Pregnancy Loss
Exploring Pregnancy Loss: A Nursing Clio Series

Exploring Pregnancy Loss: A Nursing Clio Series

As long-time readers of Nursing Clio, we are pleased to have the opportunity to guest edit this series, which brings together a variety of perspectives on the subject of pregnancy and baby loss and whose timing coincides with Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9–15, 2018).

Logo of . tree with lots of branches and leaves surrounded by a half circle.
Logo for the Death before Birth project. (©Death Before Birth)

We met working on a research project called “Death before Birth” that explored socio-legal intersections of decision-making processes in the experiences of miscarriage, termination, and stillbirth in England. The project was interested in understanding how people reach decisions regarding what happens to their baby after death, how their perceptions of the law inform their decisions, as well as how they communicate their experiences to people around them. As a part of the project, we are guest-editing a special issue of Women’s Studies International Forum, “The presence of absence: Tensions and frictions of pregnancy loss,” that will be available in early 2019. We also wanted to bring this topic to a wider audience and we are grateful to Nursing Clio for providing the opportunity to do this.

In this series, we would like to explore various aspects of pregnancy loss as a phenomenon that resonates in people’s lives long after the event in significant ways. Pregnancy loss needs to be better understood not only from a scientific point of view, but also from emotional, social, historical, and legal perspectives, as it continues to be involved in a web of complex relationships. High incidence of pregnancy loss, increasing public awareness of these events, as well as legislative attempts at regulating reproduction invite a unique opportunity to apply an analytical lens and feminist perspective to this phenomenon.

Some essays explore the understandings of pregnancy loss through the lens of the history of modern medicine. Sara Ray traces the logic behind the Willem Vrolik’s collection of abnormal baby bodies and encourages us to think about the life stories of mothers who lost these babies. Kathleen Crowther takes a historical view at pregnancy loss by discussing the observations of human embryos and fetuses from the time of Hippocrates through to the early modern period, noting that while some of the practices of the Middle Ages may seem distasteful to a modern observer, they were motivated by a reverence for life and a thirst for knowledge. Lara Freidenfelds describes the increasingly restrictive attitudes towards abortion in the Catholic Church through the centuries and reflects on the impact of anti-choice stances on healthcare provision offered by hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church in the US.

We are also pleased to include essays illustrating the complexities of individual experiences of pregnancy loss. Shannon Withycombe describes the precariousness of negotiating the legal categories of pregnancy loss, between a miscarriage and infanticide, in the 19th century US. Julia Bueno draws our attention to the need for ritual and memorializing pregnancies that ended in loss, outlining a changing landscape of bereavement care following pregnancy loss where priority can be given to the feelings of the bereaved.

Laurie Faro gives a poignant account of the importance of monuments for stillborn children, through the story of a Dutch woman who suffered a stillbirth in 1958. Her essay demonstrates the challenges of silenced grief and the taboo surrounding stillbirth, and the necessity of ritual and remembrance as a way of legitimizing the loss. Alicia Kerfoot writes about the connections between her own miscarriage and themes in 18th and early 20th-century literature, adumbrating the timeless parallels of grief.

We feature other personal stories of the experience of pregnancy loss as well. Megan Betz writes of the challenges she faced having a miscarriage while responding to the demands of a graduate academic program, exploring the tensions between her personal and professional life during her pregnancy and following her loss. Elison Alcovendaz shows how male partners following miscarriage are often marginalized, being expected to fulfill supportive, protective roles and to ignore their own grief. He demonstrates the legitimacy of men’s grief after loss and advocates open communication to break the silence around men’s experiences and emotional reactions.

Taken together, these essays demonstrate the breadth and complexity of pregnancy loss. We hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Karolina Kuberska is a medical anthropologist with a special interest in maternal and reproductive health. She received her PhD from the University of St Andrews. She has previously worked with indigenous highland migrants to lowland Bolivia, concentrating on the relationships between emotions, sociality, and well-being as well as understandings of the body that incorporate traditional and biomedical notions. Between 2016-18 she was a member of a research team working on an ESRC project Death before Birth at the University of Birmingham, UK, that explored socio-legal intersections of decision-making processes in the experiences of miscarriage, termination, and stillbirth in England. Currently, she is a Research Associate at THIS Institute at the University of Cambridge where she is involved in a range of projects designed to improve the National Health Service in the UK.