Stillbirth - transitions and rituals when birth brings death: Data from a danish national cohort seen through an anthropological lens

Mathilde Lindh Jørgensen, Christina Prinds, Sofie Mørk, Dorte Hvidtjørn

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Many parents bereaved of a stillborn baby spend time with the child. In this time frame, different acts with the child in focus may occur. Some parents invite others to see the child too. Parents who suffer the loss of a newborn are vulnerable, and understanding acts and practices surrounding the dead newborn is important knowledge for caretakers.

AIMS: This article aims to enlighten the amount of time Danish parents spend with their stillborn in hospital settings that encourage this practice. Furthermore, it aims to transcend the mere quantitative numbers through a theoretical approach that frames the analysis and discussion of possible layers of meaning imbedded in time spent with a dead newborn.

STUDY DESIGN: Data from a Danish cohort of bereaved parents were collected using web-based questionnaires. These numbers were successively interpreted through an anthropological lens within the perspective of transition and ritualisation. Knowledge from existing empirical literature was also fused.

RESULTS FROM THE COHORT: Danish parents spend hours or days with their stillborn child. They feel supported in this by healthcare professionals. Mainly close relatives join the parents while admitted to the hospital to see the stillborn child, followed by other family members and friends.

CONCLUSION: Danish parents engage to a very high degree in contact with their dead baby. The analysis points out that 'Time' and 'Others' are needed to create a socially comprehensible status for parents and child when birth brings death. In liminal space during the transition, healthcare professionals act as ritual experts, supporting parents and their relatives to ascribe social status to the dead body of the child through ritualised acts. Instead of only thinking of this period as 'memory-making', we suggest regarding it as a time of ontological clarification as well.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


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