About the Project

Death Before Birth was a two-year ESRC-funded project, running from 2016-18.

Through it, we  examined how people in England who have experienced miscarriage, termination for fetal anomaly, and stillbirth reach decisions concerning what happens to their baby after death, how their perceptions of the law impact on their decision-making, and how they communicate their experiences and choices to those there to support them. We will also be examining the impact of Human Tissue Authority guidance on what happens to babies after they have died, investigating how it is interpreted in practice by professionals and the extent to which it takes account of the views, experiences and needs of the bereaved. This interdisciplinary project combined aspects of socio-legal studies, cultural studies, and linguistics.

The loss of a pregnancy may be felt as a form of bereavement, one that usually involves complex emotions that are difficult to articulate. From a linguistic standpoint, this project accordingly paid careful attention not just to what the bereaved and those who support them do, but how they express themselves through their words and actions. We were particularly interested in how individuals may use figurative language to help them to express complex and difficult emotions.

Our research has informed and improved government policy, and paved the way to improved care pathways for people who have faced such experiences.

About the Project Team

The Death Before Birth Project team. From left: Sheelagh McGuinness, Jeannette Littlemore, Danielle Fuller, Sarah Turner, Karolina Kuberska, Meera Burgess

Principal Investigator (PI): Professor Jeannette Littlemore, University of Birmingham

Professor Littlemore is a metaphor specialist. She also holds roles as Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics, Head of Research for the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, and Director of Internationalisation for the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.



Co-Investigator (CI): Prof Danielle Fuller, University of Alberta, Canada

Dr Fuller is a a Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. Before she worked for nearly 21 years at the University of Birmingham, UK, in the Department of American & Canadian Studies (1997-2014) and then
in the Department of English Literature (2014-18).



Co-Investigator (CI): Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, University of Bristol

Dr McGuinness is a Reader in Law at the Centre for Health, Law, and Society based in the University of Bristol Law School. She has particular expertise in the regulation of reproduction and is the project partner lead.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellows


Dr Karolina Kuberska, University of Cambridge 

Dr Kuberska is a medical anthropologist with a background in Cognitive Linguistics. Between 2016-18 she was a full-time research fellow on the Death before Birth project at the University of Birmingham. She is currently a Research Associate at THIS Institute at the University of Cambridge.



Dr Sarah Turner, Coventry University

Dr Turner is a Lecturer in English (Stylistics) at Coventry University. Between 2016-18, she was a research fellow on the Death before Birth project at the University of Birmingham as a cognitive metaphor specialist. She also taught on various undergraduate and postgraduate courses.



Research Associate and Administrator

Meera Burgess

Meera Burgess is a sociolinguist with a background in Social Policy. She was a Research Associate and Administrator on the Death Before Birth project, and has received her MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham.