IN SITUATIONS WHERE EMOTIONS ARE HEIGHTENED AND GRIEF IS PRESENT, MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY CAN EVOKE POWERFUL FEELINGS AND REACTIONS. THIS IS PARTICULARLY TRUE IN THE CASE OF PRENATAL DIAGNOSES OF LIFE-LIMITING CONDITIONS AND THE PHRASE “CARRYING TO TERM.”
Medically speaking, a woman was once considered term if she delivered anytime between 37 and 42 weeks gestation. After extensive research, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine now endorse separating this 5-week term range into the following more accurate gestational age designations:
- early term, which refers to the period between 37 0/7 weeks and 38 6/7 weeks gestation
- full term, which refers to the period between 39 0/7 weeks and 40 6/7 weeks gestation
- late term, which refers to the period between 41 0/7 weeks and 41 6/7 weeks gestation
- post term, which refers to 42 0/7 weeks gestation and beyond
These gestational age designations serve as markers designed to help facilitate data reporting, appropriate and quality health care, and future research. These designations are not what we, Carrying To Term, are referring to in our organization name or when we use the phrases “carrying to term” or “continuation of a pregnancy despite a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis.”
What we mean is carrying to the natural term of the life of each baby diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. The exact gestational age or term for each pregnancy continued despite a diagnosis will vary widely. For some women, preterm labor or even early term labor will be a result of the specific diagnosis. For others, their pregnancies may continue into the full term gestational age designation. For some women, their care team of medical professionals may determine and recommend a specific date for delivery, whether via induction or scheduled C-section, because of risk factors for mom and baby.
When we say, “carrying to term,” we are referring to the decision to continue a pregnancy after receiving a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. We use this phrasing to distinguish this choice from the decision to terminate a pregnancy following a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.
The name of our organization and the use of this phrase is not meant to be directive. We do not offer gestational age recommendations or guidelines, nor do we provide medical recommendations for interventions following delivery.
“When we say, ‘carrying to term,’ we are referring to the decision to continue a pregnancy after receiving a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. We use this phrasing to distinguish this choice from the decision to terminate a pregnancy following a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.”
The non-directive nature of our organization and the resources we provide extend beyond the pregnancy period. We support carrying to term parents no matter what decisions they make regarding medical interventions following delivery. Only the parents and their care team of medical professionals can discern what measures to take to ensure the longest, pain-free duration of the baby’s life. Though we do not advise specific courses of action, we do provide insight, resources, and specific tools to help parents make the best decisions for their family.
Our comprehensive and interactive birth planning tool walks parents through important aspects of labor, delivery, and the time they will have with their baby. This tool is designed to provide parents with information in a safe, thorough, and emotionally considerate way. When parents access our birth plan tool, they will not be bombarded with information. Each area of the plan is carefully laid out under expandable and collapsible sections to allow them to access each topic as they are ready. To learn more about how our birth plan tool helps parents consider their options, make decisions, and ensure that their voices are heard on delivery day, see our in-depth look into the birth plan tool found here.
We also offer resources specifically designed to help families and their network of support navigate grief and life after loss. Our stories page offers families support and connection through the powerful words of other carrying to term families. Each story on our site is full of love, grief, insight, and hope. Many parents find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their experiences, no matter how unique.
Just as the stories page allows us to share on a deeper and more personal level, our blog is a space where Carrying To Term can share the most up-to-date information and speak into the very raw, beautiful, and painful realities of this experience. We believe parents facing a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition have the right to be fully informed which means providing families with insight into the joy and the devastation. The purpose of the blog is to inform, equip, and encourage families in every aspect of their experience from diagnosis to life after loss as well as share insight with the family’s network of support and team of medical professionals.
“What we mean is carrying to the natural term of the life of each baby diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. The exact gestational age or term for each pregnancy continued despite a diagnosis will vary widely.”
Our mission is to provide support and education to parents, their network of support, and their care team of medical professionals. We seek to ensure that every family facing a prenatal life-limiting diagnosis is given the option to carry to term in a way that shows them they will have an entire organization of support walking alongside them. We know that no two carrying to term experiences will be the same, so we are here to provide individualized support, care, and insight to help each family navigate their unique experience.
So, whether a family delivers unexpectedly at 22 weeks gestation, gives birth to a stillborn baby, or makes it to the full term gestational age designation, Carrying To Term is here and ready to empower, equip, and support families as they navigate the months ahead.
Definition of term pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 579. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2013;122:1139–40.