Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Mothers' Experiences of Parenting
Davidson-Olsson, Isis Cherie
Background: The death of a child has been found to have long term consequences for both individual and family functioning. This is particularly true for bereaved siblings who have been found to be at increased risk of developing mental health difficulties in later life. Literature on parental bereavement proposes that the parenting phenomenon, such as replacement child syndrome, subsequent child syndrome and the parenting paradox, which can emerge after the death of a child, may account for this. However, there is very little research on these labels of observed parenting phenomenon and, as a result, any hypothesis offered remains under elaborated. In addition, limited evidence suggests that, due to the sudden, unexpected and unexplained nature of the loss, SIDS parents are more likely to experience a greater degree of distress and adjustment difficulties than other perinatally bereaved populations. Given this, it could be hypothesised that SIDS parents may be likely to experience these parenting phenomena. Despite this, however, SIDS remains a neglected area of research. Aims: As a consequence of this research gap, the study aims to explore mothers’ experiences of parenting in their transition from being a parent unaffected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome to a parent affected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Methodology: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven mothers who had experienced an incident of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The interviews were then transcribed and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results: Five master themes emerged from the analysis: ‘Channelling the Parent Within’, a naturally developing and responsive parenting style that is facilitated by internal mechanisms, such as flexibility and confidence; ‘Parenting Outside of Yourself’, a parenting style that develops in the aftermath of a SIDS event, which is characterised by self doubt and a reliance on external mechanisms such as reassurance and restriction; ‘Restoration Through You’, the restorative effect of the subsequent and surviving children, which allows vindication and re-establishes happiness; ‘The Bitter Restoration’, a restoration that encompasses internal knowledge and external evidence of loss, including a disrupted family composition and a continued awareness of existential threat; ‘A Disruptive Appreciation’, the development of a greater appreciation for the subsequent and surviving children that impacts discipline and incorporates indulgence. These, along with the subthemes contributing to them, are presented as a narrative account. Conclusion: The results imply that mothers who have experienced a SIDS event shift into a permissive and anxious style of parenting which is characterised by safety behaviours. A model of parenting in the aftermath of SIDS has been proposed in order to explain the underlying cognitions and processes which drive this behaviour and the factors which serve to maintain it. By doing this it is hoped that, when working with bereaved parents and siblings, clinicians will be better positioned to frame parenting practices and intervene at a cognitive level.