Stories are difficult like that: a phenomenological study

Kay, Lesley (2015) Stories are difficult like that: a phenomenological study. In: Normal Labour and Birth: 10th Research Conference: Normal Birth; Into the Future; 15-17 Jun 2015, Grange Over Sands, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Background This study is the second phase of a PhD study. In the first phase I considered how present-day pregnant women come to understand birth in the context of birth stories. I found that birth stories were one of many ‘voices’ offering ‘advice’; and that women struggled to negotiate an overwhelming, highly technical and complex information landscape. In this phase I set out to determine what the information landscape was like for pregnant women in the 1970s –1980s and establish how those women came to understand what their experience of birth might be. Method An interpretive methodology encapsulating individual perspective and considering socio-cultural context was adopted. Specifically a hermeneutic phenomenological approach underpinned by the work of Heidegger was chosen. A purposive sampling method was used to recruit women between the ages of 50-60, all of whom had birthed and whose children are now adults. Ten women were recruited and interviewed. Study of the transcribed data and field notes informed subsequent interpretations. Results Unpacking the meanings hidden in the women’s stories involved me moving iteratively between the accounts, my thoughts, and conversations with the supervisory team, the literature, poetry and prose. The interpretation moved in a complex and often challenging way. Eventually a number of storylines emerged: ‘It’s a generational thing’, ‘stories are difficult like that’, ‘birth as a technological feat’ and ‘shrouded in mystery or blissful ignorance?’ Discussion The women had limited information to prepare them for birth but, interestingly they had no real expectation of being informed; birth was something of a mystery but women were ‘all the same’ and birth would ‘take its course’, indeed it was something of a fait accompli. The women talked about the absence of a voice and a dependence on external authority for direction. What emerged was the notion of understanding as acceptance. The women talked of birth as an overwhelmingly medical experience and as little more than a consequence of pregnancy and a gateway to motherhood. The women spoke of their reticence to share their stories with their daughters telling me that ‘stories are difficult like that’; they would discuss the ‘bits around birth’ and offer platitudes such as ‘it’s painful but you get over it’ but would not offer much more for fear of ‘frightening’ women. Similarly if they had a very positive experience they would be loath to share for fear of upsetting women who may not have had that experience and potentially make them feel in some way inadequate. Conclusion Women’s wisdom in the form of the birth story appears to be disappearing from our cultural landscape. Women rely more readily on ‘virtual’ information in preparation for birth and in the UK today the hospital remains the locus of birth. It would seem that the vast majority of people still believe that the highly medicalised version of birth is most appropriate. Is the essence of our being as women who can birth being lost in this landscape? If women won’t share their stories then will the embodied experience of birthing be lost forever?

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