Research Article| Volume 33, ISSUE 6, P556-565, November 2020

Responding to catastrophe: A case study of learning from perinatal death in midwifery practice

  • Robert E Laing
    Corresponding author at: Level 4, Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, Cnr North Terrace & George St, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.
    Discipline of Nursing, College of Science Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch, 6150, WA, Australia
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  • Catherine M Fetherston
    Discipline of Nursing, College of Science Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch, 6150, WA, Australia
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  • Paul Morrison
    Discipline of Nursing, College of Science Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch, 6150, WA, Australia
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Published:February 26, 2020DOI:



      Perinatal death has far reaching emotional effects for all involved in this devastating event. The opportunity for learning as a result of this catastrophe, however, remains unexplored.


      To explore midwives’ experiences of caring through, and learning from, perinatal death, to better inform the effective planning and delivery of education that optimises both midwifery and self-care.


      A naturalistic interpretive multiple case study design. Seventeen midwives, located in Australia, participated in an online group activity hosted as a blog, followed by telephonic focus groups and in-depth email interviews.


      Thematic data analysis revealed seven major themes: Grappling with the reality of perinatal death; Struggling with personal and professional heartache; Seeking the space to grieve as a professional; Being with the woman and her family; Finding a new purpose; Strengthened through support; and Developing the courage to care.


      The initial turmoil and impact of loss reflected the catastrophic nature of perinatal death. Midwives uncovered a journey to acceptance and learning, realising a determination to enhance expertise and discovering value in experiential knowledge. Insecurity regarding competence and confidence to manage perinatal death and bereavement care was highlighted. However, sharing their stories revealed professional fulfilment, personal strength, and solidarity amongst midwives who have endured similar experiences.


      A coordinated approach to support and the dissemination of experiential knowledge and learning could be developed within an online model of narrative sharing and discussion. Debriefing, support and sharing of expertise in this way may foster engagement within and beyond the workplace.


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