Bereaved parents: a contradiction in terms?

Murphy, Samantha (2013). Bereaved parents: a contradiction in terms? In: Earle, Sarah; Komaromy, Carol and Layne, Linda eds. Understanding Reproductive Loss: Perspectives on Life, Death and Fertility. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 117–128.



In the 1920s the creation of stillbirth as a legal category in the United Kingdom changed the status of a foetus more than 28 weeks' gestation: from then on it was to be defined as a baby. For Armstrong (1986: 216) this meant that medicine had "...mapped out the first year of [infant] life" which began at 28 weeks' gestation and ended when the child turned one year old; the stillborn had, in effect, become a legal infant. In response to developments in neonatal medicine, which have enabled babies to survive at earlier stages of gestation, the boundary between stillbirth and miscarriage was moved to 24 weeks' gestation in 1992 resulting in yet an earlier start for infant life. The recognition of legal status of the fetus as an infant before it is born extends to the legal recognition of motherhood, women whose babies die are entitled to maternity pay, free prescriptions and other welfare benefits in common with women whose babies survive. Drawing on accounts of stillbirth from a doctoral study, I explore how first-time parents define themselves as parents - and ask if the legal status of the stillborn as an infant means they are able to identify as mother and father or is this ambiguous?

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