African American women have been disproportionately affected by unfavorable birth outcomes for decades. Infant mortality rates for non-Hispanic African American women have been almost twice as high as that of Caucasian women for years. The goal of this study was to: (1) understand African American mothers’ experiences with infant death and (2) discover how African American mothers manage their grief following the loss of an infant. A review of the literature revealed African American women experience infant loss at a rate of 13.31 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 5.63 for Caucasian women and 4.75-9.22 for other racial and ethnic groups. Studies indicate behavioral and psychosocial risk factors contribute to the difference in IMR, but little research has been done to understand African American women’s experiences after the loss of an infant and how they subsequently cope. In order to gain greater cultural understanding and to provide care sensitive to the mothers’ needs, a qualitative study using interpretive phenomenology was conducted to explore the lived experiences of African American women who had an infant die and determine how they coped with their loss. Seven African American women were interviewed at a location of their choice. Data analysis was done using qualitative thematic analysis. The six themes identified related to the experiences of these women included: shattered dreams, questioning God, dissociation, paralyzing fear, left in the dark and, uniqueness of grieving. Additional findings from the study revealed three themes that related to their coping: authentic presence, spiritual empowerment, and disconnectedness.

Date of publication

Summer 8-8-2018

Document Type




Persistent identifier


Committee members

Barbara K. Haas, Gloria Duke, Barbara McAlister, Mary Jo Stoglin


Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing