University of Oulu

Family grief and recovery process when a baby dies : a qualitative study of family grief and healing processes after fetal or baby loss

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Author: Väisänen, Leena1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.7 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 1996
Publish Date: 1999-11-10
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Väinö Pääkkönen Hall of the Department of Psychiatry, on January 17th, 1997, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Professor Susan H. McDaniel
Docent Timo Tuori


The purpose of this study was to describe the family grief and recovery process through a qualitative phenomenological family therapy approach. The study included stories of 22 families and one focus group. Of the losses 14, were perinatal, 6 Sudden Infant Death Syndromes (SIDS) and 2 neonatal deaths. The analysed text was divided into 21 categories, which represent different aspects of the meaning systems of the families.

All the families had traumatic symptoms in the beginning, and some mothers suffered from persistent post-traumatic symptoms for several months. Children processed their experiences in grief play and tried to restore their parents back into their roles. Grief was shared in extended families, especially religious families, where acute grief soon generated new meanings. The recovery process starts immediately after the loss, manifesting as thoughts of coping. Grief, trauma and recovery appear intertwined in the stories. Family grief is a many-faceted physical, psychological, spiritual and social process. It is paradoxical, and restorying and retelling are therefore important as a healing process.

The main finding of this study is the intensive way the parents initially need to reprocess their attachment to the psychological remains of their baby in order to recover. Grieving thus involves deep attachment rather than detachment, Some families have phantom babies who continue to live psychologically and almost physically or little angels who comfort and escort the family. The parents have invested so much primeval energy in the baby who is no longer alive that they tend to re-create her/him in their minds psychologically or spiritually.

Professional helpers still have too little knowledge of crisis intervention. The loss of a baby is an exceptional type of normal grief and the parents therefore have difficulties in getting the support they need. Family debriefing and follow-up are necessary.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-5429-5
ISBN Print: 951-42-4485-0
Issue: 398
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 1996. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.