Call for media guidelines of concealed pregnancy cases

Research criticises 'negative' headlines

Call for media guidelines of concealed pregnancy cases

File photo | Image: Katie Collins PA Wire/PA Images

Research from Trinity College Dublin has found concealed pregnancies are an ongoing situation for women in Ireland.

The study also found that such pregnancies are often "negatively and insensitively" covered in media, to the potential detriment of women and babies.

It examined national and international media coverage on concealed pregnancies, and the experiences of the women who took part in the Health Research Board-funded study.

A concealed or hidden pregnancy is a situation where a woman hides her pregnancy and keeps it secret from her family and social network.

Researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity are calling for the development of media reporting guidelines.

Sixty women came forward to share their experiences, and researchers spoke to 30 of them as part of 'The Keeping it Secret Study (KISS)'.

Lead researcher Sylvia Murphy Tighe conducted the research at Trinity.

She said: "Women in Ireland continue to conceal their pregnancies 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."

"More sensitive"

She was also concerned at how some media dealt with the Baby Maria and Baby Alannah cases in 2015 and 2016.

"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...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 also says some insensitive headlines such as 'dumped baby', 'bin bag tot', and 'baby in bag case' were unhelpful.

"There were the most inappropriate headlines published at that time...there was calls for reunification 'Come and get your little baby Maria'.

"And I felt the discussion needs to be more sensitive, more nuance".

She is calling for "responsible and ethical journalism as such shocking headlines must be considered inappropriate in a modern and pluralist society" and says they may silence women and prevent them coming forward to access support.

And she believes press guidelines could be similar to those covering suicide.

"Something along that line could be mirrored - I suppose education of us all, around society at large in terms of how we speak about concealed pregnancy.

"It is important that blame is not attributed to women. Some women described that concealed pregnancy was a choiceless choice".

The full study will be available in early summer 2017.