Gender and Homebirth: A relational, heterosexual couples perspective
A recently completed masters dissertation in Sociology through the Family Studies Research Unit (FamSRu) at the CSSR produced findings on couples’ experiences of homebirth. Conceptualised in response to the scant attention given to men’s experiences and the almost non-existing literature on South African couples experiences. Unlike previous couple studies however, this study illustrates gender as a central aspect of homebirth narratives, the birth itself being key to the negotiation of femininity and masculinity. Adopting a relational gender framework - theoretically and methodologically - narrative constructions of homebirth highlight simultaneous operations of gender as both opportunity and constraint.
In their constructions of relational masculinities, homebirthing men distinguished between “being there”, understood in the fatherhoods literature as physical ‘presence’, with the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of ‘presence’. The findings revealed a “selfless masculinity” partially at odds with broader cultural expectations of men as the family breadwinner. On the other hand women’s focus on their bodies meant that their constructions of “self-reliant femininity”, whilst less at odds with broader cultural expectations of women as primary caregivers, significantly reconfigured women (and men’s) relationships to the birthing body. Rich data and careful analysis generated detailed insights into the research topic that produced alternative knowledge of women and men’s interrelated, everyday, relational gendered lives.