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The meaning of rituals after a stillbirth: A qualitative study of mothers with a stillborn baby

Journal title
Journal of clinical nursing
Publication year
Tseng, Y. F.; Hsu, M. T.; Hsieh, Y. T.; Cheng, H. R.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To explore the meaning of rituals that women and their families perform after a stillbirth. BACKGROUND: A cultural taboo in Taiwan prohibits discussing death; thus, parents of stillborn babies have no established public mourning or burial ceremonies to perform for their stillborn children. Stillbirths are often treated as if they had never happened. DESIGN: Qualitative descriptive study. METHODS: In-depth interviews, which were transcribed and content analysed, were conducted with a purposive sample of 16 women discharged from two teaching hospitals in Taiwan after they had a stillbirth. RESULTS: Families engaged in rituals for two underlying reasons: to benefit the deceased child and the immediate family. The meanings of the rituals for the child are presented through three themes: (i) sending the baby’s spirit to a safe place, (ii) protecting it from suffering and (iii) preparing it for a better reincarnation. The meanings of rituals for the families are presented through four themes: (i) releasing parental guilt by doing their best for the deceased child, (ii) cutting bonds with the child, (iii) avoiding additional misfortune should they mishandle the funeral and (iv) praying for a successful subsequent pregnancy. CONCLUSIONS: Death-related rituals are highly culturally diverse. This study fills a gap about Asian cultures. Participating in rituals permits a mother to do something for her deceased child, helps relieve her guilt and lets her cope with the stillbirth. Rituals after a stillbirth can help a woman recover from grieving and allow her to hope for a successful subsequent pregnancy. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Health professionals should discuss with bereaved parents what rituals they would like to perform and then respect their decisions. A continuum of care and support that exists from the prenatal diagnosis through the stillbirth and beyond is recommended for parents and families during this difficult time.

Research abstracts