The social context of birth

Isabella Devani, a disabled parent from Kent, UK, reviews The social context of birth second edition, edited by Caroline Squire. 2009, Oxon, Radcliffe. ISBN 978 1846192 531. Price: £29.99.

I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the 19 readable and well-referenced selection of articles that Caroline Squire has put together in this second edition of The social context of birth.

The volume is billed as “a comprehensive guide”, providing “an understanding of the impact of social circumstances on women giving birth, their babies and family in the 21st century”. The contributors are midwives, health professionals and social scientists from across Britain. The book is a little larger than A5 size and about 1.5 inches in width but comfortable to hold. The justified text may make difficult reading for some people but the layout is generally clear with many good sized diagrams. Unfortunately it is not yet available in large print.

Squire begins by addressing the contribution of ‘feminisms’ to women’s experience of childbearing. The remaining essays all draw on social theory to discuss topics as diverse as refugee women, survivors of sexual abuse, assisted conception and fetal surveillance. The final chapter, entitled Experiencing Disability, is written by Harriet Clarke, Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham. She writes within a social model of disability, understanding the disabling nature of society and barriers that disabled women face in daily life to be especially relevant to childbearing.

Clarke acknowledges the difficulties in defining disability and the power that such a label has on identity and healthcare. In her work, she is keen to include mental health service users and learning disabled women within her understanding of the term ‘disabled’. She suggests that disabled women’s needs in pregnancy and childbirth are fundamentally the same as all women’s needs at this time. However, she also reminds us that disabled women are not a cohesive group and diversity among disabled mothers is as great as in the wider population and equally in need of acknowledgement in order to provide full care during pregnancy and birth.

The issue of antenatal screening is raised in relation to hereditary conditions that may affect the mother, whether these have resulted in the mother’s disability or not. Clarke reinforces how antenatal screening can put the health professional in a place when moral judgement can be exercised over the mother’s choice because of her disability. The involvement of fathers is touched upon briefly but mainly in terms of the support men give or are expected to give to their partner by professionals and wider society. The disabled woman’s mothering role is also discussed as being aided or negated by the health professional especially where it comes to choices in infant feeding and newborn care. Clarke points out that disabled parents’ own needs are often seen “through a ‘risk’ rather than a ‘support’ lens” and that parenting can be misjudged as inadequate when it is the needs of the parents that have to be addressed in order for adequate parenting to take place.

In one way Clarke tells us, as disabled parents, what we already know. However, her accurate identification of the barriers and the practice which health professionals can provide to combat these will be of use to midwives and their colleagues. This chapter, in effect, provides a handy size guide for health and social care professionals to quickly get to grips with the difficulties disabled women have traditionally faced alongside ways to alleviate them.

All in all The social context of birth is an excellent first reading in social theory and childbirth.

No

Want to share your thoughts about this?

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.