The Ultimate in Women’s Labor

Stillbirth and grieving

Authored by: Joanne Cacciatore , Jill Wieber Lens

Routledge International Handbook of Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health

Print publication date:  October  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138490260
eBook ISBN: 9781351035620
Adobe ISBN:


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Stillbirth is the death of an unborn baby in late pregnancy or during birth. According to the World Health Organization’s 28 weeks of pregnancy definition of stillbirth, more than 2.6 million babies were stillborn in 2015. Despite the frequency of these early deaths, it is often overlooked in feminist scholarship. This chapter explores the death of a baby from a feminist theoretical lens, emphasizing the woman’s experience. Millions of mothers give birth to and grieve their stillborn babies. Their trauma is compounded by shock due to paternalistic medical care before stillbirth, care that believed it was better that pregnant women remain uneducated about the risk of stillbirth. In addition, their grief is minimized by the cultural taboo of stillbirth—the limited public acknowledgment that treats stillbirth as less than the death of an older child. This chapter concludes with recommendations for medical care based on women’s needs, including improved data collection, medical prioritization, disclosure and education around the risk of stillbirth, and the use of respectful common language to describe stillbirth that properly recognizes a grieving mother’s lived experience. These measures can help validate the woman’s role as mother to the child, even though the child was born dead.

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