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Lecturer: Women who experience “trauma” of concealing pregnancy should not be “pathologised”

Women who experience a concealed pregnancy or birth should not be “pathologised” or criminalised, a leading midwifery lecturer at the University of Limerick (UL) has said.

Dr Sylvia Murphy Tighe, Course Director of Midwifery at UL’s department of nursing and midwifery, who has conducted extensive research into the subject, claimed maternity care guidelines on crisis pregnancies are “out of date” and should be “revised”.

Dr Sylvia Murphy Tighe, Lecturer in Midwifery, Dept of Nursing & Midwifery, UL . Photograph : Liam Burke Press 22

Professional practitioners should receive improved guidelines from the HSE in how to deal compassionately and effectively with women who are in distress during a crisis pregnancy, she said.

Dr Murphy Tighe said that a climate of stigma and fear, surrounding concealed pregnancies, remains.

A law from 1861 which appears under the Offences Against the Person Act, states that, any anyone who secretly disposes or endeavors to conceal a birth, shall be guilty of an offence, punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

Dr Murphy Tighe argued this “merits review by the Law Reform Commission, as women I have interviewed about concealment feel they may be criminalised.”

She conducted interviews with 30 women about their personal experiences of concealing a pregnancy which formed a study published last year, entitled “The Keeping It Secret Study (KISS)”.

Most of the women said they had concealed their pregnancies out of “fear”.

Some were in abusive relationships and more had been raped or sexually abused.

Some of the women explained they felt “pathologised”, instead of being offered therapeutic or counselling for having experienced “significant traumas in their lives”.

Dr Murphy Tighe said most of the women she spoke to had felt the Samaritans was the only service they could reach out to for help.

While more needs to be done to improve services, Dr Murphy Tighe said the HSE was to be “commended” for introducing a national helpline for women experiencing distress about their pregnancy.

The Irish Family Planning Association's (IFPA) National Pregnancy Lo Call helpline 1850 49 50 51 offers “free...confidential and non-directive pregnancy counselling services for women and their partners”.

The service is “operated by professional and accredited Counsellors at ten locations nationwide”.

The IFPA which states, on its website, that it is a “pro-choice organisation” adds “we always support a woman’s own decision”.

It also states it offers “accurate, honest and clear information about all your pregnancy options - abortion, parenting and adoption”.

Dr Murphy Tighe organised a symposium on December 6 last at the University of Limerick which centered around women experiencing concealed pregnancies.

The discussion gave “an opportunity to consider state failures in recognising the needs of women, their infants and families and the trauma involved”, she said.

Politicians have “stuck its head in the sand” over the matter, she added.

“By encouraging ongoing dialogue and discussion into a sensitive subject we are acknowledging that more needs to be done to provide support and therapeutic services for women.”

If you have been affected by this story you can contact the Irish Family Planning Association's National Pregnancy Lo Call helpline 1850 49 50 51; and or, the Samaritans (freephone) 116 123 or text 087 2 60 90 90 (standard text rates apply; or email [email protected] (ROI) [email protected] (NI)