Labour and birth in water: women’s narratives

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Waterbirth is currently a marginalised practice within midwifery in the United Kingdom (UK). This research explored women’s stories of labour and birth in water and how these were constructed to reflect transitions to motherhood and changes in identity. This study sought to answer the question: What do women’s stories of waterbirth reveal about a woman’s self and social identity around birth?

A feminist framework guided the research design adopting a narrative inquiry methodology to explore the stories of ten women who birthed in water. A single in-depth interview facilitated elicitation of the women’s stories of waterbirth. Stories were analysed using the Voice Centred Relational Method (VCRM) with an emphasis given to the socio-cultural and relational contexts individual to the woman. Three key narratives that emerged from the women’s stories were identified. These were: the ‘visible self,’ the ‘agent self’ and the ‘connected self.’

The narrative of the ‘visible self’ spoke to how waterbirth offered the women protection and privacy during childbirth, it allowed them to retain a sense of their private self. Women valued the presence of the midwife during the birth in two ways. First, when the midwife valued the woman’s intuitive knowledge of her own body and second, when the midwife maintained a non-interventionist stance in the birth process. The narrative of the ‘agent self’ illuminated storylines from the women of resistance, negotiation and compromise in order to achieve birth in water. Activation of the women’s agent self, afforded them feelings of control leading to an embodied sense of self. Continuous support from the midwife offered women reassurance enhancing their perceptions of autonomy and empowerment. Finally, the narrative of the ‘connected self’ illuminated water as a means of preventing disconnection instead fostering contemporary socio-cultural concepts of the ‘good mother’ for the women. It promoted connection between the woman and her newborn and helped to initiate a close family bond at birth. In a relational sense the women valued the emotional connection with the midwife which was further strengthened when they mirrored the woman’s desire for waterbirth. The thesis concludes that taken collectively these key narratives reflect how waterbirth enabled the women to maintain a secure identity during a time of transition.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorMerryn Ekberg (Supervisor), Sarah Church (Supervisor) & Helen Poole (Supervisor)

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