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Responding to catastrophe: Learning from perinatal death in midwifery practice

Laing, Robert (2018) Responding to catastrophe: Learning from perinatal death in midwifery practice. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Perinatal death has far reaching emotional effects for all involved in this devastating event. The opportunity for learning as a result of this catastrophe, however, remains unexplored. This study aimed to examine midwives’ experiences of caring for women through perinatal death, exploring personal and professional impacts to uncover what midwives learn from this experience.

A naturalistic interpretive approach, with a multiple case study design, explored this frequently occurring, yet neglected area of midwifery practice. Seventeen midwives, located in Australia, participated in an online group activity hosted as a blog, followed by telephonic focus groups and in-depth email interviews. Data collection activities took place from August 2012 to February 2014. This approach allowed for personal story telling across the participant group in ways that resonated with the experiences of others and enhanced their understanding of the experience of perinatal death.

Thematic data analysis revealed seven major themes. These new understandings emerged as: Grappling with the reality of perinatal death; Struggling with personal and professional heartache; Seeking the space to grieve as a professional; Being with the woman and her family; Finding a new purpose; Strengthened through support; and Developing the courage to care.

The initial turmoil and impact of loss reflected the catastrophic nature of perinatal death. Midwives uncovered a journey to acceptance and learning, realising a determination to enhance expertise and discovering value in experiential knowledge. The challenges experienced by a perceived lack of content in formal midwifery education and its influence on midwives’ confidence to manage perinatal death and bereavement care is highlighted. However, sharing their stories revealed professional fulfilment, personal strength, and solidarity amongst midwives who have endured similar experiences.

A coordinated approach to support and the dissemination of experiential knowledge and learning could be developed within an online model of narrative sharing and discussion. Debriefing, support and sharing of expertise in this way may foster engagement within and beyond the workplace.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Health Professions
United Nations SDGs: Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
Supervisor(s): Morrison, Paul and Fetherston, Catherine
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/42506
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