Midwives and mothers : reproductive identities and experiences

Church, Sarah Llywela Rees (2009). Midwives and mothers : reproductive identities and experiences. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d4dd


This thesis explores gender identity in relation to reproduction, midwifery and motherhood from the perspectives of midwives and mothers. Using auto/biography this research emerged from my own embodied experiences of reproduction, childbirth and midwifery. It questions how experiences of reproduction might shape the identity of the midwife and the relationships between midwives and mothers. This research focuses on three specific aims; first, to contribute to the theoretical and sociological understanding of gender identity; second, to explore midwives' personal experiences of pregnancy and birth, and how their embodied experiences influence practice; and third, to contribute to the understanding of the 'meaning of motherhood', from the experience of midwives and mothers.

Following in-depth interviews with fourteen midwives and thirteen mothers, the research findings show that gender expectations of midwives as female carers are bound by socially constructed expectations of the identity of the midwife as a carer, in which the role of emotion is a key theme. This thesis illustrates how the analysis of gender identity shows the interconnectivity between midwifery, reproduction and motherhood, and emotion. It contributes to the understanding of the relationship between emotion, midwives embodied experiences of reproduction, childbirth and motherhood, and the issue of professional identity. The findings highlight the significance of emotion in mediating the relationship between midwives' experiences and their practice, especially in the context of midwives' identity. This research provides an insight into the relational aspects of emotion work within reproduction and childbirth, and reveals that emotion work is not limited to midwives, but their actions or inactions can create emotion work for mothers.

Recommendations for policy and practice emphasise the significance of community based midwifery services, a review of hospital based postnatal care; and highlight the need for the support of midwives returning to work following maternity leave. Future research recommendations focus on the development of auto/biography as a research approach and the exploration of emotion in midwifery research; issues of midwifery care; embodied experiences and the identity of the midwife.

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