Medicalised maternity : an investigation into women's experiences of medicalised childbirth

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation reports on a qualitative study of the childbearing experiences of 20 women having their first child. The study attempts to examine the dominant discourses surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, with specific reference to the medical discourse, and to describe the way in which these impact on the women's experiences. The non-probability, convenience sample used in the study comprised women attending an antenatal class held at a Cape Town private hospital. The sample was relatively socially and medically homogeneous. The size and nature of the sample makes broad generalisations tentative. Individual interviews based on in-depth and open-ended questions were conducted. These were aimed at gathering qualitative data on the women's perceptions of their experiences. The women were interviewed during the last trimester of pregnancy about their experiences of pregnancy and their anticipation of childbirth. A further interview conducted a few weeks after birth focused on their experience of childbirth within the hospital setting and their impressions of early motherhood. It was found that the women's accounts of their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood were shaped to a large extent by the discourses within which the process of childbearing has been constructed. These include the medical, 'natural' birth and feminine discourses. The dominance of the medical discourse of birth was evident in the fact that the medical view was thoroughly incorporated into the women's perceptions of their childbearing experiences. This view of birth, along with the dominance of scientific medical knowledge, was found to limit the perception of acceptable birthing practice. The medical discourse intersected with both the 'natural' birth discourse which, as a social construction, was shown to uphold essentialist and prescriptive notions of motherhood, and the feminine discourse. This discourse, along with its assumptions regarding the mothering role, was fom1d to impact on the women's experiences through the creation of unrealistic expectations and ideals, which contributed to the shock and stress of first-time motherhood.

Bibliography: leaves 169-175.