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Maternal experience of the birth of a critically ill baby and impact on sense of self Bartlett, Susan

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to explore how the experience of having a critically ill baby impacted upon participants' sense of self as mother. A qualitative methodology, interpretive description (Thorne, Kirkham, & McDonald-Ernes, 1997), was selected as a way of describing the experience and its impact on sense of self, seeking to gather commonalities, while preserving the unique aspects of each individual's experience. Participants were eight women with children currently aged two to six years, who had been critically ill at or closely following birth. At the time of the study, all children had a good prognosis and were functioning within developmental norms. During audiotaped interviews, the participants described their experience of having a critically ill baby, and of how that experience impacted upon their sense of self as mother. Data anlysis involved repeated immersion in individual audio tapes and transcripts in an attempt to become intimately familiar with the individual cases and to enable the production of relevant comomon themes (Thorne et al., 1997). Results indicate that the birth and hospitalization of their baby represent an intense emotional experience which continues to feature strongly in the memories of all eight women. Common themes experienced by the women during this time were shock and chaos, characterized by feelings of grief, guilt, powerlessness and fear. Participants spoke of drawing from external and internal resources in their attempts to cope with the stress of having a critically ill baby. In answering the question of how the experience impacted upon their sense of self as mothers, participants reflected upon how the experience changed their overall sense of selves, including their inner selves, relational selves and mother selves. Results are considered in relation to previous and future research and clinical practice.

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