Research: Engaging with birth stories in pregnancy across two generations

By Lesley Kay, Soo Downe, Gill Thomson, Kenny Finlayson on 24 November 2017 Midwives Magazine Research

What's happening in the world of midwifery research? Two lead authors summarise their work.

This study explores the effect birth stories have on primigravid women’s understandings of birth across two generations, using a Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological approach.

Findings from an initial sample of 10 women who were pregnant in 2012 indicated that virtual media was a primary source of birth stories. This led to a second sample of 10 women who gave birth in the 1970s and 1980s to determine whether they were more able to translate information into knowledge through stories told in person.

Findings revealed the experience of ‘being-in-the-world’ of birth and its stories. The birth story was constructed through ‘idle talk’ (the taken-for-granted assumptions of things, which come into being through language). Both oral stories and those told through technology were described as the ‘modern birth story’. 

The women pregnant in 2012 framed their expectations in the language of choice, while the women who birthed in the 1970s and 1980s framed their experience in the language of safety. For both, however, the world of birth was the same: saturated with, and only legitimised by, the birth of a healthy baby. Seeking sanctuary from the ‘drama’ of birth, many of the women persuaded themselves they would be more secure within the system of birth where accountability rested with the experts. Both groups of women chose to accept the birth practices around them: experiencing themselves and their bodies as part of the wider machinery of birth rather than coping with uncertainty and taking responsibility for the consequences. 

Moving forward, women must be encouraged to seek out and share positive stories and to be told how powerful these stories can be in reinforcing women’s capacity to birth. The nature of the idle talk being shared around birth needs to change so that the default story is not impersonal, perilous and out of place.

Lesley Kay is senior lecturer in midwifery at Kingston University, Soo Downe is professor of midwifery at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Gill Thomson is associate professor in perinatal health at UCLan and Kenny Finlayson is a researcher at UCLan

More reading

Kay L, Downe S, Thomson G, Finlayson K. (2017) Engaging with birth stories in pregnancy:
a hermeneutic phenomenological study of women’s experiences across two generations. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth17(1): 283.