UCL Anthropology


Women’s experience of Miscarriage in Qatar and England 2012-2017

‘Women’s experience of Miscarriage in Qatar and England” (2012-2017) funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, part of the Qatar Foundation

Despite recent scholarly interest in women's health and reproduction, an area that has remained neglected is reproductive disruptions - when the linear narrative of conception, birth and the progress of the next generation- are, in some way, interrupted (Inhorn 2007). It is these moments of problematised reproduction upon which this research focuses, by investigating pregnancy loss to provide a focused and contemporary anthropological look at the issue. Ethnographic research was conducted in two settings: Qatar and England. The research collected nuanced and detailed data about the experience of miscarriage. One in four known pregnancies ends in miscarriage and, thus, miscarriage is an extremely common women's health issue. Furthermore, it has the potential to cause significant upset for the woman and those close to her.

We looked at miscarriage as a social event as much a biomedical one, which influenced by a number of factors including: the meaning placed on bearing children and notions of motherhood, religious and cosmological understandings of the foetus and of loss, ideas around foetal personhood and notions of pregnancy risk. The social, technological and medical context in which pregnancy loss occurs will affect the ways in which women experience such an event. Advances in medical technology and low infant-mortality rates have raised expectations as to the successful outcome of each pregnancy in both contexts. The early confirmation of pregnancy means that women are aware of pregnancies at a much earlier stage than in previous generations. This impacts experiences of pregnancy loss, as miscarriage which might have gone unnoticed or unconfirmed are now experienced as loss. Furthermore, such early detection means women are aware of However, social norms around reproduction and family structure, such as family size and fertility rates, differ in these contexts which are likely to impact miscarriage experience and management. The research looked at mourning rituals and behaviours around miscarriage in these two settings.

The ethnographic research explored the following questions and themes:

  • What is the cultural understanding of conception and the pregnant body and how does this affect how pregnancy loss is understood?
  • How is "the baby" perceived, constructed and negotiated differently in different cultural settings? For example, when is a foetus considered a human or part of society? At what point is the pregnancy made public- for this will affect the way a miscarriage is managed?
  • How is a mother born? We often forget that the birth of a baby is simultaneously the creation of another kin category: that of mother. So the loss of a baby may also be a loss of motherhood with considerable repercussions for the woman in question, both individually and in her relationship with her family.
  • How do new medical technologies technologies impact on the way foetuses are perceived? For example, does the common practice of early scanning in Qatar contribute to investing the foetus with personhood at an early stage?
  • What is the relationship between childbearing and childbirth relate and the role of women in society? Family size and rates of reproduction differ greatly between the Qatari and the English context. How does this affect experience of miscarriage?
  • What are the different social beliefs regarding the causes, preventative measures and curative treatments of miscarriage? How does this fit in with notions of risk and blame?
  • What are the practices and behaviours around miscarriage? Are there rituals, either formal or informal? Who is told of a miscarriage?
  • How does the father experience miscarriage? What is the role of the father in the experience of miscarriage?


The research team followed 20 women through their pregnancies to better understand more about the experience of pregnancy in Qatar. We also interviewed 40 Qatari women who had recently experienced a miscarriage. Health professionals, religious scholars, traditional healers and family members were included in the research.


We interviewed 40 women in England who recently had a miscarriage. In depth interviews were conducted with these women and, at times, their partners and other family members.

Please contact Susie Kilshaw if you are interested in hearing more about the research.



Kilshaw, S. 2020. Pregnancy and miscarriage in Qatar: Women, reproduction and the state. London: Bloomsbury

Kilshaw, S. and K. Borg (eds) 2020. Navigating Miscarriage: Social, medical, and conceptual perspectives. Oxford: Berghahn

Journal publications

Omar, N., Major, S., Mohsen, M., Al Tamini, H., El Taher, F. and S. Kilshaw. (2019) Culpability, blame and stigma after pregnancy loss in Qatar. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 19:251.

Kilshaw, S. 2018 (available online 2017) Qatari Intersections with Global Genetics Research and Discourse. Anthropology and Medicine 25(1): 50-67.

Kilshaw, S. 2017. Birds, meat, and babies: The multiple realities of foetuses in Qatar. Anthropology and Medicine 24(2): 189-204. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13648470.2017.1324617

Kilshaw, S., Omar, N., Major, S., Mohsen, M., El Taher, F., Al Tamimi, H., Sole, K., and D. Miller 2017. Causal explanations of miscarriage amongst Qataris. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 17(250): 1-12.

Kilshaw, S., Miller, D. Al Tamimi, H., El-Taher, F., Mohsen, M., Omar, N., Major, S. and K. Sole. 2016. Calm vessels: Cultural expectations of Pregnant Women in Qatar. Anthropology of the Middle East 11(2): 39-59.

Online publications

Kilshaw, S. 2017. "How culture shapes perceptions of miscarriage". Sapiens. Last accessed January 4 2018. https://www.sapiens.org/body/miscarriage-united-kingdom-qatar/

Book Chapters

Kilshaw, S. 2020. God’s design; thwarted plans: Women’s experience of miscarriage in Qatar and in England. In Navigating Miscarriage: Social, medical, and conceptual perspectives. Edited by Susie Kilshaw and Katie Borg. Oxford: Berghahn

Kilshaw, S. 2020. Introduction: Ambiguities and Navigations. In Navigating Miscarriage: Social, medical, and conceptual perspectives. Edited by Susie Kilshaw and Katie Borg. Oxford: Berghahn