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The Lived Experience of Widowhood During Pregnancy


  • Mary Ellen Doherty CNM, PhD,

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    • Mary Ellen Doherty, CNM, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Department of Nursing.

  • Elizabeth Scannell-Desch RN, OCNS, PhD

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    • Elizabeth Scannell-Desch, RN, OCNS, PhD, is an associate professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. She is chairperson in the Division of Nursing.

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Approximately 7 million women in the United States become widows each year. It is not known how many women are pregnant at the time of their husband's death. This study describes the lived experience of widowhood during pregnancy as defined by 10 widows whose husbands were killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or while they served in the US military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Purposive sampling was used and data were generated using four core questions. The research methodology was phenomenology, and interviews were conducted until data saturation was achieved. Eight themes emerged from data analysis: (1) Denying versus dealing with reality: He's not coming home; (2) Navigating pregnancy: Flying solo while running on empty; (3) Planning for birth: Gathering my team; (4) My safety net: A band of sisters; (5) Unplanned journey: A bittersweet homecoming; (6) Being there: Network of family and friends; (7) Not being there: Let down by others; and (8) Re-creating home: A new normal. These themes described the emotions, vulnerability, challenges, and issues experienced by these women. Women's health care providers can serve as advocates for widows as well as teaching others about the grieving process. This study gave these women who became widowed while pregnant a voice.