Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Douglas Barnett, Ph.D.


The study examined factors related to resolution of maternal grief reactions to the event of learning about their child's birth defects. Subjects were 63 mothers and their toddler-age children, recruited from medical clinics in the Metropolitan area of Detroit, MI. Mothers' ages ranged from 18 to 42 years (mean = 30 years). 63% (n = 40) of the families were Caucasian, with 32% (n = 20) African-American, and 5% (n = 3) from other ethnic backgrounds. Toddlers' ages ranged from 13 to 33 months, with a modal age of 28 months (mean = 25 months, SD = 5 months). 60% (n = 38) of the toddlers were male and 40% (n = 25) were female. 60% (n = 38) were diagnosed with a neurological disorder and 40% (n = 25) were diagnosed with some form of non-neurologically involved craniofacial anomaly or limb deficiency. The majority of the sample was primarily middle class with regard to family socioeconomic status (SES). Consistent with two other studies on this topic, 56% (35/63) of the mothers in our sample were classified as having unresolved grief reactions related to learning of their child's diagnosis. Across all analyses, child disability parameters (global and functional severities of children's handicaps) and demographic factors (child diagnostic group and, to a lesser extent, family ethnicity) were predictive of maternal grief resolution. In addition, a consistent trend in the data suggested that mothers who provided longer verbal responses during the Reaction to Diagnosis Interview were more likely to be judged as having unresolved grief reactions. However, maternal psychosocialcoping variables (approach and avoidance coping, dysfunctional attitudes about birth defects, positive and negative affectivity, perceived social support, and parenting daily hassles) did not predict grief resolution beyond child disability parameters and demographics. Approach coping demonstrated a significant bivariate correlation with grief resolution, but did not predict grief beyond disability parameters and demographics. These findings suggest that, while psychosocial-coping or personality factors may influence parents' acute reactions to learning of their child's birth defects and/or their style of grief resolution, resolution outcome (or parental psychological adjustment over time) may be more influenced by the chronicity and/or functional severity of children's handicaps, in addition to demographic and/or cultural factors.