EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W028)

Managing the uncertainty of human reproduction (EN)

Location V310
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Kinga Sekerdej (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
Justyna Straczuk (Polish Academy of Science) email
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Short Abstract

Human reproduction has been connected with many fears and coping strategies, influenced by various cultural, religious and political contexts. The aim of this workshop is to approach anthropologically the anxieties and emotions connected to reproductive decisions, practices and beliefs.

Long Abstract

Human reproduction has been connected with many fears that vary individually, contextually and culturally. Fears regarding the well-being of children-to-be and family, uncertainty about the offspring's health and gender, fear of getting pregnant and fear of not getting pregnant, to name just some of them. Those anxieties also involve various coping strategies dealing with the perspective of having children, or on the contrary - not conceiving them, worries with the efficacy of contraception, or coping with miscarriages and abortions. Certainly, the wider cultural, religious and political context influence those fears and coping strategies.

The aim of this workshop is to approach anthropologically the anxieties and emotions connected to reproductive decisions, practices and beliefs. In particular we invite ethnographic inquiries addressing:

- personal anxieties connected to reproduction placed within social and cultural context

- medicalization of pregnancy vs. women's subjectivity

- anxiety caused by prenatal diagnosis and genetic testing

- emotional management of reproductive disruptures

- reproductive rights in the context of infertility and pregnancy loss

Discussant: Linda Layne

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Ça prend du temps…' : Anxiety and Reproductive Health Practices in the Context of Moroccan Migration in South-West France

Author: Lorena Anton (University of Bucharest)  email
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Short Abstract

My presentation examines the relationships between migration, anxiety and reproductive health practices in contemporary rural France, taking as a case study the women of Moroccan origin in Médoc, Aquitaine.

Long Abstract

In this presentation I will examine the relationship between anxiety and reproductive health in the context of Moroccan migration in contemporary rural France. The paper is based on my postdoctoral research in progress in South-West of France (Médoc region) that investigates reproductive health and inequalities of populations en marge—marginalized populations consisting of mainly of immigrants, and low income groups (team project 2010-2013, financed by IReSP, Institut de Recherche en Santé Publique).

Taking as a case-study the migrant women of Moroccan origin from Médoc, Aquitaine, my research shows that the reproductive health practices are daily negotiated between the 'external anxiety' to access the French health-care system, poorly implanted in the territory, and the 'internal anxiety' of living one's womanhood inside or outside an established couple/family. While the second one is directly related to the cultural heritage regarding 'the woman's place' between here and there, Médoc ('la France') and 'au bled' (Morocco), the first one is due to the particular interactions with the French health professionals. How those two types of anxiety are constructed and deconstructed every day? Do they interfere, and what are the results of this interference? How this anxiety is influencing women's reproductive health practices in the context of migration, and the daily approaches of the health professionals? And, last but not least, what are the strategies developed to cope with this anxiety, and to what extent are they effective?

"Renting a womb in Ukraine" or overcoming reproductive ruptures in contemporary families in Germany

Author: Daniela Heil (University of Newcastle)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will address the uncertainties of reproduction amongst married couples in Germany. Drawing on ethnographic examples of German couples that employ surrogates in Ukraine, the paper will demonstrate the ways in which biologically-oriented bodily disorders present prerequisites for the reinventing of social order.

Long Abstract

For the last decade, Eastern Europe has often become a last bastion of hope for German couples that want to have children, but are unable to do so the natural way. In Ukraine, both extra-corporal insemination and surrogacy services are cheaper than in many other countries and, on the contrary to Germany, they are considered legal in Ukraine as well. Hence, many German couples, with the help of lawyers and non-government related agencies in both countries, have been able to make their dreams of having their own biological children come true, in spite of their personal traumatic experiences of reproductive ruptures. Drawing on ethnographic examples that illustrate the differences of 'having a child' and 'giving birth to a child', I will explore the ways in which biological and non-biological constituents correlate with that distinction. By taking the distinctive understandings of, and meanings for, being biological parents and surrogates into account, I will explore the unsettling biological, social, economic and cross-cultural realms comprised within those reproductive uncertainties, their boundaries and related intersubjectivities. My paper will argue that both biological and non-biological constituents inherent in those reproductive technologies, procedures and its related processes shift from understandings of bodily disorders to the reinventing of social order across national boundaries.

Journeys of hope and disquiet: Italian prospective parents facing cross-border reproductive travels

Author: Giulia Zanini (University of Padova)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper presents the case of Italians facing cross-border reproductive care as a response to a law forbidding gamete and embryo donation. It analyses people's perception of reproductive needs and rights as well as their emotional and practical reactions to a restrictive national legal framework.

Long Abstract

The wish to pursuit one's reproductive project by recurring to donated gametes coincides for Italians with the need to consider crossing borders as the only practicable way, given that the Italian law concerning assited reproduction forbids gamete and embryo donation. The very experience of assisted reproductive treatments brings about a number of axieties and uncertainities that have been largely explored by the literature. The investigation of the specific case of Italians experiencing cross-border reproductive care (CBRC) allows a futher insight into people's perception of reproductive needs and rights as well as into people's emotional and practical reactions to a restrictive national legal framework. Drawing on fieldwork among CBRC Italian patients, this paper aims at exploring, among others: the feelings that emerge with the decision of overcoming local restriction to get treatments abroad; the dilemmas of the destination choice; the concerns about both geographic and symbolic distance of the place where people will be treated; the incertitude of the outcome and the need to allocate some budget to this adventure and possible further attempts; people's imaginaries and feelings about foreign doctors, protocols and substances; and incertitude about legal and social consequences of their acts. The paper will finally investigate how people mingle all these feelings with their intention to accomplish their reproductive project and which practices accompany this emotional experience.

Uncertainty and reproductive responsibility: new reproductive technologies in Chile.

Author: Florencia Herrera (Universidad Diego Portales)  email
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Short Abstract

Through the analysis of the reproductive narratives of women and men who conceived by means of assisted reproduction in Chile, this article aims to understand how these parents accommodate and curtail global reproductive technologies to their local realities.

Long Abstract

Since the birth of the first baby conceived as the result of in vitro fertilization in 1978, new reproductive technologies have diversified and globalized. However, as shown by the studies of anthropologists in societies as different as Israel, Egypt, Ecuador and China, use of these technologies is reconfigured according to each local context. Healthcare professionals and potential patients only accept multiple options made available by assisted reproduction techniques when these are seen as reasonable within the context of social relations and cultural norms existing in each society.

In Chile, having children is considered to be the 'natural' way of things for every person and couple. Becoming a parent is perceived as something essential to personal fulfillment, especially for women. While birth control methods have made people feel that they can control conception, couples facing infertility see this illusion of control fall apart and have to face reproductive uncertainty.

Through the analysis of the reproductive narratives of women and men who conceived by means of assisted reproduction in Chile, this article aims to understand how these parents accommodate and curtail global reproductive technologies to their local realities. When opting for assisted reproduction, these parents have to make decisions about embryos to be implanted, cryopreservation of fertilized eggs, donation of eggs and embryos. These decisions place them in totally unknown scenarios and up against new uncertainties. They have to intervene in matters they believe to be the domain of God or Nature.

Bananas, pills and vaccinations: on practices of pregnancy management in Cameroon

Author: Erica van der Sijpt (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper describes and explains fertility-related fears in East Cameroon. It shows how women’s risk perceptions around pregnancies, as well as their attempts to manage reproductive insecurities, should be situated in a context where fertility is an uncertain and socially contested affair.

Long Abstract

Current international reproductive health debates - influenced by a specific political agenda and discourse of risk - have a tendency to focus on the risks of (multiple) pregnancies to the physical and mental well-being of women all over the world. These risks are often individualized, medicalized and universalized. This paper counters this tendency by situating perceptions of perils around pregnancies in a particular local moral world.

In Cameroon, as elsewhere, fertility is an inherently uncertain affair; the onset, development, and outcomes of pregnancies are often unsure. Thereto comes that fertility is often surrounded by different, often conflicting, social stakes and interests. In a context of plural sexual relationships, fragile conjugal arrangements, ongoing kinship demands and divergent personal aspirations, pregnancies are often vulnerable sites of contestation. On the basis of long-term research on pregnancy and pregnancy interruptions in eastern Cameroon, this paper describes the different ways in which women attempt to manage their reproductive insecurities. It highlights the multiple risk perceptions that surround pregnancies, as well as the inventive ways in which women resort to different (indigenous and biomedical) health care practices to ensure successful pregnancy development and delivery. The central argument of the paper posits that such fertility-related fears and practices should be situated in a context where social risks to pregnancy are deemed more relevant than the physical risks of pregnancies that are central to current global reproductive health debates.

'So much more than a doll': the use of reborn dolls in constructing motherhood identities

Author: Amiee E Curran (National University of Ireland Maynooth)  email
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Short Abstract

Reborn dolls, hand-crafted baby dolls that are ultra-realistic in appearance, are collected and used by women who enact care as hobby. Looking at the use of reborns in pregnancy-loss support networks they can be viewed as meaningful forms of resistance upon which women negotiate mother-identities.

Long Abstract

Reborn dolls, handcrafted dolls designed to be ultra-realistic in appearance, size, weight, feel, and even smell, provide their makers and collectors with interactive experiences in which maternal care is constructed as a hobby. These dolls are, to "reborners" and outsiders alike, different from other types of dolls in both form and function. The doll's ability to simulate newborns so effectively is at once their appeal to the reborn community, and a source of anxiety to outside critics. The dolls have, notably, been put to use as child stand-ins, memorializing representations of children, therapeutic tools, and coping mechanisms and the relationship between dolls and collectors was at the center of my research. This paper aims to look at how reborn dolls are used to reclaim mother-identities, specifically in support networks for women who have experienced pregnancy loss and involuntary childlessness, through the use of ethnographic research within the community. In it I will draw attention to the many ways in which working class women, excluded from utilizing reproductive technologies which allow middle class women to address reproductive set-backs, use reborn dolls to similarly resist their status as non-mothers. Through creation rituals and role-playing activities in which the dolls act as secondary agents and are essential actors in performances of motherhood, reborners are active in constructing motherhood as a practice which is accessible to them, often in spite of involuntary childlessness or pregnancy loss.

"'fuqash 'arafti fi rassek hemla?' Discovering, hiding and experiencing pregnancy and reproduction in the lives of single mothers in Morocco"

Author: Irene Capelli (University of Torino)  email
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Short Abstract

In looking at the experiences of single mothers in Casablanca, Morocco, I will seek to explore issues of fear and desire, embodied strategies and multiple negotiations through which women act upon the uncertainties embedded in illegitimate pregnancy and its stigmatization.

Long Abstract

Despite existing and being culturally shaped in the past decades, the phenomenon of single motherhood in Morocco is acquiring novel meanings. Recently, the reality of single mothers in Moroccan society has been increasingly mediatised; it has been touched upon by the changes encompassed in the family code reform (2004) and it is the object of several organisations' projects across the country, especially in its economic capital, Casablanca. While being widely discussed in public discourse, being a single mother in Morocco threatens the private sphere of the family and is nonetheless socially stigmatized, being emblematic of illegitimate sexuality. Yet - according to gender differences - the latter is visible throughout society and may be accepted unless its 'proofs' remain invisible. Therefore, pregnancy outside the framework of a socially or legally legitimate union may imply the temporary or definitive disruption of family ties or radical changes in women's lives, such as (inner)migration, fleeing or embodied strategies of pregnancy hiding within one's household until childbirth. Resulting from consensual relationships or violence, sometimes 'discovered' after up to five months, others welcome as divine will or accepted after abortion attempts, reproduction outside a legitimate framework is usually not a choice. It implies multiple social, legal and 'survival' challenges for women of diverse ages, social classes, education levels. Basing my insights on ongoing research, I aim at discussing the multiple uncertainties, fears, anxieties but also issues of desire marking the subjective experiences of women starting from the moment they become aware of their pregnancy outside a legitimate union, through their different coping strategies and negotiations regarding reproduction, sexuality, social and family ties.

Conceiving uncertainty: negotiating the management of 'acceptable' risks of childbirth in a First Nations community in Manitoba, Canada

Author: Rachel Olson (The Firelight Group)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores notions of risk and uncertainty in the context of childbirth in a First Nations community in Canada. Focusing on one case study, the paper reveals how what is defined as ‘acceptable’ risk differs greatly amongst the various actors, and how the bodies of the First Nations mother and midwife becomes sites in which these contestations over risk, responsibility, knowledge and safety occur.

Long Abstract

The risks and uncertainty associated with childbirth and how to best mitigate these are widely debated in both medical and public discourses of place of birth in Canada. In First Nation communities, these debates extend themselves into the role of the state and state policy as jurisdictional managers and decision makers of birth place for women and their families. One community in Manitoba, Canada is in the process of returning birth to their community through the employment of an Aboriginal midwife. By looking at one particular case study of a woman who attempted to have her baby in the community with the midwife and was denied this by state officials, this paper will focus on how uncertainty and risk are conceived in this context by the various actors involved in this negotiation, including the mother, the midwife, the medical staff including doctors and nurses, and the various state officials involved in the process. This case study contributes to the debate of not only the medicalisation of pregnancy in the context of a mother's choice, but also brings into focus the role of a mother's anxiety about place of birth and how this fits into a wider debate about the role cultural safety places in the current model of maternal health. These debates reveal that what is defined as 'acceptable' risk differs greatly amongst the various actors, and how the bodies of the First Nations mother and midwife becomes sites in which these contestations over risk, responsibility, knowledge and safety occur.

"Natural childbirth" with fear in the Czech Republic

Author: Ema Hresanova (University of West Bohemia)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper focuses on anxieties related to natural childbirth in the Czech Republic. First, I focus on women who desire natural childbirth but fear they won't be able to have it. Second, I explore what natural childbirth criticism may tell us about the postsocialist political context.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on emotions and anxieties related to the so-called "natural" and "normal" childbirth in the Czech Republic. At the first glance it may seem that the "natural" or "normal" childbirth is free of "risks" and anxieties that are usually linked to medical childbirth and its emphasis on pathology. However, within the context of current birth care, in which childbirth is prevalently defined as a medical event, different kind of worries arouses. Many Czech women today fear they won't be successful in enforcing their ideas about birth care and having "natural childbirth" in the context of maternity hospitals. In my paper I first ask what these women do to overcome their fears and what coping strategies they employ. Second, I explore how they understand this term. As Moscucci [2003] pointed out, "natural childbirth" has never been a coherent system of practices but rather it was used as a cover term for a number of various practices. I wonder what particular practices these women link to natural childbirth and why they find them relevant.

On a more general level, claims related to "natural childbirth" often served as a form of cultural and political criticism directed at different crises in modern Western societies [Moscucci 2003]. They may be perceived as a window in which we can study wider societal, political and intelectual contexts in which these claims appear. In the Czech post-socialist context, the natural childbirth ideas became more visible at the end of the 1990s. Third, I explore what these claims may tell us about the postsocialist changes and realities.

Negotiating emotional and institutional arrangements in childbirth classes: ethnographic fragments from a hospital fieldwork in Switzerland

Author: Irene Maffi (University of Lausanne)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper focus on the predicament in which midwives giving childbirth classes find themselves insofar as they are caught between the task of conveying institutional messages aimed at transforming pregnant women in docile patients and their own conception of childbirth as a physiological and unique event that is different from the standard delivery designed by hospital procedures. Furthermore, it will explore how prospective parents regard childbirth in order to understand why they attend childbirth classes and what they hope to find in them.

Long Abstract

In the Spring 2011 I have begun to do participant observation in the childbirth classes sponsored by a medium-size university hospital located in a city of the French part of Switzerland. I have attended several cycles of these courses and interviewed the midwives who are in charge of them. I also had the opportunity to observe the prospective parents attending the classes and explore their attitudes, fears and emotions few weeks before and after the birth of their child. Thus I have been confronted on the one hand with the medical education midwives impart to couples on behalf of the hospital and on the other with the questions, feelings and anxieties of the latter. In this paper I will focus on the predicament in which midwives giving childbirth classes find themselves insofar as they are caught between the task of conveying institutional messages aimed at transforming pregnant women in docile patients and their own conception of childbirth as a physiological and unique event that is different from the standard delivery designed by hospital procedures. Furthermore, I will show how prospective parents regard childbirth in order to understand why they attend childbirth classes and what they hope to find in them.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.