Background Despite improvements in antenatal care, stillbirth remains 10 times more common than sudden infant death syndrome, and rates have remained constant for decades. Given the devastating impact of stillbirth, it is imperative to understand the importance of clinical and emotional care after stillbirth and how this influences subsequent pregnancies. UK studies have indicated that 50–80% of women become pregnant between twelve and eighteen months following a perinatal death. These studies highlight that during the subsequent pregnancy parents experience high levels of anxiety due to concerns of possible negative outcome in the pregnancy.
Methods In this qualitative study, purposive sampling was used to recruit parents from a large, Irish hospital, where there were 30 stillbirths in 2011. Ten parents, six mothers and four fathers consented to the interview process. The interviews were conducted by a health sociologist and a health psychologist. The expertise of the health psychologist was sought after some of the fathers expressed a preference for their interviews to be carried out by a male interviewer. All interviews were conducted on a one-to-one basis. Data were transcribed and the process of inductive thematic analysis was utilised to interpret the data.
Results Analysis revealed that in the days following stillbirth both mothers and fathers experience a range of emotions including shock, distress and disbelief. Findings indicate that during this time consideration of a subsequent pregnancy are reflected upon by parents however there was disparity between the aspirations of men and women. Preliminary findings reveal that mothers start planning their next pregnancy in the days following their stillbirth. The fathers interviewed expressed a clear reluctance to consider any future pregnancies identifying grave concerns for the possible impact of another pregnancy on their partners both physically and emotionally. Fathers also indicated an unwillingness to reveal these concerns to their partners.
Conclusion These findings have implications not only for psychological well-being of parents but also for clinical practice, counselling and social work, especially in the area of follow up and future care. The findings of this study underscore the far reaching and contrasting effects of stillbirth on a couple. The mothers and fathers interviewed illustrated very differing needs and concerns relating to future pregnancies, which challenges healthcare professionals to individualise the care that they provide.
- Stillbirth parents pregnancy
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