When expectation does not meet reality: Discordant childbirth narratives among Austin-area women
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Women’s experiences of childbirth are easily accessible: they are found aplenty in commercial bookstores, the pages of scholarly articles in nearly every academic discipline, and, perhaps most interestingly, at the dinner table. This abundance of stories does not, however, indicate a wide variance of narratives. Since the natural childbirth movement of the 1960s, popular narratives have presented childbirth predominantly as a positive or empowering event, while academic literature has employed childbirth narratives primarily to juxtapose delivery types. Missing from these romanticized and polarized representations of childbirth are the experiences of women whose plans, expectations, or desires for childbirth were not met in the event that actually transpired. My research focuses specifically on these narratives and explores the following questions: how do these women talk about and frame their childbirth narratives? There is little academic or nonacademic literature discussing discordant experiences that contrast dominant childbirth narratives or that do not fit into specific categories of delivery type. Using data collected from interviews with twelve Austin-area women, my thesis analyzes the social and economic factors that influence childbirth plans and expectations, as well as actual outcomes. This work also examines how a woman’s body becomes the object upon which successes and failures of childbirth are placed and how the body is conflated with success or failure in motherhood. Finally, this thesis illustrates the specific ways in which my participants’ childbirth narratives are recorded and how those narratives evolve gradually over time. Broadly speaking, this feminist research calls for the diversification of representations of childbirth narratives in order to dismantle historical and contemporary preference for certain childbirth narratives over others.