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The telling of childbirth stories

Anjani A Soparkar, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Oral narratives recounting the experience of childbirth are readily related by many women, despite the inherently intimate nature of the physical details of childbirth. The research literature on pregnancy, labor and delivery, postpartum, and new parenting is rife with examples of childbirth narratives, yet there is a dearth of analysis of what it is like for women to share this narrative. This study explores the questions: (a) does the telling of childbirth stories exist as a phenomenon of oral narrative that is recognizable among women who have given birth? and if so, (b) why do women tell these stories? Ten primiparous women who had medically uncomplicated, unmedicated, vaginal deliveries of healthy infants were interviewed. They were asked to relate the stories of their labors and deliveries. Using a technique termed participant-ready observation, the narratives were followed by semi-structured interviews in which the participants were asked to reflect on what it is like to tell and hear birth stories. The interviews were audio taped and transcribed. These ten women affirmed the existence of an identifiable phenomenon of oral narrative. Their stories were similar in structure, organization and character of presentation. Socio-anthropologically, the narrative is shared as a ritual which undergirds the rite of passage of childbirth. Psychologically, these women shared their stories within both close and casual relationships to compare and connect with other women, and for the stories' entertainment value. In telling, they relived their birth experiences, dispelling disbelief that it happened. The version most often told was an "action story" rather than an "affect story". While the exchange of physical details imparts the semblance of intimacy, the genuinely intimate aspect is the intra-psychic part of the experience which is beyond words. Thus, telling birth stories helps women process the most intimate aspect of their experience while remaining psychologically shielded from public view.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Health|Folklore|Obstetrics|Gynecology|Womens studies|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Soparkar, Anjani A, "The telling of childbirth stories" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823777.