Newswise — A Saint Louis University (SLU) professor has received a Fulbright scholarship to study how Scotland’s culture influences those who care for Scottish women who have lost a baby or suffered a miscarriage.

Denise Côté-Arsenault, Ph.D., the Hemak Endowed Professor of Maternal Child Nursing at the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing at SLU, is an internationally recognized expert in pregnancy loss. She will conduct her research project at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland from May through July 2020. Côté-Arsenault will interact with local midwives and pregnancy loss support groups from Edinburgh to gain insights into Scottish care and culture.

“Much care is provided by midwives within a national health service, so I want to know how they practice, what they do in the situation of pregnancy loss. My study will explore and describe the culture surrounding perinatal bereavement in Scotland,” Côté-Arsenault said.

Families likely experience the unsuccessful end of a pregnancy with a range of emotions, depending on their circumstances and within their social norms where they live.

“We know that for some mothers, the end of their pregnancy through miscarriage is a disappointment but is not devastation, while for others, it is a life-changing experience. Losses at later gestational ages, when there has been fetal movement, and the baby’s body can be seen and held moves the experience beyond a fantasized future child to ‘this’ child. In the U.S., mothers describe a sense of isolation and their loss as a hidden death, with their grieving rarely acknowledged,” she said.

“I think that there will be many differences between what is done in Scotland and what we do in the U.S. and many commonalities as well. Their care models likely influence the care that is given to grieving women and their families.”

Côté-Arsenault will gather information for her ethnographic study – exploring how the culture of Scotland influences how midwives, nurses and counselors care for women and their families who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or death of a baby soon after birth. She will conduct interviews, observe support groups and review materials on governmental and midwifery websites.

“The goal is not to disrupt the culture but rather to learn about it through participant observation and learning from members of the culture,” Côté-Arsenault said.

A member of the inaugural 2019-2020 class of SLU’s Research Institute Fellows, Côté-Arsenault is an NIH-funded investigator who studies how to support families whose babies can’t survive outside the womb.

The problem, which is known as lethal fetal diagnoses, affects about 125,000 U.S. mothers annually – or approximately 2% of pregnancies. Unfortunately, health care providers have few evidence-based resources on how to provide support to parents and caregivers and the reasons for a lethal fetal diagnosis are not well understood.

Côté-Arsenault’s research informs health care services for this population by ensuring practitioners have data about parents’ experiences, needs and responses.

Côté-Arsenault is one of over 800 U.S. scholars chosen to teach, research or provide expertise abroad for the 2019-2020 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. Like other recipients of Fulbright awards, Côté-Arsenault was selected on the basis of her academic and professional achievement, record of service and demonstrated leadership in her field.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, designed to build lasting connections between people of the United States and those from other countries. It is funded through an annual U.S. Congressional appropriation to the U.S. Department of State.

Côté-Arsenault was recruited to SLU spring of 2019 for an endowed chair designed to elevate the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing’s research portfolio.

Founded in 1928, the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing at Saint Louis University has achieved a national reputation for its innovative and pioneering programs. Offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral nursing programs, its faculty members are nationally recognized for their teaching, research and clinical expertise.