9 January 2019

Baby loss exhibition encouraging parental consent to post-mortems

Researchers from the Department of Sociological Studies have showcased a national exhibition on baby loss, raising awareness about the role technology plays in understanding infant death.

Little cards and handkerchiefs on a washing line with messages written on them for lost babies.

Professor Kate Reed researches the role of MRI in pregnancy and has found that, far from only providing diagnostic value, the MRI images are also a valuable asset for parents grieving the loss of their child.

“We found that it was something that parents really liked, the reason parents liked the image was because it’s really clear and could help them to understand the diagnosis. But, also, it was something that they could keep and they could see a baby – a person,” Kate says.

Kate put together an exhibition – Remembering Baby – to showcase some of the findings from her research and provide a space for parents to connect with the issues surrounding their own loss.


We found that it [MRI imagery] was something that parents really liked, the reason parents liked the image was because it’s really clear and could help them to understand the diagnosis.

Professor Kate Reed

Department of Sociological Studies


The exhibition was built around the way that technology, in this scenario, was challenging the boundaries around life and death; technology that provides both parents and healthcare professionals with a greater understanding of a misunderstood issue: stillbirth.

Unfortunately, Kate says, many parents are reluctant to consent to a post-mortem in this context because they’re uneasy about what happens to their child in the mortuary.

“Parents find out all the kind of diagnostic and medical information about what a post-mortem might tell them,” Kate says, “but the things that parents often worry about is: who’s going to look after my baby? Where’s my baby going to go? What’s going to happen to them?” she adds.

Kate explains that there is a societal view of mortuaries being “really dark places,” but one of the things that the research has uncovered – which has been represented in the Remembering Baby exhibit – is the tender care practices inside mortuaries.

“The professionals sing to the babies, they talk to the babies, they care for them during the process; that’s been an important finding and it’s something that parents really appreciate,” Kate says.

Kate wants to see a way to roll out MRI post-mortems “as a kind of national service,” because they’re less invasive than traditional post-mortem techniques and, above all, are something that parents really value; making them more likely to consent to an MRI in the first place.

Kate says: “Post-mortems don’t always give answers, but one of the things that we found with the project was that it’s not just about giving individual parents answers, it helps with medical training, it helps with scientific knowledge, and development by having that kind of information. We don’t know about disease unless we do these things.”

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