Does the Place Where We Are Born Matter?

Martina Hynan

Abstract


Until the middle of the twentieth century, most births in rural Ireland took place in the home. From then on, childbirth increasingly took place in hospital settings. Not only did this physical relocation of birth from home to hospital affect women’s lived experiences of childbirth and traditional midwifery practices, but both were also inextricably bound up with the complex relationship to women’s bodies and place within the evolving postcolonial Irish state.

This article is an historical overview of the uprooting of birth from home to hospital in Ireland. It documents the main policy changes that led to the current obstetric-led, institutionally based maternity system. It highlights how this postcolonial state effectively erased traditional midwifery practices and eventually removed midwifery services from local communities. The subsequent centralization of maternity services led to a huge reduction in maternity units from 108 in 1973 to nineteen today; consequently, there is a very limited obstetrically driven maternity service, which is almost entirely hospital based.

This research is part of my PhD, which is an interdisciplinary art practice-as-research project that uses methodologies employed by feminist ecocritical thinkers, new materialists, cultural geographers, and socially engaged art practitioners; it incorporates oral testimonies, archival material, film, drawings, paintings, and found objects. This complex layered reading of the interrelationships between place, birth, and memory will contribute to a shared knowledge, placing it at the intersection of international research in medical humanities and collaborative, participatory socially engaged arts practices.

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We are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for its ongoing support of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement.