Postmortem memento photography has emerged in Western hospitals as part of compassionate bereavement care for parents facing perinatal death. Many parents endorse this psychosocial intervention, yet implementation varies greatly and little research on parents’ specific needs guides health care professionals. Parents are in crisis and vulnerable after the death of their child, thus best practice is crucial. This study contributes 104 parents’ experiences and opinions toward the understanding of best practice in perinatal bereavement photography.
Parents who experienced the perinatal death of their child were recruited from U.S.-based bereavement organizations and social media sites. Volunteers completed an anonymous internet survey with open- and closed-ended questions. Direct recommendations and pertinent statements regarding the process of postmortem photography were analyzed for thematic content in keeping with conventional content analysis. Recurrent themes and sub-themes were counted to identify response patterns.
Of 93 parents with pictures, 92 endorsed them. Of 11 without pictures, nine wanted them. Parents made a variety of recommendations regarding appropriate psychosocial support, the consent process, obstacles to photography, logistics of photography, and material aspects of photographs themselves. Overall, parents wanted many pictures and much variety. Some wanted professional photography while others wanted support for taking their own pictures. Parents wanted guidance from staff who respected their particular needs. Many said decisions were difficult during their crisis. Parents who were initially resistant expressed current appreciation for pictures or expressed regret that they had not participated. Parents recommended that professionals strongly encourage parents to create memento photos despite parents’ initial reservations. Persistent cultural reasons against photography emerged in one case. Quotes by parents illuminate themes and enable respondents to speak directly to health care professionals.
Parents overwhelmingly support postmortem bereavement photography when conducted sensitively, even if imperfectly executed. Providers significantly influence parents during their crises; mindful, patient-centered care with appropriate respect for difference is necessary. Providers must understand the importance of postmortem photographs to parents who have limited opportunity to capture memories of their child. Hospitals should provide education and support for this important psychosocial intervention.