The impact of pregnancy loss is felt by thousands of Australians each year and can have devastating and lasting psychological effects.
Currently, up to one in four confirmed pregnancies will end in miscarriage before 20 weeks whilst one out of 177 births will end in stillbirth. They’re startling statistics, mostly because they’re not widely acknowledged or understood.
Historically, pregnancy loss has been a topic off-limits– a social taboo that people shy away from. As such, parents and families experiencing such trauma have been expected to do so privately, often unsupported in their time of need.
It’s a situation, Kate Obst a psychology PhD student at Adelaide University is trying desperately to change.
Investigating the psychological impact of pregnancy loss in under-researched populations in Australia, Kate’s hoping to inevitably shift policy and bereavement care guidelines to increase support, wellbeing and overall family functioning.
“The loss of an unborn baby not only affects heterosexual women, but also male partners, gay and lesbian parents, and the extended family unit” she tells us. “However, to date, there remains a considerable lack of research and understanding regarding the experiences of these populations and the emotional and psychological support available to them, especially in the Australian context.”
Coming from a blended family, Kate says she’s always been passionate about the complex dynamics of children and families, but that her latest research was somewhat unexpected.
After completing a summer research internship around Australian women’s experiences of healthcare provision following pregnancy loss, Kate turned to her own friends and family and was flawed by the number of people she knew who’d been intimately affected.
“Despite the statistics, I, like many others, had been under an illusion that pregnancy loss just didn’t happen all that often. I had a profound realisation of how close to home this issue was, and the impact it has had on those close to me.” She said.
She also noted that fathers were less willing to share their experience and that little research had been conducted about their attitudes or wellbeing. Kate decided to complete a study on men’s experiences of support which opened up more questions than answers. Male grief was a distinctive grey area.
Kate says she “was left inspired” by the stories that men shared with her and uncovered a growing passion to further the knowledge in this area.
Her overarching objective is to support wellbeing and overall family functioning for all Australians affected by pregnancy loss – not only heterosexual women, but also male partners, other children, and LGBTQI parents.
“Especially in Australia, limited research is available on the experiences of other groups of people such as men, siblings, and gay and lesbian parents, who can experience unique challenges in relation to grief” she says. “By developing a more in-depth and systematic understanding of the experiences of men, LGBTQI+ parents and the extended family unit, tailored and appropriate support can be provided to Australian families of all kinds during times of need.”
Kate’s goal was made easier when she picked up one of Westpac’s Future Leaders’ Scholarships this year, which will help her raise the profile of this issue in communities and dispel the silence surrounding pregnancy loss and the grief that families can experience.
Kate’s scholarship, one of 17 awarded by the bank will provide up to $120,000 for research or coursework studies at a graduate level, including a nine month bespoke leadership development program and international experiences.
“The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship is a complete game-changer,” Kate says.
“The nine-month leadership development program has just kicked off, and I have already had my thoughts and perspectives relating to leadership and my own individual capabilities challenged, stretched and reimagined. The financial support for overseas travel will provide me with the invaluable opportunity to meet, network and learn from world leaders in the pregnancy loss field, and better understand the advantages of current overseas models to build on back in Australia.”
“I love working with families and young people, and really aspire to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of individuals, communities and society at large.”