Women often feel ‘ignorant’ over pregnancy and birth
There is a prevailing idea in society that women are innately equipped through their gender and genes to deal calmly with the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. But a new study from the UK’s University of Warwick suggests this may not be the case and that many women, in fact, feel both ill-equipped and ignorant when it comes to the challenges of pregnancy and motherhood.
The study suggests that many women’s feelings of inadequacy in dealing with pregnancy and caring for a newborn baby are partly to do with a trend over the past few decades for moving far away from hometowns and families for work or study, so women do not have the support and advice they need from relatives. It also makes the suggestion that the practice of encouraging women to give birth in hospitals instead of at home means that most women have no experience of childbirth until they give birth themselves.
Dr Angela Davis, a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Warwick’s Centre for the History of Medicine, interviewed over 90 women for the study to discuss their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare.
She says, ‘Geographical mobility means that women today more often live further away from family, which means they are less likely to have relatives on hand. Also most births take place in hospital so that very few women have been present at childbirth before they have their own child.’
The first part of the study looked at motherhood from 1930 to 1970, where Dr Davis found some surprising results. Although in the 1930s and 1940s women also felt ignorant of sex and childbirth, this was generally because the subjects were taboo and therefore hardly ever mentioned in families.
Dr Davis believes these feelings of ignorance prevail in the 21st century because although women are now better informed about sex, they still are given too little information about the development of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare.
Many of the women Dr Davis interviewed said they had tried to be more open with their own children about sex, but most did not believe increased sex education was necessarily a good thing.
‘They did show some level of ambivalence on the subject and many were not sure that this increased knowledge was entirely a good thing,’ said Dr Davis. ‘There was also a distinction between that and education about pregnancy and childbirth which they were more positive about than sex education.’
The study highlighted the fact that many women feel unprepared to care for a newborn baby and that motherhood was not always instinctive. Most of the women in the study agreed that they felt a natural instinct to care for their child, but did not always know how to go about it.
‘The testimonies of the women interviewed for this research indicate how ignorant and ill-equipped many of them felt surrounding the issues of pregnancy, childbirth and infant care as late as the 1960s and indeed this may still apply to women today,’ said Dr Davis.