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    Becoming the “Natural” mother: power, emotions, and “Natural” childbirth between 1947 and 1967

    Bourke, Joanna (2021) Becoming the “Natural” mother: power, emotions, and “Natural” childbirth between 1947 and 1967. Past and Present 246 (S15), pp. 92-114. ISSN 0031-2746.

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    Childbirth is the first form of mothering labour. Indeed, the term “labour” is routinely used to stand-in for parturition itself. In the “long 1950s”, medical professionals debated what was “natural” about this form of female labour. This article asks: what did a “natural labour” mean to medical professionals between 1947 and the mid-1960s? I will be arguing that the “natural” part of “natural” childbirth involved emphasising two states of being. The first referred to a woman’s response to birth: that is, giving birth was a woman’s telos and should therefore be “naturally” exhilarating. In contrast to the anaesthetics revolution a century earlier, which sought to blunt if not eradicate birth pangs, the “aesthesiologic” revolution of the period between 1947 and 1967 celebrated emotional reactions to stimuli in the lived experience of the birthing woman. The second emphasis was on the hierarchies of power involving a range of medical practitioners and the birthing women. They made highly offensive assumptions about the birthing-labours of “primitives”, immigrants, and the working-class. Near the end of the period explored, they also sought to establish husbands as “coaches” to their wives, providing firm yet loving patriarchal guidance. Through a close reading of contemporary medical sources, the article suggests that “natural labour” involved attention to balance, consciousness, and notions of hierarchies of humans.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication following peer review. The version of record is available online at the link above.
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): childbirth, natural childbirth, mothers, mothering, labour, power, emotions
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology
    Depositing User: Joanna Bourke
    Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2020 10:06
    Last Modified: 04 Jul 2022 12:38


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