Liberating the Pregnant Body

My paper ‘Liberating the Pregnant Body: disempowerment and disembodiment in maternity care’ on my new research project on a care ethical view of maternity was enthusiastically responded to by the audience of the Global Carework Summit in Toronto last week. One response came from a mother present together with her baby. She responded as a carework researcher and a mother. She had never realized, and was now stunned at, how little she had thought about the pregnant body with regard to carework, even during her own recent pregnancy. Like myself she was amazed at how it is largely lacking in philosophy, sociology, and political (care) ethics.

Logo Global Carework Summit

Duden on maternity

Reading and studying Barbara Duden’s book is both a thrilling and shocking experience. She writes on the disembodiment of pregnancy, i.e. how pregnancy became a concept that can be thought of – even by pregnant women themselves – without including a woman’s body. Even after 25 years it has lost nothing of its relevance, considered in the light of many recent developments.

In this extended essay I want to call attention to the profound consequences, for women and for society, that accompany this public [Pro Life, IvN] dispute. Politicians and jurists, theologians and physicians are engaged in a major effort of social creation whose object is “life.” As a result of this effort, a new idea has become universally accepted: just as the Blue Planet – “seen” from space – is the environment of all life, so woman is the environment of new life. Almost overnight, these beliefs have become growth industries for new professional establishments, from ecological systems engineers to bioethicists, to manage. Concurrently, the term life (and a life) has become an idol, and controversy has attached a halo to this idol that precludes its dispassionate use in ordinary discourse. This book deals with the history of this idol – the history of life not as an object but as a notion. I want to examine the conditions under which a new discourse has transformed pregnancy into a process to be managed, the expected child into a fetus, the mother into an ecosystem, the unborn into a life, and life into a supreme value. (Duden, 1993, p.2)