The Spaces Between Us: A Qualitative Exploratory Study of Perinatal Death, Burial & Bereavement in 20th century Ireland
Embargo End Date:2025-08-17
Citation:Henderson, Ciara, The Spaces Between Us: A Qualitative Exploratory Study of Perinatal Death, Burial & Bereavement in 20th century Ireland, Trinity College Dublin.School of Nursing & Midwifery, 2023
Henderson_Ciara_Thesis_2023.pdf (2025-08-17) 3.677Mb
This thesis showcases an interdisciplinary and comprehensive exploration of perinatal death in Ireland through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Employing a social constructionist approach, this study questions the conventional Anglo-American interpretations of death rituals and grief, common in western psychology. The dataset was comprised of historic and contemporary qualitative data. The date range for the study was 1900 to 2000. A qualitative survey of bereaved parents whose baby died prior to 2000, or adult children of bereaved parents, were convenience sampled (n=20). The National Folklore Collection, an Irish oral history archive of 1930s life was purposefully sampled for relevant records (n=1200). Three forms of mortuary ritual were identified as prevalent in Ireland in the 19th century, these coalesce towards the start of the 20th century, and were affected by social class and place of death. Adult mortuary rituals incorporated remembrance activities for babies who died. Evidence of traditional mortuary rituals for perinatal infants is described, these rituals were comparable to those for adults, including burial. Irish mortuary rituals were social rather than religious. A key finding is that parental grief lasted a lifetime. End of life visions which reunited parents with their dead children in the afterlife were commonly recorded. Parental distress at time of birth was noted, this remains constant across time, social class, and frequency of death. The biggest difference in Irish mortuary ritual was found between hospital and non-hospital birth. The recommendation of funeral as a hospital intervention for perinatal death was traced. By recommending funeral as an intervention, this created an ethnocentric one-size-fits-all biomedical policy, which overstepped from the medical to the social world. The policy overlooked the significance of culture in the exercise of mortuary rituals, ignored the presence of birth related trauma and insisted on confronting reality. This has relevance as the same policies continue to be used today. This may have implications for collectivist cultures or low resource communities who continue to experience high rates of perinatal mortality. Western psychological models may create a form of culture clash which result in disenfranchised grief or disrupt continuing bonds to the dead, in collectivist cultures. The research concludes that perinatal death and its associated emotions and practices remain underexplored. Hospital birth may lead to disenfranchised grief. Continuing bonds exists regardless of whether mortuary rituals are performed. Funeral as an intervention may not be appropriate and oversteps from the medical to the cultural world. Parents continue to have strong emotions about their birth experiences, these can last a lifetime. Caregiver interactions and respectful care remain important. This thesis argues that more research on the plasticity of grief and the cultural expression of emotions is essential, and that midwives reconsider the current domain of practice.
Trinity College Dublin (TCD)
Author: Henderson, Ciara
Publisher:Trinity College Dublin. School of Nursing & Midwifery. Discipline of Nursing
Type of material:Thesis
Availability:Full text available
Keywords:Stillbirth, Burial, Infant Burial, Funeral, Perinatal Death, Wakes, Grief, Disenfranchised Grief, Continuing Bonds, Perinatal Grief, Parental Grief, Cultural Responses to Death, Death Rituals, Irish Funeral Ritual, Perinatal Bereavement, Bereavement, Bereavement Standards, Bereavement Interventions, Birth Trauma, Midwifery, Maternity, Home Birth, Cillin, Cillini, Unbaptised, After Death Communication, End of Life Vision, Baptism, Ritual, Workhouse, Hospital, Mortuary Care, Birth Intervention, Cross cultural, Perinatal Mortality, Irish History, History of Death, History of Burial, Social Constructionism, Folklore, Graveyard, Socio-religious, Anglican, Catholic, Ancestral Dead, Victorian, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, 19th century, 20th century, limbo, interdisciplinary, social science, critical history, killeen, graveyard
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