Mothers' accounts of their stillbirth experiences and of their subsequent relationships with their living infant: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

A. Meltem Üstündağ-Budak, Michael Larkin, Gillian Harris, Jacqueline Blissett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Due to contradictory findings regarding the effects of seeing and holding stillborn infants on women's worsening mental health symptoms, there is a lack of clear of guidance in stillbirth bereavement care. Although some current research examines this phenomenon we are still not certain of the meaning of such experiences to women and what effects there may be on her subsequent parenting. Thus the present study focuses on the meaning of the stillbirth experience to women and its influence on the subsequent pregnancy and subsequent parenting from the mothers' own experiences.

METHODS: A purposive sample of six women who experienced a stillbirth during their first pregnancy and who then went on to give birth to a living child after a further pregnancy, took part in email interviews, providing rich and detailed experiential narratives about both the stillbirth itself, and their relationship with their living child. An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was carried out in order to focus on mothers making sense of such experiences.

RESULTS: Analysis of written accounts led to the development of three overarching themes. In 'Broken Canopy', 'How This Happened' and 'Continuing Bonds', their accounts revealed an ongoing process where women accepted a new 'unsafe' view of the world, re-evaluated their view of self and others, and established relationships with both the deceased and the living infant.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provided an insight into the stillbirth experience of mothers and its meaning to them with an existential focus. Typically the mother struggled with the contradictory process of accepting the existence of her deceased baby (this baby once lived) while being aware of the nonexistence (this baby). Meeting the dead baby was a crucial point at which the mother started processing her grief. The importance of individual differences in dealing with stressful situations was highlighted in terms of attachment strategies. Subsequent parenting experiences of mothers were very much influenced by their own previous experiences. Although some mothers managed to integrate this trauma into their life some remained very concerned and anxious about future and this anxiety then translated into their parenting experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number263
Number of pages14
JournalBMC pregnancy and childbirth
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

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  • psychological adaptation
  • gravidity
  • grief
  • mother-child relations
  • mothers
  • parenting
  • pregnancy


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