The first time a midwife cares for a woman having a stillbirth - a descriptive interpretive inquiry

Jones, Kay
Smythe, Liz
McAra-Couper, Judith
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This study has developed from recognition of the potential impact on midwives caring, for the first time, for women experiencing stillbirth. The main aim of the research is to identify and interpret this impact, if any, on the midwife. It also seeks to reach an understanding of the world of the midwife in relation to fetal loss. Current research focuses mainly on the experiences of the families who have gone through stillbirth. The specific experience of the midwife involved in this care is relatively absent in current research.

It could be suggested that when caring for a woman who is going through a stillbirth, the midwife must navigate her own personal and professional journey. This journey was the focus of this qualitative study, using Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology. This philosophical approach seeks to reveal the lived experience of the midwife and explore the phenomenon of stillbirth from her viewpoint.

Five community based midwives were interviewed and asked to talk about their story of the first time they cared for a woman who had experienced a stillbirth. Data from these interviews was analysed using van Manen’s framework. The findings of this thesis suggest that midwives also experience a sense of loss. These experiences are described in the following themes: Shockwave; denial + invisibility = self- protection; blameworthiness; touched by death; empathetic loss; and broken.

This research strives to recognise that the death of a baby is a significant event for the midwife providing this care. A deeper understanding of the lifeworld of the midwife provides other midwives with the nod of knowingness about the hidden experience of caring for women who have had a stillbirth. The beneficiaries of this study will be midwifery students, new graduate midwives and, in fact, the wider midwifery community.

Recommendations for organisational acknowledgement and support for community-based midwives, education for both under graduate and post graduate midwives and further research are made based on the findings of this study.

Stillbirth , Midwife
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