Accepted Paper:

Becoming parent through loss  


Chiara Garattini (Intel Corporation)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on pregnancy loss and infantile death as the relationship between death, memory, and parental identity formation. The loss of a child is a journey into becoming a parent and a processes of imaginative encounters between parents and the absence/presence of their lost child.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws on my research on pregnancy loss and infantile death in the context of Irish cultural history. In situations of infantile death parents construct a personhood for a baby who never lived and "create" memories through the use of material culture and space. The (supposedly) imagined relationship with their babies represents an interesting crossroads where materiality, immateriality, imagination and reality seem to meld. Parents experience a feeling of "presence", "intervention" and sometimes the "apparition" of their child's "ghost" while they are reconciling themselves with loss. Through these encounters—spatial, material and imaginative—parents construct an identity for their deceased child, while simultaneously articulating their own identities. The loss of a child for these parents is the beginning of a journey into "becoming" parents. Furthermore, for some young parents this event also becomes an occasion for personal "change". Infant loss is often their first encounter with the "finality" of death and this can influence their life expectations, plans for the future, and the way in which they approach subsequent pregnancies. Through an analysis of the spatial and material dimensions of loss I argue that the relationship with their absent/present child becomes a way for parents to form a new identity.

Panel W082
It's gone - an anthropology of loss