The Lived Experience of Being Born into Grief

Holt, Michelle
Feather, Jacqueline
Reed, Kirk
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Doctor of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This study explores the meaning of the lived experience of being born into grief. Using a phenomenological hermeneutic methodology, informed by the writings of Martin Heidegger [1889-1976] and Hans-George Gadamer [1900-2002], this research provides an understanding of the lived experience of having been a baby when one or both parents were grieving (born into grief). The review of the literature identified physical effects of being born when a mother was stressed but no literature was found which discussed emotional effects that a baby may incur due to stress or grief of a parent. The notion of grief was explored and literature pertaining to early childhood adversity reviewed as a possible resource for bringing light to how it may be for babies born into grief. The literature indicated that possible long term complications such as rebellious behaviour, poor relationships, poor mental and physical health, could be a result of early adversity. The literature on understanding effects of grief from a conceptual perspective, rather than from the lived experience perspective, provided a platform for this study. In this study nine New Zealand participants told their stories about the grief situation they were born into and how they thought it had affected them. Data were gathered in the form of semi structured interviews which were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed by identifying key themes and engaging in a hermeneutic thinking process derived from the work of Heidegger and Gadamer, and influenced by my own training and experience as a counsellor. Reading, thinking, writing and redoing reading, thinking, and writing was the method used to bring new understanding to the data. The findings of this thesis suggested that the experience of being born into grief was complex and tended to remain hidden in the everydayness and taken-for-grantedness of people’s lives. Four themes were identified; Taken-for-granted-Being-in-the-everyday, Vulnerability-in-the-everyday, Being-with Connectedness, and Wondering. Taken-for-grantedness-in-the-everyday was about how thought was not given to how parents grief may have affected participants as babies, and how this may have had lifelong implications. Vulnerability-in-the-everydayness showed as ways that participants’ lives had become vulnerable as a result of their birth situation. Being-with Connectedness was in response to connections or lack of connections of people, culture, and things that participants identified as being the way they were, possibly as a result of being born into grief. Being-with-wondering was as a result of wondering how life may have been different if they had not been exposed to the grief of their parents as babies. This study brings to the fore how being born into grief was for the participants and how having this experience may alter, influence, or implicate people’s lives. Each of these facets of understanding were interwoven and overlapped as parts that formed a whole that was bigger than the sum of the parts. The findings of the study have implications for health professional practice, service providers, and research. Being born into grief could be a phenomenon that accounts for unexplained childhood, adolescent and adult behavioural issues, sadness, stress, anxiety, ill physical or ill mental health, later in life.

Grief , Trauma , Memory , Affect , Emotions , Hermeneutic phenomenolgy , Mental health , Behaviour , Baby
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