The Moral Dimensions of Contemporary Childbirth
Bayly, Melanie K. 1983-
Although some childbirth experiences (e.g. caesarean section) appear to be understood in moral terms, there is a dearth of empirical work on how women situate birth experiences within a moral framework. The aim of the current doctoral research was therefore to explore how women morally position various childbirth related options, interventions, decisions, and experiences within their narratives of childbirth, and to explore how these narratives and moral valuations reflect broader ideologies of mothering and childbirth. Narrative interviews, in which women described their experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and the transition to motherhood, were conducted with first-time mothers (N=21) who had given birth within the last 18 months. Interviews were analyzed using an inductive, thematic approach which explored both semantic and latent aspects of women’s narratives. Findings illustrated that women negotiated with both natural and medicalized understandings of childbirth, although tenets of alternative childbirth ideology were especially prominent in women’s narratives. Women frequently used a moral voice of justice and autonomy within their childbirth narratives, which brought the concepts of individual harm, rights, and justice to the fore and reflected a valuation of autonomy and choice. The salience of autonomy was further illustrated in how women’s autonomy was supported, constrained, or transgressed during labour and delivery, and the significance this had for how women felt about their childbirth experience. Additionally, women invoked a moral casual ontology and a moral voice of care wherein they described particular birth choices (e.g. epidural and induction) as potentially harmful, and situated the primary responsibility for birth outcomes in themselves and their decisions. Finally, women negotiated with moral, biomedical, and ideological frameworks in ways which helped them re/negotiate a positive moral and maternal identity in the wake of undesirable birth outcomes and birth-related stigma. Findings make visible the ways in which the moral dimensions of childbirth may be understood and negotiated by women, and offer insights into how maternity care can incorporate such understandings and promote supportive, respectful care.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
ProgramCulture and Human Development
CommitteeLawson, Karen; Stephanson, Ray; Teucher, Ulrich; MacGregor, Michael
Copyright DateJune 2017