Concealed pregnancies still persist today

Concealed pregnancies still occur in Ireland today and are often negatively covered by the media, which can have a detrimental impact on affected women and their babies, new research has found.

A concealed or hidden pregnancy refers to a situation where a woman hides her pregnancy, keeping it a secret from her family and social network.

According to lead researcher and midwife, Sylvia Murphy Tighe, who carried out this research at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), women may choose to conceal a pregnancy ‘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," she commented.

The researchers carried out an analysis of national and international media coverage on concealed pregnancies. They also looked at the experiences of women who had been through a concealed pregnancy and who had taken part in a study by the Health Research Board (HRB).

They found that rather than being a phenomenon of the past, concealed pregnancies still go on today and the media's portrayal of these cases can be negative and insensitive.

For example, Ms Murphy Tighe referred to how the media dealt with the Baby Maria case, which emerged in May 2015, when a one-day old baby was found abandoned on the side of a road in Rathcoole in Dublin.

"Media reports surrounding cases of concealment can be sensationalist and emotive in tone. There were repeated calls for reunification of the mother and infant in the case of Baby Maria and yet no helpline numbers were offered in media reports.

"This demonstrates a serious lack of understanding in relation to concealed pregnancies and the difficulties involved. Indeed little to no consideration was given to the fact that another individual may have been responsible for leaving Baby Maria in Rathcoole," she commented.

She noted that after the baby's discovery, there were a number of cruel and insensitive headlines used throughout the media, such as ‘dumped baby', ‘bin bag tot' and ‘mother must feel like a hunted animal'.

She pointed out that the women who took part in the HRB study talked about their experiences of hearing and reading negative terms used by the media, such as ‘neglectful', ‘sneaky', ‘mad' and ‘deceitful'.

"Such terms do not present a positive portrayal of women who have been through a traumatic, isolating and lonely experience, and may contribute to notions of deviancy or victimhood. We urgently need to reshape the landscape and develop care pathways for women, and offer support both during and after a concealed pregnancy," Ms Murphy Tighe said.

She also called for ‘responsible and ethical journalism', describing some of the headlines used as ‘inappropriate in a modern and pluralist society'.

"These may serve to silence women and prevent them coming forward to access assistance and support," she added.

Also commenting on the findings, Joan Lalor of the TCD research team, said that there is ‘an urgent need' for editorial oversight and press guidelines when reporting on this topic.

"Sensationalist and cruel headlines must cease as Ireland's legacy of concealed pregnancy is still unfolding today. The work led by the Samaritans in collaboration with journalists into developing guidelines for media reporting on suicide is one that can be mirrored in relation to concealed pregnancy.

"These guidelines have led to more factual and sensitive reporting and demonstrate how effective inter-agency work can lead to greater understanding of such a sensitive issue," Ms Lalor said.


[Posted: Thu 23/03/2017]

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