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

Sally De-Vitry Smith, Elaine Dietsch, Ann Bonner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Pregnant women find themselves subject to comments and questions from people in public areas. Normally, becoming ‘public property’ is considered friendly and is relatively easy for pregnant women to deal with. However, following diagnosis of a foetal anomaly, the experience of being public property can exacerbate the emotional turmoil experienced by couples. Original research question: What is the experience of couples who continue pregnancy following the diagnosis of a foetal anomaly?

The study used an interpretive design informed by Merleau-Ponty and this paper reports on a subset of findings. Thirty-one interviews with pregnant women and their partners were undertaken following the diagnosis of a serious or lethal foetal anomaly. Women were between 25 and 38 weeks gestation at the time of their first interview. The non-directive interviews were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and the transcripts were thematically analysed.

A prominent theme that emerged during data analysis was that pregnancy is embodied therefore physically evident and ‘public’. Women found it difficult to deal with being public property when the foetus had a serious or lethal anomaly. Some women avoided social situations; others did not disclose the foetal condition but gave minimal or avoidant answers to minimise distress to themselves and others. The male participants were not visibly pregnant and they could continue life in public without being subject to the public's gaze, but they were very aware and concerned about its impact on their partner.

The public tend to assume that pregnancy is normal and will produce a healthy baby. This becomes problematic for women who have a foetus with an anomaly. Women use strategies to help them cope with becoming public property during pregnancy. Midwives can play an important role in reducing the negative consequences of a woman becoming public property following the diagnosis of a foetal anomaly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-81
Number of pages6
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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