Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Stillbirth: Psychosocial Implications of an Unrecognized Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Stillbirth: Psychosocial Implications of an Unrecognized Issue

Article excerpt

Stillbirth is one of the most misunderstood types of loss. A stillbirth is the loss of a baby before or during delivery (Randolph, Hruby, & Sharif, 2015). It is a traumatic event that has received little attention among clinicians and researchers during the past decade (Silver et al., 2007). Compared to other health issues such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and sudden infant death (SIDS), stillbirths are not acknowledged as a public health concern (Cacciatore, 2009). Even though statistics indicate that each day more than 7,300 babies are stillborn worldwide, the lack of recognition on this issue leads to the perception of the deaths of these infants to be considered a non-event or an invisible death (Cacciatore, Froen, & Killian, 2013; Froen et al., 2011). The disenfranchised loss that parents, in particular mothers, face could contribute to psychological distress following a stillbirth. The grief and distress that parents endure following a stillbirth requires exploration in order to understand the immediate and longlasting effects of this disenfranchised loss (Campbell-Jackson, Bezance, & Horsch, 2014).

Grief resulting from a stillbirth is especially vulnerable to being disenfranchised. Doka (1989) defines disenfranchised grief as the "grief persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported" (p. 103). For socially recognized deaths, there is a great deal of support given to the individuals coping with the loss. However, often following a stillbirth, parents are not provided the same amount of care and aid due to the fact that they are the only ones to have created an attachment to the child (Human et al., 2015).

The death of a child brings with it a great deal of grief and pain. "While most infant and child deaths are socially recognized as traumatic and worthy of mourning, stillbirth is generally treated as a non-event that is not as weighty as the death of a live-born child" (Cacciatore, Froen, & Killian, 2013, p. 343). Modiba and Nolte (2007) reported that mothers who were coping with a stillbirth wanted to have their losses recognized and validated, and desired for people to be compassionate and offer support just as they would during a normative loss. However, due to the fact that often the loss from a stillbirth is not acknowledged, many women cope with their grief in silence, and feel ashamed of what they have been through, adding to the psychological difficulties of their losses (Cacciatore, 2013). It is important that women have the opportunity to address grief and psychological sequelae related to stillbirth through professional mental health services.

The Current Study

In the present study, an examination of how hospital staff can affect parents coping with a stillbirth was performed, as this is typically the first point of contact between health services and those experiencing a stillbirth. An assessment was done regarding how contact with the stillborn child following birth impacted parents. A review was done of how the lack of recognition and validation of perinatal loss has led to the perception of stillbirth as an insubstantial occurrence. An analysis is provided regarding how societal beliefs about stillbirth have affected parents, in particular mothers, impacting their ability to cope with grief, risking maladaptive adjustment and psychopathology which can continue into a subsequent pregnancy (Cacciatore, Froen, & Killian, 2013). Furthermore, how the previous, often unresolved loss will impact the future live-born child, and his or her attachment with the grieving parents will also be explored.

The research questions which guided this study are as follows:

1. What psychological impact does the hospital response to a stillbirth have on the parents?

2. What are the psychosocial consequences that may result from experiencing a stillbirth?

3. What is the psychological impact on parents who have a subsequent pregnancy? …

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