Hearing stories of birth in pregnancy: a hermeneutic phenomenological study of women's experiences across two generations

Kay, Lesley (2016) Hearing stories of birth in pregnancy: a hermeneutic phenomenological study of women's experiences across two generations. In: 11th International Normal Labour and Birth Conference; 10-13 Oct 2016, Sydney, Australia. (Unpublished)


Background and study aim This qualitative study considered how women from two different generations came to understand birth in the context of their own experience but also in the milieu of other women’s stories. The aim was to determine how pregnant women hear and understand stories and ‘portrayals’ of birth and in so doing reveal how the telling of such stories shapes and constructs the meaning of birth for the pregnant woman. Methodology and method The research utilised a hermeneutic phenomenological approach underpinned by the philosophies of Heidegger and Gadamer. Twenty participants were purposively selected, recruited and interviewed. In phase one ten women who were expecting their first baby in 2013 were recruited in order to explore how they understood birth prior to the event and in the light of other women’s stories. The second phase of the study evolved from the first. In phase two interviews with an older cohort of women were undertaken to determine whether women from a different era were more able to translate knowledge into meaning. This was based on the belief that information and therefore knowledge was mediated by personal contact and not though virtual technologies as described by the previous generation of women. Findings Five central and interrelated interpretive findings emerged: for the women birthing in 2013 the birth stories heard had a significant role to play in the women’s understanding and expectations of birth. The ‘norm’ as portrayed in the circulated stories was one which perpetuated what one participant described as the ‘drama of birth’; the modern ‘landscape’ of birth created and perpetuated fear of childbirth for many. The stories the women heard did not necessarily help them to become ‘knowers’ and gain wisdom about birthing; the women birthing in the present day were overloaded with information amassed in an attempt to manage their anxieties about birth as well as to fit the role of the informed patient and demonstrate their competency as mothers; the cultural and spiritual significance of birth was not communicated in the stories shared; many of the women felt secure in the ‘system’ of birth as constructed, portrayed and sustained in the stories widely circulated. Conclusions The data revealed that the lifeworld of birth being sustained in stories was one of product and process, concentrating on the stages and progression of labour and the birth of a healthy baby. The thesis revealed that the information gleaned from birth stories did not in fact create meaningful knowledge and understanding about birth for these pregnant women. The work highlights a need for further research to qualify the relationship between what women see and hear about birth and their expectation and consequent experience of birth. Further it demonstrates that women should be given help and guidance to ‘unpack’ and understand negative stories and portrayals of birth to mitigate the damaging effects of expectant fear

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