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Creating and maintaining compassionate relationships with bereaved parents after perinatal death

02 August 2016
Volume 24 · Issue 8


Compassionate relational care has the potential to nurture bereaved parents in a meaningful way and positively shape their grieving journey, as well as being fulfilling for midwives who offer such quality care. Enabling a quality relationship to develop with bereaved parents ensures a safe relational space is created, where parents can experience an emotional connection with their midwife when they most need it. The quality of this unique relationship created by the midwife and experienced by the parents will forever become part of their deceased baby's narrative and will continue to influence, either positively or negatively, their onward grieving journey.

It is well recognised in the literature that the quality of the relationship between the midwife and the woman is central to the quality of care provided during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period (Hunter, 2006; Ólafsdóttir, 2006; Hunter et al, 2008; Dahlberg and Aune, 2013). Within this unique relationship with their midwife, women highlight the importance of an emotional connection, trust, presence, empathy and being valued as a unique person (Dahlberg and Aune, 2013).

Sadly, not all pregnancies result in the birth of a live baby. However, the presence of quality relational care, which is embedded in maternity care, remains particularly crucial when caring for parents who experience a perinatal death.

Compassionate relationships are core elements in creating a safe relational space for the provision of quality clinical and perinatal bereavement care. Bereaved parents' journeys through the maternity services may be greatly influenced, either positively or negatively, by the quality of the relationships that emerge between them and each health professional they encounter. Dewar et al (2014: 1745) describe compassion as ‘a skilled interpersonal and relational process’. Embracing a relational approach to bereavement care requires a compassionate relationship to develop between the individual worlds of the caring midwife and the wounded parents. This unique relationship is epitomised by kindness, openness, trust, dignity, mutual respect, collaborative care, sensitive and honest communication, consistent and accurate information, guidance, and support (Papadatou, 2009; Emanuel and Pryce-Miller, 2013). The unwavering presence of this relationship creates a unique shared, relational space where the bereaved parents and the midwife emotionally connect and collaborate (Papadatou, 2009). Within this space, the midwife relates with sensitivity, is open to meet with the parents' experience in a meaningful way, and is emotionally present with them in supporting and bearing witness to their unique grieving journey.

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