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Northwestern State professor seeks participants for families without mothers study

A Northwestern State University assistant professor of nursing seeks participants in a new study exploring what fathers experience following the death of the mother in childbirth.

When Donald Johnston was writing his doctoral dissertation in 2013, he interviewed fathers about their experiences in the neonatal intensive care unit. He wondered about the extent of support systems for them following a traumatic birth.

Now, he’s focused his research on the stories of spouses who’ve dealt with the loss of the mother during delivery. Johnston says about 650 women nationwide die each year during delivery -- about 50 in Louisiana. He wants to shed light on the untold stories of fathers who carry on.

“There’s a ton of literature out there on maternal mortality and ways to decrease it. There are blogs on Facebook where dads have said, My wife died during childbirth now I’m taking care of a baby. But there’s nothing in the medical literature on it,” Johnston said, who began his career as a respiratory therapist in 1998 and graduated from nursing school in 2005.

Johnston’s research is personal. His wife almost died during the delivery of his son. After his experience in the NICU, he wanted to dig deeper into resources for new dads.

He says he’ll conduct in-person interviews with fathers who come forward. They will remain anonymous. He wants to find out if there are common themes, and where the surviving family finds support.

“This could very well be a publication that obstetricians may have in their office. Say they know that there’s a single father who is raising a child because his wife died during childbirth. The pediatrician could give the father a copy of this study and say, Here are some of the resources that are available. Here are some things other people have gone through,” Johnston said.

Johnston is reaching out to churches and birthing centers statewide. He’s created a Facebook page to attract subjects. If the study takes off, he hopes to expand it to include neighboring states.

The study seeks English-speaking individuals over the age of 18 who are currently caring for a child whose mother died in childbirth.

Participation consists of two interviews about six months apart.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.