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Childbirth

Midwifery and Concepts of Time

Lesley Page

Childbirth: Midwifery and Concepts of Time Edited by Christine McCourt Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84545-586-6 (hardback only) 272 pp. excl. bibliog., index. £55.00.

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Place of Birth and Concepts of Wellbeing

An Analysis from Two Ethnographic Studies of Midwifery Units in England

Christine McCourt, Juliet Rayment, Susanna Rance and Jane Sandall

This article is based on analysis of a series of ethnographic case studies of midwifery units in England. Midwifery units1 are spaces that were developed to provide more home-like and less medically oriented care for birth that would support physiological processes of labour, women’s comfort and a positive experience of birth for women and their families. They are run by midwives, either on a hospital site alongside an obstetric unit (Alongside Midwifery Unit – AMU) or a freestanding unit away from an obstetric unit (Freestanding Midwifery Unit – FMU). Midwifery units have been designed and intended specifically as locations of wellbeing and although the meaning of the term is used very loosely in public discourse, this claim is supported by a large epidemiological study, which found that they provide safe care for babies while reducing use of medical interventions and with better health outcomes for the women. Our research indicated that midwifery units function as a protected space, one which uses domestic features as metaphors of home in order to promote a sense of wellbeing and to re-normalise concepts of birth, which had become inhabited by medical models and a preoccupation with risk. However, we argue that this protected space has a function for midwives as well as for birthing women. Midwifery units are intended to support midwives’ wellbeing following decades of professional struggles to maintain autonomy, midwife-led care and a professional identity founded on supporting normal, healthy birth. This development, which is focused on place of birth rather than other aspects of maternity care such as continuity, shows potential for restoring wellbeing on individual, professional and community levels, through improving rates of normal physiological birth and improving experiences of providing and receiving care. Nevertheless, this very focus also poses challenges for health service providers attempting to provide a ‘social model of care’ within an institutional context.

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Chris McCourt and Chris Peters

Dangerous Motherhood: Insanity and Childbirth in Victorian Britain. By Hilary Marland. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 304 pp. ISBN 1-4039-2038-9 (hardback).

A View from the Tower and the Township Post colonialism, Feminism & Religious Discourse. Edited by Laura Donaldson and Kwok Pui-Lan. London: Routledge, 2002. 220 pp. ISBN 0-41592-888-5 (paperback).

‘Letting Them Die’: Why HIV/AIDS Prevention Programmes Fail. By Catherine Campbell. Oxford: James Currey, 2003. 214 pp. ISBN 0-85255-868-6 (paperback).

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‘But Isn’t It the Baby That Decides When It Will Be Born?’

Temporality and Women’s Embodied Experiences of Giving Birth

Joanna White

This article explores the intermeshing of different forms of time in contemporary childbirth, including the ways in which pregnant women are embedded within, informed by and resist institutional categorizations of reproductive time. While each parturient who participated in my ethnographic study described their own, unique relationships with birthing and time, all women employed clock time to anchor critical phases of their labour. This article puts forward ‘phenomenological time’ as a means of capturing the embodied outcome of the complex relationships amongst the social and institutional times which each woman inhabits, her own individual physiology and her ongoing response throughout the birthing experience. My analysis suggests that further phenomenological studies of birth could lead to a more sophisticated understanding of the relationships between human beings and time, including alternative temporal forms such as multitemporality and ‘reverse progression’ during labour.

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Andrew Irving, Christine McCourt, Kirk Simpson, Jeffrey Lambe and Roberta McDonnell

Guide to Imagework: Imagination-based Research Methods (ASA Research Methods in Social Anthropology Series). By Iain R. Edgar. London and New York: Routledge, 2004, paperback, xii + 161 pages, £18.99. ISBN: 0 415 23538 3.

Birth on the Threshold: Childbirth and Modernity in South India. By C. Van Hollen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, 310 pages, £14.95. ISBN 0-520-22359-4.

Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. By Alexander Laban Hinton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, paperback, 382 pages, £12.95. ISBN: 0-520-24179-7.

Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. By Veena Das. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, paperback, 296 pages, £12.95. ISBN: 978-0-520-24745-1.

Anthropology Beyond Culture. By R. G. Fox and B. J. King (eds), Oxford and New York: Berg (Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series), 2002, 306 pp. incl. refs, £17.99. ISBN: 1 8593 524X / 1 85973 529 0.

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Conceiving Judaism

The Challenges of Same-Sex Parenthood

Sibylle Lustenberger

In Israel, personal status is regulated through religious law. This gives Orthodox rabbis the state-sanctioned power to define who is Jewish and to enable and recognize marriage. The impediments that religious law poses to same-sex couples and their children are serious: same-sex couples are excluded from marriage, and their children's religious status is at risk. In this article, I contrast these rabbinic exclusions with the ways that same-sex couples, both religious and non-religious, use Jewish traditions to establish social legitimacy and belonging for themselves and their children. Based on ethnographic findings, the article suggests that the Jewish ritual of circumcision for boys and childbirth celebrations for girls are moments in which relationships are reaffirmed. Even more so, the social networks displayed at these events and the participation of religious specialists (mohalim) performing the circumcision carry a clear message: these families are authentically a part of the Jewish-Israeli collective despite rabbinic opposition.

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Ghost Mothers

Kinship Relationships in Thai Spirit Cults

Andrew Alan Johnson

This article examines the process of building kinship relations between Thai spirit devotees and violent spirits. I examine three spirit shrines on the outskirts of Bangkok: a shrine to the ghost of a woman killed in childbirth, a shrine to a cobra spirit that causes accidents along a busy highway, and a household shrine to an aborted fetus. The devotees to whom I spoke actively sought out such places known for death in order to ‘adopt’ or ‘become adopted by’ the spirits in those locations—an action that, I argue, allowed for a renegotiation of the devotees’ position vis-à-vis accident and trauma. I suggest that becoming a spirit’s ‘child’ forms a mutually dependent relationship that allows for the domestication of forces outside of oneself.