"A renewed sense of purpose": Mothers' and fathers' experience of having a child following a recent stillbirth

Campbell-Jackson, L.; Bezance, J.; Horsch, A.
BackgroundMost research has focused on mothers inverted question mark experiences of perinatal loss itself or on the subsequent pregnancy, whereas little attention has been paid to both parents inverted question mark experiences of having a child following late perinatal loss and the experience of parenting this child. The current study therefore explored mothers inverted question mark and fathers' experiences of becoming a parent to a child born after a recent stillbirth, covering the period of the second pregnancy and up to two years after the birth of the next baby.MethodIn depth interviews were conducted with 7 couples (14 participants). Couples were eligible if they previously had a stillbirth (after 24 weeks of gestation) and subsequently had another child (their first live baby) who was now under the age of 2 years. Couples who had more than one child after experiencing a stillbirth and those who were not fluent in English were excluded. Qualitative analysis of the interview data was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis.ResultsFive superordinate themes emerged from the data: Living with uncertainty; Coping with uncertainty; Relationship with the next child; The continuing grief process; Identity as a parent. Overall, fathers' experiences were similar to those of mothers', including high levels of anxiety and guilt during the subsequent pregnancy and after the child was born. Coping strategies to address these were identified. Differences between mothers and fathers regarding the grief process during the subsequent pregnancy and after their second child was born were identified. Despite difficulties with bonding during pregnancy and at the time when the baby was born, parents' perceptions of their relationship with their subsequent child were positive.ConclusionsFindings highlight the importance of tailoring support systems not only according to mothers' but also to fathers' needs. Parents inverted question mark, and particularly fathers', reported lack of opportunities for grieving as well as the high level of anxiety of both parents about their baby's wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth implies a need for structured support. Difficulties experienced in bonding with the subsequent child during pregnancy and once the child is born need to be normalised.