Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Professor Lynne Cohen

Second Advisor

Ms Belinda Jennings

Abstract

Over the past three decades, research has proliferated on the incidence of grief severity following pregnancy loss, with many research studies citing the existence of ‘complicated’ and ‘unresolved’ grief. It is argued that this emphasis on grief severity has overshadowed other aspects of the bereavement experience that might differ from grief as it has been defined. Understanding the experience of loss in pregnancy instead of categorising it, would allow for new and varied understandings of the meaning women attribute to their experience of losing a baby. Furthermore, paying attention to women’s interpretations and understandings of pregnancy loss provides valuable insight into care that is perceived as meaningful and supportive.

Utilising interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), a qualitative research method, the current study explored the experience of pregnancy loss among nineteen bereaved women with a history of miscarriage or stillbirth. The findings revealed that bereaved women struggle with a unique, complex and pervasive bereavement experience, that is largely unacknowledged and misunderstood. Women conveyed a strong desire for others to acknowledge and validate their loss, and to facilitate rather than suppress their grief. In addition, women identified a need to remain connected to their deceased baby, and for others to recognise the profound and enduring nature of their grief. Perceptions of support were identified as a critical catalyst in determining women’s bereavement experiences, and revealed both positive and negative attributions of professional and social support. In particular, women identified a need for increased public awareness of pregnancy loss, more sensitive and empathic care, continued support to facilitate contact with the baby, improved continuity of care to support grieving, and enhanced support in the subsequent pregnancy to assist with anxiety management. The implications of these findings for future research and practice are discussed.

The study provides a context within which women’s experiences can not only be recognised as widespread and rational emotional processes following pregnancy loss, but that those suffering can also receive appropriate, specialised professional support and social acceptance by the wider community.

Included in

Psychology Commons

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