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Creating a Dialogue: Midwives and Obstetricians

Hilary_Brashear's picture
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The theme of conversation and dialogue (rather than argument and debate) has been guiding our discussions, so for my project I wanted to create a dialogue between a student preparing to become a midwife and a student preparing to become an obstetrician. I filmed and edited an interview with future midwife, Christian Cooke (BMC 2013) and then posted that clip to youtube. A close friend from home, Virginia Flatow, is preparing to go to medical school and become an obstetrician. I asked her to watch the interview and then post a video in response. I thought youtube was the perfect place to facilitate this conversation since in our panels we have been talking about online communities and youtube in particular. I will also be entering the dialogue by writing my response to what both women have to say and posting it here on serendip. ( To see Virginia's video response, click on the linked title, "Interview with Christian Cooke: Future Midwife" which will take you to youtube. Scroll down below the main play video box and you will see "Video Responses" with a link to Virginia's video)

From this dialogue I saw connections to both Banu Subramaniam’s article, “Moored Metamorphoses: A Retrospective Essay on Feminist Science Studies” and Karen Barad’s conception of objectivity and entanglement in her book “Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.” I see these two women as feminist scientists, not scholars integrating the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences, but through their (soon to be) work integrating the ideas from both fields. Subramaniam makes the distinction between women in science and woman/gender studies and science. Midwives and obstetricians are examples of women who are both women in science and who do work that reflect women/genderand science. Both Virginia and Christian draw from their interest in other fields, English, Philosophy, and Women’s rights issues to inform how they are going to interact with science. Subramaniam’s focus is integration in scholarship as she says, “recent scholarship in sexuality studies, including gay, lesbian, queer, intersexual, and transgender studies, has exploded the easy boundaries of sex and gender, biology and social construction. The body seems much too complex to reduce to easy questions of biology versus socialization. Recent work has pushed us to rethink nature and culture not as oppositional binaries but rather as co-constituted.”(Subramaniam 2009: 969) Midwives in particular aim to blur the line between biology and social life specifically with respect to the body; they see the biological process of giving birth as a social rite of passage. At the same time Virginia states there is not much functional difference between OBs and midwives but that she thinks the bureaucracy of medicine could incorporate more of the midwife philosophy into their practice.

Shifting from Subramaniam to Barad’s work, I found her resistance to separatability  appear in Christian’s interview when she says, “I think science is so constrained by the idea of the scientific method and the idea of being separate.” Her feelings certainly resonate with Barad’s notion of objectivity and I think Christian’s critique of science is the same as Barad’s. She states, “I am interested in a posthumanist understanding that does not presume the human to be a special system separate from the natural processes that he or she observes, but rather one that seeks to understand the emergence of the “human” along with all other physical systems. To exclude the human from the realm of nature and sequester him or her in the realm of culture is not only to install the nature culture divide in the foundations of the theory but to forgo the possibility of understanding how this boundary gets drawn.” (Barad 2007: 339) We were having trouble in class understanding how Barad’s theory can apply to the world outside of quantum physics but looking at midwifery and OBs helped me in this application. Barad’s most radical contribution with her entanglement theory is to argue that entanglement is not just a metaphor with which to think about the world but it is an actual physical state of being. In the preface of her book Barad states “to be entangled is not simply to be intertwined with another… but to lack an independent, self-contained existence” (Barad 2007: ix) She brings in quantum physics to argue that nothing is independent or self-contained and that humans should recognize the interconnectedness in both the social and natural/physical world.  In relation to midwives and OBs I think their profession and birth itself is an embodiment of entanglement. It is both a biological and social reproduction system; a physiological process and a ritual.   

I like Virginia’s call for a greater dialogue and interaction with the medical profession and midwives as well as the greater need for the education of women to learn about their options for birth. Midwifery was not something I had ever thought about until this year and it is unfortunate that in the United States it not recognized as a popular alternative to a hospital birth. I agree with Virginia that women should know all of the options that they have and educating women about their options is important. However for more effective change of how we view birth in the United States this has to be paired with the acknowledgement from the medical institutions and the wider public that midwifery as a profession and as a way to give birth is a valid option.  Women shouldn’t only be informed of the options they have in terms of how they give birth but also options of how to view birth. In popular media and knowledge birth is painful, potentially dangerous, and takes place in a hospital gown in a hospital bed. To associate giving birth with a place that most often deals with disease, illness, broken and cut limbs, is to put birth into the same category of painful problems in need of fixing.

What I learned from this dialogue was that, at least for two cases of women interested in entering the medical field of giving birth, they are both interested in changing the current situation of how we care for women and their babies. They are looking for a healthier interaction between both professions and philosophical ideas about birth which I take as an optimistic sign for change in the future.

Works cited:

Barad, Karen Michelle. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.

Subramaniam, Banu. "Moored Metamorphoses: A Retrospective Essay on Feminist Science Studies." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 951-80. Print.


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Liz McCormack's picture

entangled reproduction

An exceptional example of Barad's thesis and well argued.    Birth as an entangled physical and social reproductive event is fascinating to think about. Your presentation also provides a rich illustration of  the political dimensions of science in society, reflected in this case by the status of the midwife profession, the infrastructure and economics of health, the role of education, and an individual's right to choose. 

The use of the video interviews along with your written response was a very effective format for a multi-media web paper.  Your two interviewees were impressive!

Serendip Visitor Patricia Tidwell PhD's picture

a comment

A very impressive discussion of the two professions - and the importance of informing and empowering women to make important choices. I also like your suggestion that there are options of how we view birth as well as how women give birth. A very important distinction that is often over-looked.