Death, Gender, and Ethnicity

By David Field; Jenny Hockey et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Death at the beginning of life

Alice Lovell


INTRODUCTION

This chapter addresses the experiences of losing a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or early neonatal death. These losses, often not viewed as ‘proper’ bereavements, tend to be devalued because there appears to be no person to grieve for. Birth and death instead of being seen as two separate events are treated as though one cancelled out the other. Thus death at the beginning of life is a neglected area. This chapter will highlight some of the ways in which these losses have been ignored and consider reasons for this neglect.

After outlining problems of definition, birth and death will be set into the medical context. Death at the beginning of life will be viewed in the light of the bereavement literature and I shall then trace the emergence of miscarriage, stillbirth and perinatal loss as matters of social concern. ‘Capturing the loss’ is a section based on an empirical study (Lovell 1983) which illustrates some of the issues. This is followed by a section which focuses on miscarriage. It is argued that increasing attention is being paid to the mother’s needs in respect of stillbirth and neonatal loss. These include ways to make the baby real by seeing the body, having a funeral and ‘memorialising’ the baby. However, there are conflicting interests which inhibit similar attention being paid to miscarriage. There are gaps in scriptures and other religious texts surrounding all these losses. These omissions mean that the needs of bereaved parents, from a range of religious backgrounds and cultures, are often overlooked. ‘Religious professionals’ is a section which takes up these issues using interview data from a recent study (Lovell 1995b). The findings have implications for practitioners in the ‘caring’ professions.

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