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Table 1 Superordinate and subordinate themes

From: "A renewed sense of purpose": Mothers' and fathers' experience of having a child following a recent stillbirth

Superordinate themes Subordinate themes
1. Living with uncertainty 1.1. Expecting the worst
Mother: I had in the back of my head stillbirth is related to cot death .., so I had in my head that he was going to have, you know, he was going to die in his cot, in his sleep and he got jaundice for a week and I panicked, I thought that’s it, that’s gonna kill him too, and then he got the snuffles and I thought he’s gonna die in his snot (laughing). I was just so paranoid the whole time. You know this is his last day, this is his last week. (M6, 502)
Father: I feel like very anxious now, about something happening to (second child), or becoming ill, or losing him which I guess counselling would help with. It does feel quite, I wouldn’t have had that before. We are very anxious towards his health, probably a bit over the top. (F4, 164)
1.2. Staying strong
Mother: Because I thought the way I felt was so huge, absolutely enormous, I just thought I just didn’t want, until I was separate from (second child), you know I didn’t I just didn’t want to express anything at all, so I just held (laughing) which probably isn’t that healthy. (M6, 123)
Father: It wasn’t my job to worry. It was my job to look after (wife). I sort of tried to put it to the back of mind and think about it a little bit, and I wouldn’t say it would go away but just deal with the problems. (F5, 196)
1.3. A process of acceptance
Mother: Part of me still thinks when I go in a check him in the morning, is he still alive and that’s difficult. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. Its got easier as he’s got bigger as especially the risk of cot death is much lower now he’s 9 months.” (M5, 577)
Father: So in that respect he’s taught us that he’ll survive, so now that what we’ve learnt from him. Day by day just, he’ll be alright and we should stop worrying. (F7, 363)
2. Coping with uncertainty 2.1. Cognitive strategies
Mother: It was just like we’d have a scan and we’d build up, you’d build up for the scan and you know I’ll be crying the night, a few nights before and hysterical or whatever … and they’re gonna say he’s dead or this has happened or something’s not right … and then we’d go and everything would be fine and you just had this big sense of relief … then you’d come home and I’d probably get maybe three days of relative calm and then it would start again. (M4, 508)
Father: I remember just thinking we’ve got to get through this, we’ve got to get through this. (F3, 241)
2.2. Emotional strategies
Mother: You kind of try and fight, you can’t, with a baby growing inside of you, you can’t direct any of that to it and you wouldn’t want to and so you just kind of feel like you’re pushing like any anxiety to anything else anything that you definitely can. (M3, 100)
Father: I sort of stopped myself thinking that it was happening in a way with (second child). Because it was sort of like don’t get too involved this time, in case it goes wrong again. (F1, 53)
2.3. Practical strategies
Mother: I’ve got a mirror in the car where I can see, in my rear view mirror I can see (second child). Because he’s rear facing. So to start off with when I was driving around I couldn’t see him and he’d be asleep and I hated it. So I got one of these mirrors that move so you can actually see him. (M, 558)
Father: I’ve got a new job and that’s a good thing it makes me happy and keeps my mind busy and occupied. It’s a form or escapism. (F7, 87)
3. Relationship with the next child 3.1. Bonding with the next child
Mother: You need to think of a name and all of that, and you do that, but at the back of your mind, I was thinking right OK, I need to have an outfit for him to go home in, but it also needs to be an outfit that he could use, if he needs to be buried in it. (M5, 137)
Father: After (second child) was born, within the first few weeks and months, I had a hard time connecting with her. I knew that I loved her and I was chuffed but I didn’t feel like, it was just ok, and when they handed her to me when she was born, I had this feeling that I would have this sense of elation and I would be so relieved to finally have a baby, but I didn’t get that, I feel bad saying it, but it was like there was a kind of numb. (F1,140)
3.2. Changed priorities
Mother: Everyone else was stressing about sleepless nights and there’s me and you know we’ve spent night, we’ve spent nights and nights being awake crying you know and being upset and can’t sleep because we’ve lost our baby like, sleepless nights will be fine. (M4, 359)
Father: We would rather our lives revolve around him as opposed to he sort of fits into our lives. Which is good and bad I guess, we can’t help it. He’s like everything to us. (F7 75)
4. The continuing grief process 4.1. Challenges in attending to grief
Mother: You’re so wrapped up in the new arrival, and it’s all new to you and … I suppose in a way, I was very much like any new mum, with a baby. I wrapped myself up so much with (second child) and what was going on, maybe I did that on purpose in a way. Because I wanted to make sure everything was absolutely with (second child) and that we were doing the best we could for (second child). I didn’t let too many emotions go towards (first child). (M1, 333)
Father: I had to spend a lot of time reassuring and trying to be stronger and I wouldn’t say it was to the exclusion of being able to grieve… buts it’s a heavy burden I suppose to carry, carry two lots because there is fear as well. (F6, 24)
4.2. Joy and grief in parenting
Mother: It just, it reminds you of all those times, and thinking like the first bath, you do with (second child), you’re reminded of the fact that you’re really sad that you didn’t do the first bath with (first child)… and it makes you feel bad, because you’re like, but you’re here, and I do love you, but I would have liked to have had this time with your brother. (M3, 700)
Father: He did look a lot like his sister and that was both beautiful and hard in the same way. Because you just think wouldn’t it be perfect if she was here now as well. (F6, 288)
Mother: People assumed that it would make it all better because you we’re pregnant again. Oh, we can forget about (first child) now, you know. That’s in the past, you’re having another baby, isn’t that nice, let’s focus on that. And I felt that was really difficult. Because it was almost like (first child) was forgotten and everyone’s focus was on this new baby. (M1, 466)
Father: It would be an injustice to (first child) to just move on and forget about it. So you kind of want to hold on to a bit of the grief I suppose. (F1 697)
4.3. Remembering the lost child
4.4. Impact of grief on relationships
Mother: I don’t think we would have resolved it between ourselves. I think a third party. They just forced him into talking, he didn’t want to, but she really, she was such a good counsellor and she really you know, helped us understand each other and where we were both coming from. (M4, 770)
Father: That’s maybe the female approach as opposed to the male approach. Always asking why and what (regarding the stillbirth). If I can’t answer the question why are we talking about it? (F7,454)
5. Identity as a parent 5.1. Impact of self-blame on parenting
Mother: A lot of the time I was thinking, maybe (first child) died for a reason; maybe it was because I was going to be a bad mother. (M5, 321)
Father: Obviously she’s a little girl it felt like I should be protecting her even though there was nothing you could do. If felt like she’s your child, your little girl, you should have been able to do something or should have known it was going to happen, it felt quite, not like you let them down, but yeah, this it was something you should have done as a father. (F4, 174)
5.2. Fulfilling the role of a parent
Mother: Mother’s day was in the April before I had (second child) and I you know (sighing), we discussed it before hand like Father’s day and we didn’t mark it, because we didn’t feel like that we were actually parents (M5, 590)
Father: We knew we were going to be parents properly this time. (F3, 606)
5.3. Feeling different to other parents
Mother: I felt I could never complain about it ever, because to my family never, because they’d be like, oh you know, oh well you shouldn’t moan you know, 7 months, about a year ago you’d have taken this …I just felt like if I ever moaned about it, people were thinking God what you moaning about, you’re lucky. (M4, 324)
Father: You just become separate somehow and then that makes you become a bit introspective and a bit oh maybe we’re different. (F1, 572)