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Posted: 09 June 2006

Denial and concealment of pregnancy still exists in Irish society today, research says

A recent research report authored by Catherine Conlon, Research Co-ordinator, Women’s Education, Research and Resource Centre (WERCC) at the UCD School of Social Justice, shows that concealment of pregnancy is still present in Irish society today.

‘One of the most striking aspects of this study is that women of all ages, of all social backgrounds, both married and single were in this sample group’ Conlon says. The primary reasons for concealing or denying the pregnancy were fear of the social stigma attached to becoming pregnant in unconventional circumstances and fear of the reaction of their families. ‘Denial and concealment of pregnancy places a very heavy emotional toll on women’ she continues.

Jointly commissioned by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the HSE West, the report entitled ‘Concealed Pregnancy: A Case Study in an Irish Setting’ categorises concealment in two ways: ‘conscious denial’ or ‘concealment of pregnancy.’

With ‘conscious denial’ the woman recognises that she is pregnant but denies it to herself and to others. In these cases a woman does not adapt to the pregnancy in the usual manner. Her denial is a coping strategy invoked because the reality of the pregnancy is unimaginable and threatening to her. And as a result she conceals her pregnancy.

‘Concealment of pregnancy’ is when a woman acknowledges the pregnancy to herself but hides it from others. In these cases, women do adapt to the pregnancy and the prospect of motherhood, but hide it from their social network. This can be because external stressors make it difficult for her to reveal her pregnancy or because she wants to retain control over the outcome. In some cases the pregnancy is undetected and the woman has no awareness of being pregnant for the majority of her pregnancy. This is due to significant unusual features in the pregnancy which made diagnosis difficult.

The report which is the first of its kind in Ireland used data from fifty-one women who concealed their pregnancy between July 2003 and December 2004. Thirteen women were also interviewed. It involved two hospitals, one rural based, one urban based, and it is reflective of the situation in those hospitals rather than being nationally representative research.

The report offers a series of recommendations including the development of a national policy and framework of services responding to concealed pregnancy in medical, social, counselling and support service settings throughout Ireland.

Olive Braiden, Chair, Crisis Pregnancy Agency, says ‘We will 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. And this is something we will be doing.’

Braiden hopes to meet with the media and the Gardai who are at the frontline of this sensitive topic in order to share with them the reports’ insights, and to establish if guidelines would be of benefit to reporters and Gardai.

‘I intend to write to the National Union of Journalists, media both written and broadcast, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Garda Commissioner to invite them to workshops to examine if guidelines would be helpful for those having to deal with these sensitive topics’ Braiden concludes.

According to Catherine Duffy, Development Officer, Primary Care Services, HSE West, ‘We owe a debt of gratitude to the women who have given us an account of their experiences of concealed pregnancies. The report gives us information and guidance for the planning and delivery of services. The HSE can learn from this report to help develop primary care services and to further co-ordinate services that are delivered by the statutory, voluntary and hospital sector.’

The full report is available at and

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