Performance and the Maternal

Performance and the Maternal is a collaborative project born of Lena Šimić and my desire to explore how the maternal functions in, and beyond, representation in the particular disciplines of performance and live art.  As Mike Pearson notes, ‘performance’ is an inclusive term that can bring together a variety of practices from across forms (Pearson, 2010, p.1).  I use the term ‘performance’ here to signify artistic work that focuses on live bodies making real actions intended for consideration by an audience. It seems that performance offers a unique space to explore the maternal due to its durational, live and relational elements: 

  • Performance is a durational phenomena: it is lived in real time and therefore using a performance studies perspective can help us to explore the time-based nature of the maternal. 
  • Performance is located in our bodies: the lived, embodied nature of performance parallels the lived, embodied experience of the maternal. 

Thinking Maternity Through Milky Breasts

I gave birth to my daughter Molly when I was thirty-nine years old. Five miscarriages over an eighteen-year period had preceded her. As such, her existence in-utero was always precarious for me and to defend myself I could only tentatively relish in the exuberance of pregnancy. But she arrived, all 9 lb 8 oz of her, curled up in a chunky ball, her full head of hair diffusing the anger of birth in her little red face. The anxiety of whether she would or would not survive the apparent inhospitality of my womb may have been somewhat assuaged on her arrival in the outside world, but for me the precariousness of her existence continued.

Her highly medicalised emergency C-section delivery was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. Alive and yet lying on the slab, numb to all physicality except for the waves of nausea, emotions existing only Read more...

Reproductive Justice: Uncovering the Voices of Women to Address Health Disparities within the United States by Ellie Smith

Notable moments occur throughout data collection and analysis that strike researchers. These moments can be especially powerful when experienced during qualitative, in-depth interviews with women about their reproductive health – an immensely personal topic. This particular interview progressed in a typical, methodological manner with no interruptions or abnormal discussions. However, at the conclusion of the interview, the participant proceeded to  thank me, claiming “nobody ever asks me” about her thoughts and opinions. Nobody ever asked about her reproductive health care status and access within the rural, close-knit community she resided. Her voice had been overlooked in the larger discussion of health care access, specifically in regard to reproduction. This interview, and study at large, brought her voice to light, uncovering her story and highlighting her lived experience as a woman of color and a rural woman within the United States.

Women of varying backgrounds, such as women of color and Read more...

Maternity Tales: Exploring the History of Maternity Spaces by Emma Cheatle

Maternity Tales is a three-year research project led by Dr Emma Cheatle at Newcastle University. It looks at the buildings and interior spaces used for childbirth in England from the seventeenth century onwards and evaluates their impact on the development of maternity practices. Until the 1750s all births took place at home – except of course where birth occurred unexpectedly! A labour and the recovery afterwards were known as ‘lying-in’. The lying-in period was typically a month, during which the new mother at first recuperated bed-bound, then remained in the house, gradually returning to her household duties. Lying-in ended with the public cleansing and thanksgiving ritual of ‘churching’ performed in the local Church of England.

Two midwives assisting a woman in labour on a birth chair, Eucharius Rößlin, Rosengarte, 1513. Courtesy Wellcome Images, London.

Two midwives assisting a woman in labour on a birth chair, Eucharius Rößlin, Rosengarte, 1513. Courtesy Wellcome Images, London.

Lying-in did not take place just anywhere in the home but involved carefully remaking the master Read more...

Maternal Readings of Motherhood on Television: A Birthlight Summary- by Rebecca Feasey

I recently published a Blog giving an overview summary of a research project that asked mothers in the television viewing audience to comment on their readings of motherhood on the small screen (Feasey 2016a). After presenting this work at a recent ‘Womb to World’ conference I have been asked by Birthlight to consider the ways in which their members might be seen to adhere to or negotiate my original research findings. Birthlight members listened to my research and informed me of their individual maternal readings, before asking if Birthlight members could complete the questionnaire that informed the original project.

Birthlight is a ‘charity and teacher-training organisation focusing on the holistic approach to pregnancy, birth and babyhood’ (Birthlight 2016). During a time when pregnancy and childbirth are becoming increasingly medicalised, Birthlight members are committed to the ‘spiritual’ dimension of birth and view labour as a ‘light and fulfilling experience’ (ibid). The Read more...

Brexit and the Maternal Body – Stretching the Skin Until it Breaks — By Rosalind Howell

Encountering a friend recently in her last few weeks of pregnancy I found myself saying, “My goodness, surely you can’t get any bigger, you’ll burst!”. As someone who considers herself pretty comfortable with pregnancy and birth, I was rather surprised and embarrassed by the strength of my (mostly unconscious) response to encountering her maternal body.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum vote, the metaphor of the body – the maternal body specifically, is a potent and fruitful symbol in helping make sense of the distress and chaos felt by many people. As Psychotherapist Jay Watts has pointed out, since Brexit some of our most deep-seated fantasies of the body have risen menacingly and overwhelmingly to the surface  (Guardian, 2016). The vote exposed divisions in the country that gaped open and leaked rivers of grief, anxiety, rage, and hatred out of the ruptured body of ‘civilised’ British society.

A nation

Conceiving Histories – a project exploring the history of pre-pregnancy.

If you begin typing ‘Am I …’ into a google search box, ‘Am I pregnant?’ is the first offered suggestion, just ahead of ‘Am I registered to vote?’ – a vestige from the Brexit referendum, ‘Am I depressed?’ and ‘Am I insured?’. The internet is externalising and collectivising something that for our mothers’ generation had been private, internal: the ambiguity of early pregnancy. Whether hoping for or fearing pregnancy, the wait to find out can be hard: a time of fantasy and projection, of bitter anxiety or ardent longing. These days the time before a pregnancy test will give a sure result is referred to as the ‘two week wait’. In practice, because false negatives are likely in the early stages of pregnancy, it often takes a little longer than that for a not-pregnant woman to accept a negative result: more like two and a half to three weeks. What Read more...