Stillbirth remains the major complication of pregnancy, 2.6 million babies globally each year die before birth. The overwhelming majority of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries, stillbirth remains a health concern for high income countries too. A recent Lancet paper highlighted the long-standing effects of stillbirth for women and their families. The majority of couples will proceed to a subsequent pregnancy after loss, many within a very short time frame.
The aim of this phenomenological study was to explore how heterosexual couples make sense of their experiences of pregnancy after loss. In depth, qualitative interviews were conducted with eight couples during their immediate pregnancy after loss. Ethical approval was obtained, all data were treated in the strictest confidence, transcribed and analysed in keeping with the principles of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis.
Of the eight couples, three had infants with an antenatal diagnosis incompatible with life and a further two couples had infants with premature, pre-term rupture of membranes unlikely to result in a survivable infant. Termination of pregnancy was not an available option in the country where this study was conducted; it was available in a neighbouring country however it was not availed of by any of the study participants.
One main theme identified was “having a live baby at any cost”. Couples recounted wishing to have their lost baby alive regardless of the personal cost. Another theme was “looking for a reason”. Couples were anxious to discover why their baby had died. This had a particular effect on their decision to try to get pregnant again.
The majority of stillbirths in high income countries occur in the antenatal period and may be as a result of life-limiting fetal conditions. How couples are cared for during this time can have an impact upon their bereavement and subsequent pregnancies.