Exploring the Experience of Life Stress Among Black Women with a History of Fetal or Infant Death: a Phenomenological Study



Disparate birth outcomes among Black women continue to be a major public health problem. Whereas prior research has investigated the influence of stress on Black women’s birth outcomes, few studies have explored how stress is experienced among Black women across the life course. The objectives of this study were to describe the experience of stress across the life course among Black women who reported a history of fetal or infant death and to identify stressful life events (SLE) that may not be represented in the widely used SLE inventory.


Using phenomenological, qualitative research design, in-depth interviews were conducted with six Black women in Kansas who experienced a fetal or infant death.


Analyses revealed that participants experienced multiple, co-occurring stressors over the course of their lives and experienced a proliferation of stress emerging in early life and persisting into adulthood. Among the types of stressors cited by participants, history of sexual assault (trauma-related stressor) was a key stressful life event that is not currently reflected in the SLE inventory.


Our findings highlight the importance of using a life-course perspective to gain a contextual understanding of the experiences of stress among Black women, particularly those with a history of adverse birth outcomes. Further research investigating Black women’s experiences of stress and the mechanisms by which stress impacts their health could inform efforts to reduce disparities in birth outcomes. An additional focus on the experience and impact of trauma-related stress on Black women’s birth outcomes may also be warranted.

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We acknowledge the contributions of the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS Network, Inc. and Dr. Michael Birzer for his methodological advice. We also recognize the dedicated work of Alaina Hanzlicek, Anikae Brown, Alissa Bey, and Thoi McNair. We also extend gratitude to the strong and courageous women who participated in this study.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kyrah K. Brown.

Ethics declarations

All authors contributed to the work presented in this paper. K.K.B. coordinated the project activities. K.K.B and E.B. conducted qualitative interviews. Analysis of data was performed by K.K.B., E.B., J.M., and J.L. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the data and the review and development of this article.


This study was not supported by grant funding. The cost of gift cards was covered through donation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors Kyrah K. Brown, Rhonda K. Lewis, Elizabeth Baumgartner, Christy Schunn, J’Vonnah Maryman, and Jamie LoCurto declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Participants were given a US$20 gift card for participating in this study. No identifying information is included in the manuscript. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Brown, K.K., Lewis, R.K., Baumgartner, E. et al. Exploring the Experience of Life Stress Among Black Women with a History of Fetal or Infant Death: a Phenomenological Study. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 4, 484–496 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-016-0250-z

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  • Stress
  • Qualitative research
  • Infant death
  • Black women
  • Life course