The Experience of the Young Child Bereaved by Sibling Stillbirth

Jackson, Nicola
Solomon, Margot
Buchanan, Jill
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Master of Psychotherapy
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Auckland University of Technology

Siblings bereaved by stillbirth have been described as “invisible mourners” because their loss is often unacknowledged. This research project uses a psychoanalytic developmental orientation to examine the experience of young children (aged two to six-years-old) bereaved by sibling stillbirth. A hermeneutic literature review engaged with diverse texts including academic literature, pūrākau, poetry, novels and visual art works, in dialogue with the author’s lived experience of sibling stillbirth in Aotearoa New Zealand. The findings suggest that the stillborn sibling becomes a lifelong constant companion for the bereaved young child. A unique set of concerns is confirmed for the bereaved young child, based on the intensification of the emotional themes of young childhood, especially loss and separation. Then, through the lens of the subjective reality of the young child, this study explores the disembodied, symbolic and spiritual relationship between the young child and their dead sibling. The concept of the dead sibling as a phantastical transitional object is constructed from psychoanalytic references. Then inspired largely by mātauranga Māori, the dead sibling as a spiritual presence is discussed and affirms the author’s lived experience. Implications for the psychotherapy profession include an awareness of a range of different presentations in the individual child and the family that may have a basis in sibling stillbirth. The importance of undirected play as therapy, and the transpersonal aspect of the therapeutic relationship are highlighted. The research underscores the importance of play and symbolisation for the young child, both as creative, spiritual and therapeutic endeavours. Through play, the young child encounters their dead sibling in a way that is not possible in the physical world, and their relationship can be seen and fulfilled.

Stillbirth , Sibling , Oedipal , Grief , Bereavement , Young child , Preschooler , Baby loss , Infant loss , Child and adolescent psychotherapy , Psychotherapy , Psychoanalysis , Transitional object , Transitional space , Play therapy , Hermeneutic , Literature review
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