Objective: to gain an in-depth understanding of the parenting experiences of bereaved parents in the years following an infant death.
Design: an exploratory qualitative study.
Setting: semi-structured interview in the participants’ homes. Data were collected over a five-month period in 2008 and analysed using thematic analysis.
Participants: a purposive sample of 13 bereaved parents (10 mothers and three fathers) was used. Parents who had accessed the support services offered by two bereavement support agencies were recruited. Participants were asked to describe their experiences of raising their subsequent child. Interviews were conducted when the next born child was at least three years of age.
Findings: the parents described a ‘paradoxical’ parenting style where they were trying to parent using two diametrically opposed unsustainable options. For example, they described trying to hold their subsequent child emotionally close but aloof at the same time.
Key conclusions and implications for practice: the results from this study indicate that the impact of a loss of an infant has far-reaching consequences on subsequent parenting. Support and early intervention at the time of the stillbirth and subsequent pregnancy are likely to be useful. However, further research is required to determine the extent to which early intervention can alter the tendency towards bereaved parents adopting a paradoxical parenting style. The impact of this style on mental health and the emotional health and well-being of the next born child/ren after perinatal loss should also be further examined.