Childbirth embodiment: Problematic aspects of current understandings

School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham.
Sociology of Health & Illness (Impact Factor: 1.88). 12/2009; 32(3):486-501. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01207.x
Source: PubMed


The experience of childbirth is one of the most corporeal of the human condition. Against a backdrop of profound change in the milieu of birthing over the past 30 years, especially in the developed world, a number of discourses now compete for the status of the safest, most fulfilling birth experience. Supporters of biomedical and 'natural' approaches make their respective claims to those, with obstetricians broadly aligning their professional interests with the former and midwives with the latter. There is mounting evidence that childbearing women's experiences of birth are often shaped in the uneasy space between the two. Within sociological discourse in health, embodiment is a dominant theme but, to date, research has concentrated mainly on new reproductive technologies, and there is a dearth of recent research and theorising around the act of parturition itself. This paper argues that because of this, there has been a polarising tendency in current discourses which is having a largely negative impact on women, professionals and the maternity services. A call is made for an integration of traditional childbirth embodiment theories, mediated through compassionate, relationally focused maternity care, especially when labour complications develop.

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    • "The medicalisation of childbirth has been savagely critiqued, often from a Foucauldian perspective (Arney 1982; Hunt and Symons 1995), showing women as constructed objects within hierarchical discourses. However, Walsh (2010) has argued persuasively that women in practice find themselves caught in an uneasy space between biomedical and natural discourses, with even more limited power than had their condition been merely medicalised. Critics of the medicalisation of obesity have called the moralistic discourses that convey a sense of crisis and declare 'war on obesity' (Throsby 2012, 9) 'alarming, if not alarmist' (Rich et al. 2010, 271). "
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    • "It is a construct that has been deployed in making sense of patient satisfaction (Heffernan et al. 2010), a focus for therapy (Gilbert 2010), safeguarding patients from abuse (Care Quality Commission 2011), emotional self-management (Neff et al. 2008) solidarity with marginalised and oppressed people (Rigoni 2007) and enhancing education for future healthcare professionals (Shield et al. 2011). In sociology, accounts of social justice have also emphasised compassion (Williams 2008), as have exhortations towards improving healthcare (Walsh 2010). It is claimed that through the actions of compassion practitioners can become more fully geared towards understanding patients than implementing procedures (Sieger et al. 2012). "
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    • "However, it is not clear if the need for information when labour took an unexpected turn was impacted on by a change in the planned place of birth. Walsh (2010) states that childbearing women's experiences of birth are often shaped in the uneasy space between the biomedical model and the more 'natural' approach of the midwife. Tumblin and Simkin (2001) surveyed 57 women aiming at determining nulliparous pregnant women's expectations of their nurse's role during labour and delivery in North America. "
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