There are several conditions which, if diagnosed during pregnancy, can mean that a baby may not live for long after birth, or that he or she might not make it to birth at all.

These diagnoses are rare but they can arise in about 1% of pregnancies. What many parents are not told, however, is that while their children will have a short life, the time they have with them can be hugely joyful and rewarding.

In the section below we look at the most common conditions and the stories of parents who have had children with each of these conditions. Many of these stories are from the excellent website, Every Life Counts, which has more testimonies from parents. Click here to visit the Every Life Counts website.

Support is available for parents who have a child with a life limiting diagnosis and we have included information on support organisations in the support tab below.


Common Disorders – Anencephaly

Anencephaly is a serious neural tube defect which causes the baby’s brain not to develop properly. A recent study found that 72% of babies with anencephaly lived for a short time after birth. Of those children, 25% lived up to 5 days, while up to 7% lived up to 28 days after birth. (1)

Two children – Stephanie Keene and Nicholas – lived in excess of two years.

In one recent case, Baby Faith Hope lived for a wonderful 93 days. Her mother, Myah wrote:

“I chose to carry my baby to term for one simple reason: love. Then to everyone’s surprise, we were blessed with 3 months and 4 days with Faith before she went to Heaven. She was the sweetest little girl… so beautiful and so full of life. I feel so blessed to be her mother”

(1) Jaquier M, Klein A, Boltshauser E. ‘Spontaneous pregnancy outcome after prenatal diagnosis of anencephaly.’ BJOG 2006; 113:951–953

Stories – John Paul – Ours for a while

Stories – Wishes for LillyAnn

Trisomy 18

Common Disorders – Trisomy 18 or Edwards Syndrome

Trisomy 18 or Edwards Syndrome arises because of the presence of an extra chromosome. Quite contrary to recent reporting, studies have found that the average duration of survival for children with Trisomy 18 was 14.5 days; with 38.6% of babies surviving for more than a month, while 8.4% survived for more than a year. (2)

Elaine Fagan, given just days to live after birth, spent 25 years with her loving family before her death in 2011, confounding all medical expectations.

“She has touched so many people. I now know happiness comes from caring and sharing with others. I wouldn’t have found that out if I didn’t have Elaine. It’s thanks to her that I am seeing a lovely side of human nature,” said her father Micheal.

(2) Mitchel L. Zoler, ‘Trisomy 18 survival can exceed 1 year’, OB/GYN News, March 1 2003

Stories – Elliot – 99 Balloons
Trisomy 13

Common Disorders – Trisomy 13 or Patua Syndrome

Trisomy 13 or Patau Syndrome also arises when the baby has an additional chromosome. Research has found that children with Trisomy 13 live on average for 7 days after birth, while almost 31% live for more than a month, and almost one in 10 live for more than a year. (3)

Anthony Arritola lived for twelve months after birth, and his mother Janina said his life had inspired many others to realise “how incredibly precious each and every little life is”.

(3) Mitchel L. Zoler, ‘Trisomy 13 survival can exceed 1 year’, OB/GYN News, March 1 2003

Stories – Clodagh – 33 days
Potter's Syndrome

Common Disorders – Potter’s Syndrome, Potter’s Sequence and Renal Agenesis

Potter’s Syndrome, Potter’s Sequence and Renal Agenesis reduced volume of amniotic fluid also arises. It has tended to be associated with a very poor outcome but this is not invariably so, and data shows the outlook may be improving.

Doctors predicted that infant Sarah Elizabeth Kaster, like other Potter’s Syndrome babies, would never open her eyes, never utter a sound, and never breathe on her own. Her life expectancy was two or three minutes. Instead, she lived 22 and a half glorious hours. During that time, little Sarah opened her beautiful eyes, cried like any baby, and responded to her parents’ loving touch. Her mother, Holly Kaster, said that:

“Sarah brought me so much joy in the short time she was with me, I look at her life as a total blessing. And I feel honoured to have been her mother.”

Stories – Our Baby Oliver


New Zealand

Sands Wanganui

Antenatal care and perinatal hospice

For those wanting to know about options for New Zealanders with a child with a lethal anomaly diagnosis, there is a perinatal hospice operating in Wanganui that is run by Catherine Bronnimann and a group of experienced volunteers.

If your baby has had a poor diagnosis before birth and is not expected to survive, support and information is available for your decision making.

Sands Wanganui will fully support you in your decision and help you as best as we can to help make it a more gentle process.  We can help you with your birth and care plans, birth coaching, funeral arrangements, photography and memory collecting.

Catherine Brönnimann
Phone: 06 343 3648


Perinatal Hospice

A wonderful support service for families facing a poor diagnosis for their baby. The perinatal hospice service gives parents the gift of time by offering the best possible medical and professional support to everyone involved, and allowing parents to create precious memories of their time with their special children.

Now I lay me down to sleep

A free professional photography service especially for families facing the untimely death of their baby. Remembrance photography is a very important step in the healing process. This wonderful service is available for free for Irish families.

Every Life Counts

This online outreach is a place where parents of children who were diagnosed with a terminal condition can share their memories, their joy, their pain, and their love. It’s a place where the lives of our much-loved children are celebrated, and where we can reach out to parents in similar situations. Every Life Counts aims to be a valuable resource and source of hope for families and their children who, above all else, seek the gift of time.

Information about the life-limiting condition, anencephaly, which arises while the child is in the womb. Help is offered for affected parents, caregivers, family and friends.

Be not afraid is an online outreach to parents who have received a poor or difficult prenatal diagnosis. There are many inspiring stories of children whose short lives touched so many people.

TAG – Trisomy Advocacy Group

Trisomy Advocacy Group (TAG) is an organization advocating for the Trisomy community by empowering families and the medical community to make informed decisions regarding the care of Trisomy children.

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