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‘Sunshine’, ‘angels’ and ‘rainbows’: language developed by mothers bereaved by perinatal loss

02 July 2022
14 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 7

Abstract

Background

A perinatal loss is a life-changing event that can have psychological consequences for a mother both after the loss and in a subsequent pregnancy.

Aims

This qualitative study aimed to examine mothers' lived experiences of the holistic journey of perinatal loss and subsequent pregnancy.

Methods

Qualitative data were collected via online surveys (n=40) and face-to-face semi-structured interviews (n=5), then analysed using reflexive thematic analysis.

Results

Under the overarching theme ‘finding the words: language, labels and legitimate distress', three themes were developed that captured the ways in which participants used language to challenge societal silence and legitimise the personhood of their loss, while creating a community of support.

Conclusions

Midwives play a key role in women's experiences during the perinatal journey after a loss. The language used can either validate or be dismissive of distress. The researchers recommend midwives adopt labels developed by rather than for bereaved parents in order to provide empathic care.

Perinatal loss is a term that includes losses that occur during pregnancy or shortly after birth. As many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, resulting in up to 45 000 hospital admissions annually in England (NHS Digital Secondary Care Analysis, 2019). In England and Wales, almost 2500 stillbirths were recorded in 2020 and over 1700 neonatal deaths were recorded in 2018 (Office for National Statistics 2021; 2022). Despite the prevalence of perinatal loss, western societies often fail to recognise the significance of such losses and their psychological impact on those who experience them (Martel, 2014; Heazell et al, 2016; Farren et al, 2020). Depression and anxiety levels have been found to be significantly elevated in women who are pregnant following a loss (Hunter et al, 2017). A pregnancy after a loss is not only potentially a time of anxiety as a result of previous pregnancy experiences (Moulder, 2001), it is also a time when the individual may still be grieving their loss.

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