Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Negotiated Boundaries: Conceptual Locations of Pregnancy and Childbirth

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Negotiated Boundaries: Conceptual Locations of Pregnancy and Childbirth

Article excerpt

Dominant notions of reproduction perceive childbearing as physical processes that take place within women's bodies. This perception undermines non-physical components and removes men from the process. This project uses social constructionism to explore the locations women describe pregnancy and childbirth taking place in their childbearing narratives. Based on in-depth interviews with 15 mothers, findings reveal that women conceptualize childbearing as taking place in multiple locations: (1) within the female body, (2) within both the female body and a non-physical realm (e.g., emotional) of one or both partners, (3) detached from any particular location, and (4) within both partners' bodies. Conceptualizing childbearing as something other than a purely physical event acknowledges non-physical elements of childbearing and allows greater participation among men.

Key Words: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Body, Gender, and Father


Pregnancy and childbirth are typically viewed as primarily physical events that take place within the female body. This presumption has been found to be the underlying premise of obstetric texts (Hahn, 1987; Martin, 1992), self-help literature (Marshall & Wollett, 2000; Rudolfsdottir, 2000), and feminist theories of reproduction (see, for example, Corea, 1985; de Beauvior, 1952/1989; Firestone, 1971; O'Brien, 1981). Research on women's childbearing experiences demonstrates that both pregnancy and childbirth are experienced not only physically, but also socially and emotionally (Campero et al., 1998; Fowles, 1998; Rudolfsdottir; Simkin, 1991). In addition, research on men's experiences during pregnancy indicates that while most men's experiences are primarily social and emotional (Barclay, Donovan, & Genovese, 1996; Barclay & Lupton, 1999; Draper, 2003a; Shapiro, 1995), a surprisingly large number of men also experience physical manifestations of pregnancy (Bogren, 1983; Lipkin & Lamb, 1982; May & Perrin, 1985). Taken together, this research suggests that pregnancy and childbirth can be conceptualized and experienced as something other than a physical event that takes place solely within the female body.

This paper explores the ways in which postpartum women conceptually locate pregnancy and childbirth, specifically in the context of narrating their own and their partners' childbearing experiences. By "conceptual location" I mean the sphere of human experience (e.g., physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual) within which women describe pregnancy and childbirth as occurring. This location is "conceptual" because it is the location within which one perceives (or conceptualizes) pregnancy and childbirth taking place, which may or may not be consistent with medical, scientific, or other popular perceptions. The purpose of this project is to assess the validity of common presumptions that pregnancy and childbirth are experienced primarily within the physical realm of the female body. This assessment is important on a practical level, to address men's often removed experience from the childbearing process. It may also have theoretical implications for feminist theories that relate women's oppressed status in society to the physicality of childbearing for women.

Literature Review

Research demonstrates that biomedical discourse dominates both obstetric and self-help literature on pregnancy and childbirth. Analyses of obstetric texts show that the bulk of the texts focus on the physical aspects of childbearing, while social and emotional components are either presented in a single separate chapter or are excluded altogether (Hahn, 1987; Martin, 1992). Research shows that self-help pregnancy guides rely primarily on medical discourse to relay information to pregnant women, which constructs the pregnant and birthing body as pathological and detached from any subject; where the emotional aspects of pregnancy and childbirth are addressed, emotional instability and irrationality are emphasized (Marshall & Wollett, 2000; Rudolfsdottir, 2000). …

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