Childbirth and Motherhood

Birth Stories: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Transition to Motherhood

Researchers:  Melanie Bayly and Pamela Downe

Although scholars have increasingly described the Western “medicalization” of childbirth (e.g. Davis-Floyd, 1994, 2003; Hausman, 2005; Possamai-Inesedy, 2006), an alternative set of practices and discourse (which tend to be associated with midwifery) operate in direct critique of medicalization and position childbirth as a “natural” event (Beckett, 2005; MacDonald, 2006; Mansfield, 2008; Rooks, 1999). Contemporary maternity care in Canada incorporates aspects of both these models, and women may have choices about many different childbirth practices or options (for example, the choice of care provider, birth setting, and the use of pharmaceuticals for pain relief). In a contemporary Western context, women’s lived experiences of childbirth are likely informed by both medicalization and ideas of “natural” childbirth. Additionally, labor and birth are a woman’s physical passage into motherhood, a role which has strong sociocultural expectations. Women also engage in decision-making and make sense of their experiences in relation to culturally dominant ideas about mothering.

The overall purpose of this research is therefore to understand: a) how women morally position various childbirth related options, interventions, decisions, and experiences within their narratives of childbirth; and b) to explore how these narratives engage larger discourses of childbirth and mothering. This goal is being achieved through interviews with women who have given birth in the past year on their experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. The resulting data is being analysed qualitatively, using a narrative analysis approach.

This is an important topic because women may experience distress and/or disapproval and stigma from others when their birth and transition into motherhood does not align with prevailing ideals. Efforts to live up to maternal ideals may be at the core of “what is at stake” for child-bearing women, and have a substantial impact on their birth-related decisions and experiences. The results of this study are expected to aid in the understanding of the different ways women value and make sense of their pre-, intra-, and post-partum decisions and experiences. Translating this knowledge to maternity care providers may help optimize quality of care and help ease women’s transition to motherhood.