Investigating how art can help to break the taboo on stillbirth

Investigating how art can help to break the taboo on stillbirth

van ‘t Klooster, Adinda (1), Heazell, Alexander (2)

(1) artist and researcher, (2) obstetrician and researcher at Manchester University

The psychological effects of stillbirth on the surviving parents are incompletely documented and can be misunderstood. Many parents report feeling isolated and stigmatized after their baby has died and feel that society at large increases their sense of loss through underrepresenting it and keeping it a taboo. Both Lancet Stillbirth Series have called for a breaking of the taboo on stillbirth, but these are deeply ingrained in society are not easily annulled. Art can play an important role in the breaking of taboos through giving a voice to people who are otherwise isolated. Collaborative projects like Still Born and Each Egg a World address stigma and aim to help reduce the taboo on stillbirth.

In this collaboration, artist Adinda van ‘t Klooster made a body of work on the theme of stillbirth between 2010-2017 and commissioned poets to respond through poetry and obstetrician Alexander Heazell through academic writing. Results were compiled in the Still Born book with the exhibition shown in Manchester in 2017 and Newcastle in 2018. Initial feedback from public and professionals found they were challenged by the works and felt positively about their experience of the exhibition and the book. New work will include the Each Egg a World digital interface where bereaved parents can name a dot in the artwork after their baby and add a short statement of their experience of stillbirth. These combined statements (up to 30.000 can be entered through this online interface which will open before the exhibition tour) will help to show how the experience of stillbirth can impact differently on parents.

These two art projects show alternative ways to help reduce the taboo on stillbirth. Findings from the Each Egg a World Digital project might also help to improve bereavement care and it is hoped that participation in itself will give those who have experienced stillbirth a feeling of community and recognition.

Ethics statement:
Ethics approval has not been sought as participation in the Each Egg a World interface will not show any personal details of the parents and only the first name of the child, thus making it impossible to track back who has provide which statement.

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