Background Individual counselling and support groups are the most usual forms of support helping professions offer people who are bereaved. This can result in the rich social contexts of people’s lives being side-lined. Whilst the importance of social support is well acknowledged in the literature, it is frequently considered as axiomatic and not critically examined.
Aim This study explored how parents constructed their experiences of perinatal death and privileged their voices and perspectives.
Method Utilising a social constructionist, narrative approach, nineteen Australian women and men were interviewed within 4–24 months of the perinatal death of their baby. Participants were drawn from a community rather than clinical sample.
Results Bereaved parents clearly stated they required support from their social networks. However this was not always forthcoming. In the face of this, some turned to professionals and self help groups for support. Some found this helpful; many did not. Parents identified wanting support from their own parents, close family, friends and work colleagues. They wanted their social identity as parent affirmed and their experience acknowledged in everyday life.
Conclusion In addition to working individually with the bereaved when appropriate, professionals can contribute significantly to the wellbeing of bereaved parents by broadening their focus to providing support and education to their social systems: the ‘natural helpers’ in the parents’ social network. Shifting the gaze will in turn assist the social network to better offer support directly, something the bereaved state they want. It acknowledges that grief is a deeply social experience and not an individual one.
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