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Westpac scholar widens scope of pregnancy loss and grief

06 March 2018

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” so writes the American author Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, a record of her experiences following the death of her husband and soul mate, John Gregory Dunne.

Kate Obst

Kate Obst (above) admits she has no personal experience with pregnancy loss, but in 2016 she saw a summer internship advertised to research Australian women’s health care experiences following a pregnancy loss. The topic interested her and when Kate got the position and began telling family and friends about what she would be working on, she was surprised by how many people told her their stories: “I had no idea about any of them before-hand.”

Kate soon realised how common, hidden and close-to-home the experience was.

Long interested in the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and families, Kate is now doing a combined Masters and PhD in health psychology at the University of Adelaide. She is a Westpac Future Leaders Scholar and her area of study, the psychological impact of pregnancy loss for men, LGBTQI people, extended family and siblings, is an unexpected turn of events.

Chatting with her Honours year supervisor a year ago, about men’s experience of pregnancy loss, she did some reading in the area, and discovered there was a noticeable gap in knowledge.

Grief after pregnancy loss is described as disenfranchised. Every year around one quarter of families in which a woman is pregnant experience pregnancy loss. The subsequent grief and psychological distress is often experienced largely in silence due to a lack of social recognition for the unborn baby.  

“The number,” says Kate, “may also increase among marginalised populations including lesbian and gay parents, who experience unique challenges in relation to pregnancy loss and parenting in general, together with a frequent lack of social recognition concerning their status as parents.”

The ‘big’ vision for her research is for it to “form a strong foundation of comprehensive evidence to inform policy and clinical practice guidelines to increase the support, wellbeing and overall family functioning for all Australians affected by pregnancy loss; not only heterosexual women, but also their male partners, other children, and lesbian and gay couples.

“The more people we have working in this area,” says Kate, “the better we can lead the conversation about pregnancy loss and its impact on family. If you want progress for women, then everyone needs to be able to communicate around the experience and have the support they need to support one another.”

For Kate the scholarship will provide financial support for overseas experiences – attending conferences; meeting with best practice organisations globally. She will also be involved in the structured leadership development program: “I will be looking for crucial gaps in knowledge and ways to fill them. Care in pregnancy loss has improved dramatically over the past 20-30years, but current guidelines focus on the experiences and support needs of the women. There’s lots of research needed into the different needs of the support network surrounding mothers, family, etc.

#pressfor progress

Connection points for anyone experiencing pregnancy loss

Sands Australia (miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support)
P: 1300 072 637 (available 24/7) for more information and live chat options.

Red Nose (grief and loss support after the death of a child)
P: 1300 308 307 (available 24/7) for more information

Bears of Hope (pregnancy and infant loss support)
P: 1300 11 HOPE for more information

Lifeline (crisis support)
P: 13 11 14 (available 24/7)

For those wishing to contact Kate about her research: