The researchers spoke to 30 of the women as part of The Keeping it Secret (KISS) Study — Your Story of Concealed Pregnancy.

One woman in her 30s described how she concealed her pregnancy and went to a mother and baby home where she says her baby was illegally adopted. All of the pregnancies were concealed in the past 20 years.

The women made contact with the research team after a press callout and engagement with crisis pregnancy counsellors and social workers in maternity hospitals and adoption services.

The majority of women contacted the research team in the weeks after the Tuam Babies story broke in 2014.

Sylvia Murphy-Tighe said: “Women in Ireland continue to conceal their pregnancies for a variety of complex and poorly understood reasons. We must, as a nation, recognise this and respond more supportively than in the past, particularly in light of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home revelations and the ongoing Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes.”


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