Death Before Birth – Stakeholder Workshop 2018

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The wintry weather might not have been on our side, but the Death Before Birth Stakeholder Workshop on the 28th of February 2018 was a successful exchange of perspectives and insights between all the participants.

With over 30 participants, from medical doctors, midwives, and funerary industry professionals, to representatives of regulatory bodies and charities supporting people who have experienced pregnancy loss, as well as people who have themselves lost a pregnancy to miscarriage, termination, or stillbirth, the workshop brought together a variety of perspectives to discuss the complex issue of pregnancy loss.

The workshop began with a panel on experiences, where three women who have had experiences of miscarriage, termination and stillbirth eloquently told their stories, illustrating the multidimensionality and intricacy of each case. They highlighted key issues that concerned them about the process of decision- and choice-making with regards to the disposal of fetal remains and the cremation or burial of stillborn children.

The DBB research team followed with an update of the project’s progress and short introductions to the breakout sessions: one on communication, run by Jeannette Littlemore, and another on decision-making, run by Karolina Kuberska and Meera Burgess.

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The breakout session on communication focused on the metaphors people use to talk about the experience of pregnancy loss – and how looking at these metaphors can give us insights into such experiences. The session on decision-making highlighted possible conflicts of priorities involved in offering bereavement care to people who have experienced pregnancy loss.

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The final panel, “Professional support and policy: Actions for change”, was a discussion by Ruth Bender-Atik of the Miscarriage Association, Ross Jones from Sands, Brendan Day of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities, and Adam Whittaker of the Human Tissue Authority. The panellists offered their reflections on issues raised in the workshop, as well as indicating possible directions for the future of bereavement care pathways following pregnancy loss.

The day provided a good opportunity for us to share our perspectives on this important issue.

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Tweets from the day: #dbbworkshop2018

Death Before Birth Stakeholder Workshop

The Death Before Birth project team is organising a one-day event on Wednesday the 28th of February 2018.

We will share some of our initial findings and talk to our partner organisations (the Human Tissue Authority, the Miscarriage Association, Antenatal Results and Choices, Sands) about possible applications of our findings as well as about future directions for policy and practice. The workshop will bring together people who have experienced different kinds of pregnancy losses as well as those who support them professionally in different contexts, such as bereavement midwives, funerary industry professionals, and support workers. Among other things, we hope to talk about challenges of losing pregnancy as well as providing care during and after such an event and about the principles of good communication.

We are very much looking forward to this event!

Would you like to join us? There are still a few places left! Find out more and register here: https://goo.gl/TqHThi

Shifting States Anthropology Conference, 11-15 December 2017

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Shifting States – Tripoli, 2011, Luis Cruz Azaceta (

Last week, our team member Karolina Kuberska attended the annual Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) conference. This year, the ASA joined forces with its equivalent organisations in Australia (AAS) and New Zealand (ASAANZ) and held the event at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

The theme of the conference focused on recent anthropological theorising on the state. Over 400 participants discussed various ways in which the state is engaged in people’s everyday lives and engages with peoples as stakeholders. Topics of panels ranged from eating to health, from resistance to victimhood, from sustainability to mining rights, among others. Karolina presented a paper in a panel ran by Dr Susan Hemer (University of Adelaide) and Dr Anthony Heathcote (Monash University, Melbourne) entitled “Death and grief: changing states of being and continuing relationships” that considered the end of life, and the changing states of being that entails.

Karolina presented a paper entitled “Parenthood following miscarriage: the kinship consequences of death before birth” that examined the significance of the lack of legally required miscarriage certificates for the sense of parenthood among people who lost pregnancies prior to week 24 of gestation in England. The paper focused on the discrepancy between legal requirements of registering pregnancy loss (only stillbirth requires legal certificate that includes names of parents) and messages sent by pregnancy loss support organisations and hospitals that consider all losses as potentially significant. You can read the abstract below.

The presentation was well received and Karolina was asked many interesting follow-up questions.

Adelaide is a beautiful city, and there are koalas living in the nearby Cleland Wildlife park. (Follow the links to see videos of a koala eating eucalyptus, or a kangaroo jumping.)

You can read the abstract below:

The sense of parenthood following a miscarriage is questioned by death and nourished by grief. The ambivalence of this kind of parenthood has been addressed by various researchers who examined the difficulties of displaying parenthood to others (Murphy & Thomas 2013), conflicting understandings of the loss (Komaromy et al. 2007; Malacrida 1999), or the paradoxical nature of materiality and immateriality of memories (Layne 2003), among others. Miscarriages, unlike stillbirths, do not require the issuing of legal certificates in England, which calls into question the formal parental status of those who have lost a pregnancy. Simultaneously, care and support following pregnancy loss is structured around recognising the feelings of bereaved parents. This paper aims to explore the ambiguities of parenthood following a miscarriage in England, paying particular attention to the impact of the lack of legal recognition on the sense of parenthood. An analysis of interviews with people who experienced miscarriage and those who cared for them, as well as an analysis of resources directed at these groups (leaflets, books, support guidelines, etc.) help to illuminate the challenges of navigating the precarious sense of parenthood that is deeply anchored in the grief caused by the absence of a child and the unfulfillable dreams that may result from a pregnancy loss. By exploring the implications of lack of legal requirements for miscarriage certificates, this paper uses understandings of kinship as legal and social categories to examine the paradox of parenthood rooted in pregnancy loss.

Reader Post: Sarah’s Story

As part of this blog, we invite readers who have experienced pregnancy loss or stillbirth to share their stories with us. You can submit your story on our Share Your Experiences page.

We’re very grateful to Sarah for getting in touch with her experience. Thank you, Sarah, and we wish you all the best.

I held the pregnancy sac in my hand, alone in my bathroom at home, and stared at it for a while. It was on a piece of toilet paper, had come out as I wiped away this seemingly never ending flow of blood after a visit to the loo. It was my fourth day of bleeding. I was miscarrying at seven weeks, a number that is so small that I almost feel the need to justify it. It took me a while to tell people, to explain to close colleagues why I’d had some off work, or to tell friends the real reason why I wasn’t my usual, happy self. In my experience, when you tell people you’ve miscarried the first thing everyone asks is ‘How far along were you?’. Probably because they don’t know what else to say rather than because of a real desire to know details.

But to me it feels like they’re quantifying my grief, and as though seven is too small a number, too insignificant for it to be valid. And so I try and highlight my sadness by giving more details. Telling the story of nine years spent trying to conceive naturally. Of how our amazing four year old son was conceived after fertility treatment and how we always knew he’d be an only child as we couldn’t put ourselves through that emotional or financial burden a second time. But that didn’t stop us from wanting a sibling for him. Of how this unexpected pregnancy felt like a miracle, how it was a miracle, how it gave us back those dreams, hopes and desires of being parents for a second time. But no-one, besides my husband and I, can really understand those nine years of pain and longing, the unexpected delight, and the crushing disappointment of holding what should’ve become my baby in my hand, on a piece of toilet paper, alone in my bathroom as my husband was at the park with our son.

No medical professional had used the ‘m’ word yet. You see, seven weeks is such a small and insignificant number that I hadn’t yet seen a midwife for my ‘booking in’ appointment. I didn’t even come under our early pregnancy unit and instead had to walk into A&E and tell them I was pregnant and bleeding after a tearful phone call to my GP. It was so early into the pregnancy that my scan was inconclusive and so I was sent home to wait with another appointment set for two weeks time, and a reassurance that they could clearly see a tiny embryo in the sac and so maybe I’d got my dates wrong, that lots of women had bleeding in early pregnancy and so I shouldn’t worry. I had been bleeding for 24 hours by this point, I knew my dates weren’t wrong, a 2mm embryo with no heartbeat is not what should’ve been on that scan photo. My baby was dead, maybe its heart never started to beat in the first place, and I was sent away with no information, was forced to Google ‘what to expect during a miscarriage’ and then sit at home and wait it out.

And so I wasn’t given choices, no options of how to dispose of the remains of my baby, no invitation to a memorial ceremony like the ones I know other people have attended. No one even knew I was pregnant because of this silly, cultural tradition of keeping it secret for the first 12 weeks ‘just in case’. Miscarriage is very common, you know, one in every four pregnancies end like this so best not tell anyone you’re pregnant until you’re past the first trimester. To me, the discourses of miscarriage seem intended to normalise something that is far from normal for the women who experience it. These discourses are so at odds to the trauma and grief and physical pain and fear that I felt when alone in my bathroom on that day, or in the days before and the weeks and months after. Nobody talks about pregnancy loss so it feels like a dirty secret, like I should just be able to pick myself up, dust myself down, and carry on as if this never happened. So I flushed the remains of my baby down the toilet, sobbed in a heap on the floor for around 40 minutes, and still question whether that was the right way to say goodbye.

Remembering Baby: Life, Loss and Post-Mortem

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Remembering Baby: Life, Loss and Post-Mortem is a small but powerful exhibition that can be seen in London for the next couple of weeks. It explores the space of pregnancy loss where parents and professionals meet. Organised as a part of ‘End of’ or ‘Start of’ Life Project carried out at the University of Sheffield, it shows ways of articulating loss of a baby in ways where words may not be the only source of meaning. Objects invoking memories are accompanied by sound pieces inspired by memories and experiences of parents who have lost a baby at an early stage of life.

Find out more at rememberingbaby.co.uk; twitter @_rememberbaby

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Venues:

3-14 November 2017, Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3EY

5-14 December 2017, The Art House, 8 Blackfields, Sheffield, S1 4HJ