Women's ways of birthing in Ballarat in the 1940s

Author: Betty McGuinness

McGuinness, Betty, 1997 Women's ways of birthing in Ballarat in the 1940s, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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Birth, like death is a human event surrounded by mystery, myth and intrigue. Birthing is afforded a place of austere aesthetic reverence, but women’s experiences of birthing are often dislodged by birthing’s mystified position. The history of birthing has escaped attention, or has been ignored since modern times. Evolutionary modes in society, and specifically the women’s movement, have been associated with a return of women’s voices to numerous aspects of social life, birthing being one. This oral history research study, guided by feminist principles, raises the voices of women. This study presents the stories of women who gave birth during the 1940s, a time which felt the effects of war and post-war reconstruction.

Birthing stories of the 1940s, retold in the 1990s, capture a multiplicity of women’s ways of birthing, revealing commonality, disparity and contradiction. The ordinariness of birthing is overwhelmingly evident in women’s stories herein. Women said ordinariness was the ‘way’ they birthed; they ‘took it in their stride.’ This retelling of birthing as ordinary is unique. Underlying this ordinariness and promoting the concept, is a certain self-trust and confidence. Three other storylines, evident in women’s stories are emphasised in this study. These storylines or ‘ways’ of birthing include the amnesiac experience of ‘twilight sleep’, the importance of women and family and the contradiction of silence, taboo and magic. The relevance of 1940s birthing stories for midwives in practice today is considered.

Women’s ways of birthing in the past may reveal connections and conflicts with ways of birthing in the 1990s. This study contends that midwives of today will be rewarded by hearing women’s voices and stories of their past experiences. Encouraging women and midwives to recall past, and also present stories, can enhance birthing experiences and thus midwifery practice. The future of midwifery practice and the security of women’s ways of birthing is reliant on the empowerment of women and to a lesser extent, collaborative partnerships between midwives and women. Most importantly, uncovering women’s past stories will afford value to these stories and illuminate women’s voices.

Keywords: birthing, midwifery, Ballarat

Subject: Nursing thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 1997
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Carol Grbich