top of page

I'm a title. Click here to edit me

Featured Guest Speakers:  confirmed

Pauline Cummins   Artist & Lecturer
National College of Art and Design, Dublin

Dr. Jo Murphy-Lawless   Sociologist, Adjunct Assistant Professor
School of Nursing & Midwifery, Trinity College, Dublin

Dr Maralyn Foureur   RM,RN, PhD; Professor, Midwifery
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Helen Knowles   Artist and Curator,  Birth Rites Collection
Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, London
Midwifery Department, Salford University


Presenters: confirmed


Anna Bosanquet  PhD Candidate, Centre for the History of Medicine, Warwick University; Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences, Kingston University / St George's University of London

‘Meteors of fancy’ or ‘humble maids of nature’?  Writings of pioneering midwives from 17th and 18th century London 

Physiological processes taking place during pregnancy and childbirth have remained constant for millennia, and the work of a midwife, through its eternal quality, can be seen as a linkage between the ancient and the modern worlds. The biology of birth allows no geographical, temporal, or social boundaries, and the bodily experience of giving birth unites women across the times and cultures. Yet, in social terms, childbirth is one of the greatest dividers. Our knowledge about the female body and the understanding of its functioning, societal beliefs and values relating to women, motherhood and reproduction, as well as birth rituals, skills  and special techniques employed by those assisting women in labour - all vary enormously across time and space. Research presented here looks at the original writings of six 17th and 18th century London midwives who are the only known female authors of midwifery books published in English before 1800– Jane Sharp, Sarah Stone, Elizabeth Nihell, Margaret Stephen, Martha Mears and Jane Wright. Contrary to widely propagated views and images of early- modern midwives as uneducated, superstitious and dangerous birth attendants, the emerging picture is that of highly dedicated, skilled, knowledgeable, erudite and inspiring women. Studying the history of midwifery enhances our insight into the emergence of contemporary attitudes towards childbirth, promotes our understanding of the development of clinical knowledge, and adds refreshing perspectives to professional debates of today.

Anna BosanquetAdam Winkler, producer, and Jenny McEvoy, narrator

Women in Stirrups: The Dark Side of Midwifery

A film by Jenny Davis Medical Productions


Jenny Davis Medical Productions was recently set up by a small group of professionals interested in using the creative arts as a medium to explore individual and personal experiences of health, illness and health care; to stimulate critical debates amongst wider audiences about the challenges facing contemporary society in health and social care provision; and to support training and development of health and social care professionals. The three founder members of the group are Jennifer McEvoy, an actress and director, Adam Winkler, a multimedia expert and film producer, and Anna Bosanquet, a medical sociologist and midwife. Our films, plays and audio-books use a variety of sources: fiction, poetry, personal journals and diaries, academic papers, historical and archival data, photography and paintings.   

Film Synopsis:
Concerns about the on-going medicalisation of childbirth in the Western world have been at the forefront of professional and wider societal debates since the 1980s. The achievements of modern obstetrics, with their undeniable benefits, have also given rise to new challenges to health care professionals in maintaining normality, preventing unnecessary intervention, and creating the optimal environment for birth. Most births take place in hospitals: large, hierarchical, bureaucratic and impersonal institutions which, it is argued here, through their very nature - physical setting, architecture, and social milieu – interfere with the physiology of birth, and are detrimental to provision of truly woman-centred, sensitive and compassionate care.
This short film presents the harsh reality of institutionalised childbirth in contemporary Britain, as seen through the eyes of a student midwife. Our fictitious heroine, Madeleine, describes here her initial impressions and emotional reactions to her first ‘orientation’ visit to a labour ward and a postnatal ward at a maternity unit where she is about to commence her training. Strong language and powerful imagery are used, which some viewers may find disturbing - the film aims to stir the emotions.  It is hoped that the fictitious account of Madeleine’s experiences, the shocking or absurd situations she finds herself in, and her raw emotional responses and reactions to these situations, will stimulate further debates and honest discussion about the nature of maternity services provision and midwifery training in the UK, and the future experience of childbirth for women all around the world.
All people, locations and situations in this film are fictional.


Marie Brett, BA (hons), Masters Visual Arts, Goldsmiths

Artist, West Co Cork, Ireland
Abstract Title:   Anamnesis : artwork exploring infant loss and amulet object relation, as part of a national collaborative arts project
Summary:  Presentation of an audio-visual artwork installation made by the artist Marie Brett. The artwork explores ideas of Ambiguous Loss as well as the notion of the Transitional Object and its relation to the paradox of absence and presence and how an everyday object can inherit significance as an amuletic signifier particular to bereavement and infant loss. The artwork titled ’Anamnesis’ was made during a four year collaborative arts project between the artist, bereaved parents and three Irish Maternity Hospitals. This national, multi-site arts project titled ‘The Amulet’ (2009-2013) was initiated and led by artist Marie Brett, following a two year research phase based at Cork University Maternity Hospital and mid-way research at Oxford University Pitt Rivers Museum. A book accompanies the artwork including six contextual essays from a variety of perspectives. Plans are underway to tour the work.

Emily Burns   PhD Candidate    
Religion and Society Research Centre, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Home Birth Rituals: Placenta Burial and Discourses of Mourning and Memory

Home birth is a contentious issue, receiving much political attention over the last few years. While women choosing to birth at home are branded in the media as anything from selfish and ignorant to deluded hippies, the hospital and the home are pitted against each other not only as opposing physical and geographical spaces, but also as opposing ideologies of birth. One of the primary ways this is conceptualised is via our understanding of the placenta. The discursive construction of the placenta varies greatly in hospital/medical and home contexts, the former driven by medico-legal discourse defines the placenta as clinical waste, while the latter draws on discourses of memory, mourning and healing. Via the use of narrative interview data with 58 Australian home birthing women in 2010, I argue that rituals such as placenta burial create both pragmatic and meaningful sites of resistance to contemporary placenta disposal practices. In this presentation I shall discuss the practice of placenta burial and the discourses of mourning, healing and memory. The implications of these findings respond to the need for innovative ways to encourage women to not only celebrate their birth experiences, but also as a way to facilitate healing after traumatic births, the pain of miscarriage or still birth.

Marilyn Cash 1, Ann Luce2, Vanora Hundley3, Edwin van Teijilingen4, Catherine Angell5, Helen  Cheyne6   
1 Research Fellow, Bournemouth University, School of Health & Social Care, Christchurch Rd,
Bournemouth, Dorset. BH1 3TS, UK
2Lecturer in Journalism and Communication Studies, Bournemouth University,
Media School, Talbot Campus, Fern Barrow, Poole.BH12 5BB, UK
3Professor of Midwifery, Bournemouth University, School of Health & Social Care, Royal
London House, Christchurch Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 3LT, UK
4Professor of Reproductive Health Research, Bournemouth University, School of
Health & Social Care, Christchurch Rd, Bournemouth, Dorset. BH1 3TS, UK
5Research Fellow/Midwifery Lecturer, School of Health & Social Care, St Marys Hospital,
Milton Road, Portsmouth, PO3 6AD, UK
6Professor of Midwifery, University of Stirling, NMAHP Research Unit School of
Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Iris Murdoch Building, Stirling, FK49 4LA

The portrayal of childbirth in the mass media
Introduction: This presentation will report on the findings of a systematic review of academic literature relating to the representation of childbirth in the mass media, in particular television.

Search Methods: The following English language electronic databases were searched Medline, Pubmed, NHS Evidence, Academic Search Complete, MIDIRS, Education Research Complete, CINAHL Plus, Scopus, Intute, Zetoc and Web of Knowledge. The databases or back issues of the following journals were also searched, ‘Midwives’ (RCM), ‘Maternity and Infant Care’, and ‘Media, Culture & Society’.

Search Terms: The search was conducted using the following using specific key terms; ‘media representations’, ‘media influence’, ‘media effects’ ‘childbirth’, ‘labour,’ and ‘labor’.
Method of Synthesis: Thematic analysis was used to synthesise the literature into the themes that emerged in terms of media representation of childbirth.

Findings: Considerable debate surrounds the influence that the media has on mothers who are giving birth for the first time. Much of the academic literature discusses the influence of television, and reality television programs in particular, on how pregnant women engage in their pregnancy. It is suggested that women seek out such programs to add to their knowledge about childbirth because there is a cultural void. Expectant mothers find that reality television helps them better understand what could happen during the birthing process. In general the media’s portrayal of birth is as a condition that is risky, dramatic and painful. This presentation will explore how these media representations impact on women and childbirth in general.

Angela Cockayne  Senior Lecturer and Reader in Interdisciplinary Visual Practice
Bath Spa University   

Birth Scrolls
Artworks and film

Film Title:  Shark Nurse    (2.39 minutes)

From the exhibition Bewilder Land, Angela Cockayne’s artworks are humorous, thought provoking and frequently ‘macabre’.
Thematically the individual artworks and the film Shark Nurse explore the cultural expectations associated with birth and unspoken narrative of control, vulnerability and conspiracy. Birth is a rite of passage - both a physical and emotional experience, it operates within a cultural construct... and context is everything.
Issues of gender and hierarchies of practice are integral to her work. Within this broad field of inquiry, specific ideas and imagery become conduits for provocations as to how we understand and express the issues of childbirth and cultural anxiety.

Maternal expectations and experiences are natural, cultural sometimes political, and frequently bewildering. These works were made during a time of cultural anxiety, of suicide bombers and hanged dictators. One man’s assassin is another man’s freedom fighter, all are born of mothers.

Birth and Motherhood speaks a universal language which traverses beyond borders. Each birth is a unique experience -  a codified mix of extremes; of fear, pain, joy, elation and sometimes despair. The 'maternal gaze' extends beyond the confines of mother and child, midwife and patient. It patrols our cultural expectations and in doing so safeguards the birth conspiracy.

Janet Couloute  Mental Health Social Worker, Lecturer 
University of Leicester, School of Social Work    

The Monstrous Maternal: Its Application and Limitations in Challenging
Our Received Constructs of the Pregnant Image 

My interest in the exploration of the Monstrous Maternal originates from a recently completed thesis that examined the evolutionary authority of the visual maternal body in European artistic traditions.  My starting point was the contention that the assumed indecorous nature of the maternal body, within visual arts, has obscured its potential as an important means of revealing the manner in which the pregnant female form has remained subject to patriarchal control, exemplified by the medical gaze.

Contemporary Western images of pregnancy appear everywhere...more obviously in magazines and films, and less apparently in art galleries and museums. Despite coming out of the “lying in” chamber of old, the maternal body remains frustratingly traditional as it is more often white, young, able-bodied, and surprisingly virginal. It is my contention that the application of the monstrous maternal (defined by Braidotti, as ‘…versions of deep seated anxiety that surrounds the issue of women’s maternal power of procreation in a patriarchal society’,[1])  is able to bring about two important changes.

Firstly, to render visible maternal bodies that breach traditional images of pregnancy and childbirth. Namely;
The older maternal body in the work of Louise Bourgeois.
The physically impaired maternal body in the work of Alison Lapper.
The sexually active maternal body in the work of Tracy Emin, and Paula Rego.
The maternal body as grotesquery, in the work of Cindy Sherman.

The second change is in the potential that pregnant visual text has in challenging traditional images of the passive, powerless female. However, during the course of my research I have found that there are still images of the maternal body that remain beyond the canon of western artistic tradition, namely, the black body maternal. The Monstrous Maternal has its limitations. Whilst it provides a useful framework for the examination of maternal bodies deemed impermissible, it fails to articulate the black maternal form. The few images of the black maternal body that do exist follow no particular artistic modality, appear to reflect the social milieu that they inhabit, and suggest a relaxed stance, unencumbered by the ever present male gaze.
These images, together with those already cited, will be examined, and used as a platform for exploring why this is the case, despite popular cultural images depicting non white bodies with relative ease.
[1]Rosie Braidotti, Between Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs. Feminist Confrontations with Science, London: Zed Books,1996), p.39     

Susan Crowther  RM, RN, PhD candidate; Senior Lecturer in Midwifery and locum rural caseload midwife   Dept. of Midwifery, Faculty of Health & Env. Studies, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand   

Attuned Space: birth-space and birth-place

This presentation explores the notion of attuned-space in and around birth. A Hermeneutic Phenomenological study underpinned by the philosophy of Heidegger and Gadamer examined the attunement to something special, joyful and sacred at the moment of birth. Narratives were interpreted from 14 participants (women, birth partners, midwives and obstetricians) in New Zealand. From this interpretive analysis the theme of attuned-space is presented using Heidegger’s notion of attunement. Birth is able to touch us both bodily and feelingly. Something ineffable, ungraspable, potent and enticing is revealed through birth’s attuned-space and the embodied being of that space. Attuned-space; not physical-space is the focus of this presentation yet acknowledges that the space in and around birth is both physical and spatial. The fluidity of this attuned-space points to a mood that discloses a communal sensitivity and tact at birth. In this space something magical and potent emerges, the deepest tenderness, connection and shared communication. Birth enables a collective movement which opens the gathering to transformative new possibilities. Attuned birth-space is something altogether different to the everyday spaces of participant’s lives. This is a revered and honoured space that holds a sense of the miraculous. The notion of attuned space moves beyond the narrower concerns of cosmetic changes to birth environments and draws attention to the attuned atmosphere in which birth unfolds. The quality of birth-space provides insight to the meaning of birth in ways not previously addressed.

Eve De Grosbois  MSc Environmental Design
Environmental Design, Université de Montréal      

Visual and Sensory Aspects of Birthing Houses: Seizing the Birth Experience
This presentation explores how the experience might be a determining factor in the visual and sensory aspects of birth environment design. This study presents the impact of the birthing house environment on women’s experiences, by understanding these experiences and by identifying the needs of the birthing environment, specifically in birthing houses. The phenomenon of birthing houses is a relatively new social and cultural phenomenon in Canada, and understanding visual and sensory issues are interesting for the design of these houses, even greater when we know that more than a dozen new facilities are expected to be built in the next ten years.

Francesca De Luca  PhD candidate
Department of Anthropology, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon      

(Eu) Somos. A narrative of birthing
In the past forty years, pregnancy has gained a lot of interest in social sciences in correspondence with the surge of the body as systematic category of analysis. The pregnant body seems to become a hyper-body on which simultaneously operate biopolitics, economic forces and social imaginaries, all engaged in the creation of a new, dynamic ethic of reproduction that ultimately shapes women's experiences of childbirth.  This presentation reports an in-depth exploration of the unfolding of my lived experience of being pregnant and giving birth on the background of the Portuguese biomedical system.

It takes the form of an auto-ethnography, a personal narrative of the sensuous experience of expecting and delivering, and an audiovisual representation where the sounds of childbirth are intertwined and opposed to the grammar of biomedical discourse on pregnancy. The embodiment that emerges is a liminal one: challenging postulates of subjectivity and individuality, and reflecting the complexity of being at once an “I”, (eu) and an “we are” (somos).

Dr Cathrine Dunin-Woyseth  Licensed gynaecologist and obstetrician
Member, Norwegian Association of Physicians  

Communicating Childbirth Experiences Through Image-Making

In my practice as an obstetrician I meet women of various ages and nationalities, with varying language proficiency. A serious challenge in my work is thus to provide adequate communication with women who are going to give birth and should understand the mechanisms of the birth-giving process. My colleagues and I believe that a certain understanding of these mechanisms could make the process of birth-giving appear less threatening and more rewarding to pregnant women.

My assumption is that it might be worthwhile to experiment towards a new mode of explaining the birth process, other than the verbal one, by relying more on illustrations, or at the very least using them more effectively in conjunction with the verbal explanation. This new mode of explaining could be augmented by the pregnant women themselves, drawing / painting the different stages of the birth process. Understanding by drawing / painting is a well-known mode of education of; for example, students of architecture learn about buildings while they visualize them. They then “reconcile” both the understanding and the perception of these buildings. Could this educational experience be transferable to birth giving situations?
I can imagine a workshop where obstetricians, midwives as well as non-medical participants produce a series of drawings/paintings of the birth process in its various stages. A discussion on these paintings could maybe provide the participants with a new repertoire of metaphors, both visual and verbal, which could improve communication between pregnant women and their obstetricians and midwives.

Emma Finucane  Artist; Artist-in-Residence 
University College Dublin College of Science
Collaborative Art Project: Wicklow
Focus on an art project being developed with midwives in Co Wicklow - a presentation of the project as it is developing. 

Anna M. Hennessey, PhD

Lecturer, Philosophy Department, California State University, East Bay
Title:  Birth Art and the Transformation of Religious Imagery:
Representations of Birth and Motherhood as Contemporary Forms of The Sacred

 This research examines how members of the contemporary birth movement are actively using religious, secular, and re-sacralized imagery both in the visualization of labor and birth, and as a ritualistic part of birth as a rite of passage. Utilizing the research of Robbie Davis-Floyd and Melissa Cheyney on the ritualistic aspects of home and hospital births, as well as an examination of religious imagery for birth now available online, this paper contends that the use of transnational, transhistorical and trans-religious imagery for birth provides rich ground for an understanding of art images of birth as contemporary representations of the sacred.  This paper explains and analyzes how the secular usage of religious imagery points to an important threefold dialectic at play between the sacred and the secular, whereby the art object becomes re-sacralized to partake ritualistically in birth as a rite of passage.  In the ultimate stage of this dialectic, the artwork no longer represents an object from which a religious context has first been extracted in order to provide its viewers with a practical tool used in birth and labor.  Instead, the artists depict such secular events as birth and motherhood as divine acts in themselves, and the viewer therefore enters the artwork right away with an understanding that these events are in fact sacred events.  I will show a variety of images, some of which are well known and historical, and some of which are contemporary and previously unstudied or unknown.

Ghislaine Howard   Artist; Associate Lecturer
Manchester School of Art, Glossop,  Derbyshire 

A Shared Experience?
Presentation focusing on issues relating to her renowned and ground breaking 1992 residency at the Maternity Unit in Manchester which led to the exhibition A Shared Experience at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1993.

Franciszka Jagielak  PhD Candidate, Industrial Design   
Academy of Fine Art, Kraków

The Childbirth Seat-Support: Design Process

The childbirth “seat-support” designed by the author, called “Rodzisko”, is dedicated to natural (physiological) birth. The scope of the author's studies related to this patented invention includes the phenomenon of natural childbirth and the space around it. The paper presents the design work, research on existing solutions and historical obstetric items and furniture. The key objective was to create a one-piece, easy-to-use object enabling simple adjustment of the seat to women of different anthropometric measurements. The project is inspired by a holistic approach to child development (subliminal memory of the first experiences of newborn; mother/child memories from this very important life moment). It also seeks to support the rights of mothers to make decisions during childbirth. Physiological delivery runs more efficiently and less painfully in vertical positions. The character of the seat is related to these facts, giving a choice of three birthing positions. The author would like to see the project become another voice in facilitating social discussion about dignity of obstetric patients, and fundamental human emotional needs.

Lisamarie Johnson  Masters of Fine Art, NCAD; mother and performance
artist working in social and political contexts
Currently poet-in-residence with Poetry Ireland  
The Civil Unrest Essay
We forget the loves and betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what
we screamed , forget who we were.  Joan Didion
The decision parades -  a description I use to describe the endless radical exasperations of both what have been deemed the  pro- choice and pro- life battles - the decisions that are not being made with women for women,  where women's health and women's needs are the primary outcome.  The collective conscience...a new identity is in fact  pro-demic. This  is a term that can be considered when any level of human life is comprised...the dwelling place the home the land the country - what determines our private life - Ireland.  Like the rise of any revolution, for this is The Woman's Revolution.
I want to talk about parenting , prematurity, a child with a direct disability from birth negligence and art as a means  and as an act of self preservation.

Dr Tina Kinsella Ph.D in Visual Culture, National College of Art and Design, (NCAD), Dublin,
M.Phil in Gender and Women’s Studies, Trinity College Dublin.
Part-time Lecturer at NCAD, Irish Research Council Scholar and artist.
Maternal Taboos and the Feminine Real:
The Artwork of Frida Kahlo and the Matrixial Theory of Bracha L. Ettinger

The artist Frida Kahlo is a modern icon. Almost exclusively, her artistic oeuvre has been scrutinised through the prism of her dramatic and colourful life. Critiques which concentrate solely on biographical detail risk reifying Kahlo’s life and image at the expense of a serious re-evaluation of her work and this results in an inappropriate conflation between Kahlo the woman and Kahlo the artist. Works such as Henry Ford Hospital (1932) and The Abortion (1932) clearly reference Kahlo’s own experience of abortion and miscarriage. Other works, such as My Nurse and I (1937) and My Birth (1932) represent the embodied realities of breastfeeding and the bloodied act of childbirth itself. Thus Kahlo’s works can be legitimately appraised as iterative re-inscriptions of the semiotics and iconographies that shroud the socio-cultural taboos of pregnancy, motherhood, childbirth and child loss. This paper considers Kahlo’s oeuvre from the psychoanalytic perspective of Bracha L. Ettinger’s Matrixial theory. Ettinger argues that the emergence into life in the late intrauterine encounter and the event of birth are not only traumas foreclosed in an immemorial Real, but rather affective and subjectivising encounter-events in the feminine corpo-Real. This paper proposes that Kahlo’s artistic practice is a radical aesthetic practice that performatively investigates the trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and child loss. Kahlo’s work is evaluated as an artistic exploration of the immemorial, yet affective and subjectivising, encounter-events in/of the feminine corpo-Real.  Further to this it is suggested that Kahlo's works are an aesthetics of pregnancy and childbirth.

Hazel Katherine Larkin  BA (Hons) Psychology; MA Sexuality Studies; mother, doula, activist in the areas of birth and mental health , Dublin, Ireland  

Master : An Exploration of The Images That Terminology Suggests
Ireland is the only country in the world where the CEOs of maternity hospitals are referred to as 'Masters'.

In 2012, for the first time in its history, a woman was appointed CEO of the National Maternity Hospital in Ireland.  She steadfastly refused to relinquish the patriarchal title Master. In February of this year, another Dublin maternity hospital appointed a woman as CEO. She, too, insists on being called 'Master'.

Words are powerful and they conjure powerful images which impact on those who hear them.

This paper interrogates the visual imagery inspired by the use of the word 'Master' to describe the CEOs of Irish maternity hospitals.  It explores the representations suggested by the word 'Master' and investigates the impact of the word on women.

'Master: An Exploration of The Images That Terminology Suggests' also explores whether it is useful or appropriate to continue to employ the term 'Master' to indicate the Chief Executive Officer of a maternity hospital.

Gloria Lee  SB Political Science; MFA, Graphic Design; Associate Professor, Design
The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Art & Art History    

Tyranny of [American] Numbers : Two pieces of visual work  
A visual analysis of quantitative measurement data used to support a medical model of childbirth.
The emphasis on data and scientific measurement has infiltrated the process of bearing, birthing and raising a child in the United States, and through these frequent acts of quantification, the mother has been converted to a machine of production. During pregnancy, particularly in the case of older first-time mothers, countless measurements are taken; the monitoring of ketone and glucose levels in the advent of gestational diabetes is just one example. After delivery, measurements continue, this time concerning the infant, complete with regular percentile ranking of the infant’s weight, circumference of head and height. Implicit in this medical record keeping is the mother’s responsibility for the achievement of standard (if not extraordinary) results. In both cases, the body of the mother is viewed through the filter of rationalized production.
The two pieces of visual work/information design offer the viewer an opportunity to reframe the maternal body and access a reality masked by this rationalized process.

Irene Lusztig  Assistant Professor, Film and Digital Media
University of California, Santa Cruz
Film: The Motherhood Archives     

Archival montage, science fiction, and an homage to 70’s feminist filmmaking are woven together to form this haunting and lyrical essay film excavating hidden histories of childbirth in the twentieth century. Assembling an extraordinary archive of over 100 educational, industrial, and medical training films (including newly rediscovered Soviet and French childbirth films), The Motherhood Archives inventively untangles the complex, sometimes surprising genealogies of maternal education. From the first use of anesthetic ether in the 19th century to the postmodern 21st century hospital birthing suite, The Motherhood Archives charts a course through the cultural history of pain, the history of obstetric anesthesia, and the little-known international history of the natural childbirth and Lamaze movements. Revealing a world of intensive training, rehearsal, and performative preparation for the unknown that is ultimately incommensurate with experience, The Motherhood Archives is a meditation on the maternal body as a site of institutional control, ideological surveillance, medical knowledge, and nationalist state intervention.

Dr. Janet Merewether   Research Associate, Macquarie University
University of Sydney – Sydney College of the Arts

Film: Maverick Mothers and Healthy Births – The Performance of Solo Motherhood and the Representation of Birth in the Feminist Documentary

An autobiographical documentary focusing on a single parent household. The film interweaves observational, intimate footage of pregnancy, birth and motherwork with stylized, ironic tableaux-vivants, in which Merewether enacts a range of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mothers in history, from the Virgin Mary, to the cigarette-smoking bleach-blonde White Trash Mother, from the Shamed Pregnant Teenager to the cake-baking Stepford Wife (and drill wielding husband).

Magdalena Ohaja  PhD Candidate

School of Nursing and MIdwifery, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland   

Western Obstetric Practice (s): implications for safe motherhood in the developing world

A key mishap in the effort to achieve safe motherhood (SM) is the adoption of the western-derived medical interventionist approaches which advocate for hospital-based obstetric care which support the move of childbirth away from the community where it could be sustained. It is a well known fact that hospital-based obstetric care ascribes superiority to dominant medical knowledge, and is most often culturally insensitive. How applicable and relevant is the western obstetric practice(s) to the developing world?

Drawing from interviews in south-east Nigeria with women, this presentation examines how western obstetric practices have been problematic and counterproductive in achieving SM. Its focus is not on statistical measures but rather
on the experiential account of those whose lives it touches most and the social
structures that shape their experiences. The study is approached through a
hermeneutic phenomenological and poststructural feminist lens. Thus through their
experiences, we see  women ‘seeing’ their needs in birth differently.

Despite the effort by advocates of the dominant obstetric model to wipe out traditional or indigenous pregnancy and childbirth practices, the latter still exist alongside the former. It is hoped that by being attentive to the experiences and opinions of the  women themselves, we would come to understand the problems facing childbearing women. The use of both forms of care by women indicates that the obstetric model on its own is inadequate in addressing pregnancy and childbirth issues in Nigeria.

Małgorzata Stach  PhD candidate
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College, Dublin   

Understanding Technology, Imagining Birth: non-expert understandings of birth technology

The use of technology in childbirth has massively reshaped how we think about pregnancy and the birthing process. Internationally, there is an expanding conflict over technologies used in childbirth, such as foetal monitoring, induction of labour or epidural anaesthesia, which is changing the way maternity care system is conceptualised. Significant research has been undertaken that indicates the need to ensure that technology is applied effectively and appropriately. However, the gap between clinical practice and evidence continues and hospital-based birth culture favouring childbirth managed in a high-tech setting remains dominant. As pervasive as these technologies are, women’s and men’s non-expert understandings of birth technologies can help us to challenge the assumptions of existing maternity care systems with their emphasis on technologised birthing.

The aim of this paper is to examine what “everyday understandings” of birth technologies are held by individuals, who have participated or will participate in the maternity services as mothers and fathers. I proceed from the assumption that understandings of birth technology become powerful influences on attitudes towards birth, and thus potentially shape actual birth experiences. In particular, I want to explore how non-experts make sense of and reason about the presence of certain practices and technologies in pregnancy and birth. I will also investigate the importance of the “technological worldview” as a frame of reference for women and men when thinking and imagining the birthing process.

Susannah Sweetman  PhD Candidate   
School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Birth Fear and the Subjugation of Women’s Strength: towards a broader conceptualisation of femininity in birth
This paper is an exploration of the ways in which pregnant and birthing women are represented in discourses around Birth Fear. It questions the implications of such representations for the construction of contemporary identities in pregnancy and birth, and considers how pregnancy and birth pose a challenge to feminine “bodily timidity” (Young, 1990).

I suggest that there are political meanings embedded within women’s experiences of Birth Fear that have their roots in the culture of risk that dominates contemporary understandings of pregnancy and birth. Such a culture produces a specific feminine construct in which particular elements of pregnancy and birth, such as reliance on experts are elevated, and others, e.g. women’s strength are subverted.  I argue that underpinning the phenomenon of Birth Fear is a fear of transgressing rigid boundaries of chauvinised feminine consciousness (Bartky, 1990).

Understanding Birth Fear as symbolic of culturally located feminine consciousness enables a new consideration of women’s strength as an acceptable dimension of femininity in birth. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, I argue that the identification of an emancipatory alternative for pregnant and birthing women is predicated on the deconstruction of “doxic” modes of consciousness that arise from sustained oppression. Such action facilitates a reconstruction of femininity in pregnancy and birth that moves beyond its current oppressive boundaries, and integrates aspects of these experiences that are currently experienced as transgressions of rational order. This new understanding has its roots in the development of new, mutually respectful relationships that undertake to listen to women and foster empowerment in pregnancy and birth.



Marianne Wobcke  RN/RM; BACAIA (Hons 1st Class) 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service
Murri School, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Perinatal Dreaming 

‘Perinatal Dreaming’ is a collection of artworks by Indigenous artist and midwife Marianne Wobcke. Considering how contemporary society is becoming increasingly conscious of the dynamic influence on the psyche, the work focuses on our journey through conception, gestation, the birth and early postnatal period. The artworks are an intimate personal reflection of the fetus’ and newborn’s psychophysiological experience.  The aim of this art practice is to inform the audience of the impact these intrauterine and perinatal experiences have on the development of individual we perceive and interpret the world.

Hermione Wiltshire, Artist, Birth Rites Collection; Senior Lecturer
Photography Department, Royal College  of Art, London, UK    

The Birth of the Image
Crowning describes the moment the head of the baby emerges from the mother’s body into view.  The word is redolent with symbolism of a new status.  Although this status is not itself in doubt, the scene is sometimes difficult to look at, or to imagine.  It is absent in NCT anti natal classes, it is moved to dark corners of exhibitions, an image of it even obscured by midwives themselves on the walls of their offices. Why is this?  Is it locked into cultural prejudices about the female body or a panicked response unique to viewing genitals?
In a normal delivery, the first part of the baby to be seen outside the mother’s body with out the aid of technology is the top of its head. It is framed by the up turned eye shape of the mother’s perineum. As the baby descends, the malleable, stretched rim of skin of the perineum begins to take the shape of the baby’ head. Once at its widest circumference the image is at its most exquisite.  Up until recently this scene was difficult to find beyond medical records.  Now, the availability of such scenes online gives the impression that we can look with impunity. However as we trawl through ‘You tube’, do we actually see what we want to see or does something unconscious obscure our gaze?

bottom of page