The Poetics of Childbearing: A Sociohistorical Hermeneutic and Phenomenological Study of Pregnancy and Childbirth
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Childbearing, Childbirth, Phenomenology, Pregnancy, Qualitative Research, Women's Studies
Even though birth is so common that no human being would exist without it, it has been commonly misunderstood in the West. According to the poet Adrienne Rich (1985), we have confused women's own experiences of childbearing with the institutional or sociohistorical story of childbearing. Inspired by Rich, I designed a comprehensive study that explores the sociohistorical story of childbearing, how childbearing women experience this story, and how their experiences might transcend it. To achieve this, I integrated feminist, phenomenological, and hermeneutical research approaches to develop a qualitative method that I call poetics.
First, I conducted a sociohistorical hermeneutics by reading childbearing metaphors in medicine and psychology as poetic texts that portray a world that childbearing women inhabit. Second, to explore how women experience this world, I asked four pregnant participants to write diaries about being pregnant and giving birth. I also interviewed the participants. I excerpted passages from their diaries and interviews to compose four childbearing stories. Finally, I phenomenologically analyzed their childbearing stories and wrote a poetic description that articulates the ambiguity of their experiences.
The sociohistorical hermeneutics indicates that childbearing women have been reduced to voids, selfless vessels, dysfunctional machines, contagious wounds, and tombs within metaphors in medicine and psychology. These metaphors emerged with the ascent of obstetrics, gynecology, and psychoanalysis. Since the nineteenth century, when male professionals in these disciplines became regarded as the exclusive experts of female reproduction, the childbearing woman's subjectivity has been increasingly eclipsed by that of her child-to-be.
The participants' childbearing stories suggest that they bear this sociohistorical world--a world that reduces them to selfless, mechanical vessels that must be medically monitored to protect their children-to-be. Nevertheless, the participants' childbearing stories also suggest that they bear another world--a long forgotten, primordial world that threatens the Western notion of a solipsistic, free-floating subject so often celebrated in fetal photographs. As the origin of human existence, the childbearing woman reveals an ambiguous, sensual symbiosis between herself and others that defies articulation in analytic discourse. Throughout this study, I discuss how qualitative researchers can adopt poetic discourse to preserve the ambiguity of childbearing women's experiences without sacrificing the rigor of scientific investigation.
Giguere, S. (2004). The Poetics of Childbearing: A Sociohistorical Hermeneutic and Phenomenological Study of Pregnancy and Childbirth (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1676