The unspoken grief of multiple stillbirths in rural Pakistan: an interpretative phenomenological study

BMC Womens Health. 2022 Feb 22;22(1):45. doi: 10.1186/s12905-022-01622-3.


Background: Pakistan has the highest rate of stillbirth (30.6 stillbirths per 1000 total births) as compared to other South Asian countries. The psychological impact of stillbirths on bereaved women is well documented; however, there is a dearth of literature on lived experiences of women with multiple stillbirths in Pakistan.

Objective: The purpose of this research is to understand the lived experiences of women who had multiple stillbirths in Thatta, Pakistan.

Methods: An interpretative phenomenological study was conducted in district Thatta with eight women who experienced more than one stillbirth. A semi-structured in-depth interview guide was used for data collection. The data were analyzed by using thematic analysis approach.

Results: The results of this study show that experiencing multiple stillbirths has a devastating impact on women's mental and social wellbeing. The women who experienced multiple stillbirths are stigmatized as "child-killer" or cursed or being punished by God. They are avoided in social gatherings within the families and community, because of these social pressures these women seek spiritual and religious treatment, and struggle to conceive again to deliver a live baby. It was observed that the psycho-social and medical needs of these bereaved women remain unaddressed not only by the healthcare system but also by the society at large.

Conclusions: The physical, social and mental well-being of women who experience multiple stillbirth are at stake. These women are being considered social outcast. Health care providers including physicians, lady health workers, and traditional birth attendants should be trained on provision of psychosocial support along with the routine care that they provide in communities and health facilities. The health care providers should also inform the bereaved women about the biomedical causes of stillbirths that would be helpful to mitigate the stigma associated with stillbirths. Moreover, the health care providers should also counsel family members especially in-laws of these sorrowful women about the biomedical causes of stillbirths that would also be helpful to mitigate the stigma associated with stillbirths.

Keywords: Mental health; Multiple stillbiths; Phenomenology; Social wellbeing; Spiritual treatment; Stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Pakistan
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rural Population
  • Stillbirth*