How couples respond to a stillbirth (Ireland)


Through interviews with eight couples, researchers have described a number of common themes.

Deciding to get pregnant following a stillbirth is not undertaken lightly. The couples approached the decision with caution and could only make it when both individuals were willing to discuss and agree it. They were conscious that proceeding without agreement could negatively affect their relationship later. Men were more likely to want to wait longer before the next pregnancy than were women. Couples whose babies died from congenital anomalies tended to wait longer, wishing to wait for the results of post-mortems and laboratory investigations.

After a decision had been made to proceed with another pregnancy, for five of the couples sexual intercourse become less about emotional connection and more about achieving a pregnancy. Men particularly commented on the lack of intimacy – one described regular sexual intercourse “like homework”. All the couples spoke about the tension between wanting to achieve a subsequent pregnancy and the difficulty in achieving the intimacy to do so.

Six of the couples reported difficulty waiting for the next pregnancy. The arrival of monthly menstrual periods were particularly stressful for some women.

The eight couples were interviewed during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy immediately following a stillbirth. During the joint discussion, lasting between 1¼ and 2¼ hours, researchers sought to understand how, together, the couple make sense of a pregnancy after stillbirth.

Stillbirth affects 1 in 200 pregnancies in high income countries. Other research has found that, after a stillbirth, some couples report problems with attaching to their new baby, whilst others bond more closely to their new baby antenatally. After a stillbirth, couples tend to attend maternity services more and to ask for more support. But no earlier research has focused on how the couple respond together to the stillbirth.


Murphy M, Savage E, O’Donoghue K, O’Leary J, Leahy-Warren P (2020), Trying to conceive: An interpretive phenomenological analysis of couples’ experiences of pregnancy after stillbirth, Women and Birth

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