Reconstructing Identity: Parental Perspectives on Grief and Loss Following Still Birth and Neonatal Death

Kerry Jones
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Objective: To explore and examine

i. To what extent current literature can elicit insight into the social world of men and women’s experiences of stillbirth and neo natal death

ii. Men and Women’s conceptions of the self and identity in grief and loss

iii. To explore possible differences between men’s and women’s grief reactions following stillbirth or neonatal death within their everyday lives.

The field of grief and loss is currently undergoing a conceptual change as we reconsider our understanding of the experience of parental bereavement where the child has either been stillborn or suffered a neonatal death. Traditionally the dominant model of bereavement has suggested that the grieving process involves a bereaved person passing through a number of well - defined stages. Grief is therefore viewed as a process to be worked through associated with the breaking of emotional bonds with the deceased in order to facilitate adjustment (Worden, 1991). This approach has been widely criticised (Kohner and Henley, 1997; Shapiro, 1994; Covington, et al, 1993; Wortman and Silver, 1989) since grief is complicated by different conceptions of the self and identity, with the mother viewing the death of her child as a ‘narcissistic injury’ to the self following gestation, whereas the father experiences injury to the ‘mental self’ (Hughes et al, 2002). This suggests that the experience of embodiment may be significant within the bereavement of neonatal deaths as the mother experiences the embodied loss of her child which may be viewed as a disembodied loss for the father and others. The meaning of loss needs to be seen in the context of the death of a child not only being a biological occurrence, but interrelated with the social, that is how parents and others make sense of an unexpected event and how the responses to the death are inevitably shaped by the discourses of our social worlds (Hedtke, 2002).

Keywords: Gender, Indentity, Death, Grief, Stillbirth, Neonatal Death, Men/Women Perspectives, Social World
Stream: Sociology and Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Kerry Jones

Research Student, Department of Sociology, University of Bristol
Bristol, Bristol, UK

Kerry Jones has enjoyed an eclectic nineteen year experience in the social care and mental health field and as a researcher, from which a particular academic interest in gender differences in bereavement following stillbirth and neonatal death, policy, applied population research, and death ritual and mourning in society has evolved. Currently a research student at the University of Bristol in the UK, Kerry is working on a PhD thesis entitled: Parental Perspectives on Grief and Loss Following Stillbirth and Neonatal Death. This is work currently unique to the field of death and grief in the UK since emphasis is given to parental experiences in order to elicit insight into the social world of men and women. In order to provide a greater understanding of gender differences to grief and loss the use of narratives and biography is utilised to bring forth experiences to inform policy and literature, of the importance of enabling the parents to be the experts and owners of their own grief to provide agency.

Ref: I06P0135