‘dis ͻhord’: one woman’s experience of confronting and understanding the lived experience of birth

Kay, Lesley (2018) ‘dis ͻhord’: one woman’s experience of confronting and understanding the lived experience of birth. In: Department of Midwifery Annual Conference : 'I Have a Voice'; 14 Feb 2018, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


A number of mixed media art works created by the artist Caroline Calonder are presented and interpreted. The artworks were ‘birthed’ twelve years after the traumatic birth of her son, a birth which Caroline forced to the back of her mind, willing herself to ‘forget’ whilst she concentrated on mothering. Having not had the opportunity to control her birth Caroline used her work to take control of the uncontrollable; dramatically representing her story on cartridge paper where the ink, collage and marks made became the narrative. In using a repetitive and meditative technique in her work Caroline slowly started the process of repair and in doing so was able to confront the lived experience of her birth and make it part of her history; something which was denied her at the time as ‘the C-section under GA with the 11 lb baby and the PPH’. In the analysis I draw on my PhD study findings as a means of contextualising, understanding and interpreting the work. My PhD examined how two generations of pregnant women experienced stories of birth and in this context the birth story encompassed personal oral stories as well as media and other representations of contemporary childbirth, all of which had the potential to elicit emotional responses and generate meaning in the interlocutor. Findings from my study suggest that in a space populated by doctors and technology, all of which are in place to safely ‘manage’ women’s well-being and births, childbirth is understood by many as a ‘technological feat’, a process framed in risk and in neat conceptualisation; stripped of live content and imbued with possibly disastrous consequences for women and for birth. The presentation highlights some of the distressing and harmful sequelae which can arise when a woman’s disembodied experience of birth is accepted as normal and mainstream. It also emphasises the need for healthcare professionals to actively work to safeguard women’s emotional health as well as the potential for art to be used as a means of confronting and recovering from birth trauma.

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