Monthly Archives: February 2015

How do we get midwifery research out of this heteronormative rut?

So whilst I am here writing posts about how we need to stop thinking that all the pregnant people we are caring/all people accessing reproductive healthcare around pregnancy are automatically women, on the other side of the looking glass I am training in a heteronormative world where we haven’t even got to that thought and are still referring to “fathers” rather than partners when we talk about the non-birthing partner.

I tend to use the word “partner”, with the phrase “partners of any or no gender” tripping off my tongue unless we are talking about something that *specifically* concerns non-birthing partners who are male. In which case I say “male partner”. Some other (student) midwives do this, but many just say father.

This week I went to a lunchtime event where researchers showcased their ongoing or current research around the theme of “involving partners and fathers”, and I had hoped from this wording that this would be a showcase that didn’t centre father’s experiences.

And the presentations were good! Important work is being done! But it is focussing on the experiences of fathers. After hearing the researchers speak, I realised that one of the problems we have – even *if* we talk in terms of partners so as not to centre the experiences of fathers and erase all others – is that so much of the research done into non-birthing partners/non-birthing parents is specifically research into “fathers”.

Researchers set out a hypothesis specifically about some aspect of fathers’ role in pregnancy/birth and then recruit fathers into the study and then publish this research and then there we have it, another piece contributing to the body of work that erases the experience of non-male partners, contributing to the heteronormativity of midwifery care. Another piece of research that because of its design can only be applied to fathers – despite the fact that the experiences of fathers detailed within the study may well also be the experiences of non-birthing partners of any or no genders.

I raised this point at the end of the presentations – my concern that research into partners was very heteronormative – stressing that I didn’t think it was any one researcher’s responsibility to fix, but that by continuing the centre research on “fathers” rather than partners of any or no gender, the problem perpetuates. There were a couple of points in response, the first being that it’s because male/female partnerships are traditional, and pointing to a growing minority of research into the experiences of same sex partners.

I am of course aware that heterosexual relationships are traditional. That’s not a justification for seeing them as the only relationships. Regarding the research being done into the experiences same sex partners;  it’s welcome, of course, but that is a separate point, and doesn’t get you off the hook limiting research into fathers when it could be framed as the experience of any partners. Because whilst I imagine same sex partners do have unique experiences (stemming largely from systematic homophobia?) which should totally be researched so practice can be improved, I bet they also share a lot of experiences as non-birthing partners with the fathers that we see so much (comparatively speaking) research about. And also, do you really think by covering fathers and same sex partners that we have covered everyone? Because I have some thoughts on the (falsehood of the) gender binary that you might find interesting…

Until those researching the experiences of fathers stop and ask themselves – is this really something that needs to be specifically limited to fathers, or can I ask the question more generally of partners of any or no gender – then this problem is not going to go away. If anything it’s going to get worse, as the existing body of work about “fathers” available each time someone embarks on a literature search at the start of a new project is gonna grow and grow.

I’m not a researcher (yet), so I imagine their are complexities to this I may be missing. Like what happens if we say we are studying the involvement partners of any or no gender but then only fathers come forwards to participate – can we still generalise our results? But surely it’s better make a commitment to moving away from heteronormativity, and to tackle these questions as them come up? To at least start ?


Can’t strike/won’t strike? What would enable you to make a different choice?

IMG_0438There was industrial action planned for Thursday of this week: an NHS staff walkout at 9am lasting until 9pm, to make the point (again) that NHS staff deserve the 1% increase recommended by an independent review. Plans then followed for another walkout on the 25th February lasting 24 hours, with almost a month of working to rule in between these two days of actions.

This planned industrial action was cancelled only days before it was due to take place, when a “breakthrough” was negotiated in terms of pay, causing the strikes to be called off to allow union members to decide if they can accept the offer on the table.

I feel a bit weird saying this but I was relieved when the action was called off. I was glad that there was finally discussion happening around pay, an acknowledgement of the need for change, but it was more than that.

The first day of action was planned for my last day on placement in what was deemed an “essential service” (therefore exempt from participating in the strike) but as a student not counted in the numbered staff making up minimum staffing levels, I felt my status was less certain. I couldn’t let myself off the hook. Not because anyone was pressuring me to participate – my suggestion that I would was met with surprise – but because of pressure I put on myself. I was tying myself up in knots to work out how I could support this action without jeopardising my placement, as it was crucial I worked the day of the strike both in terms of hours and in terms of an assessment taking place that day, but my deeply held desire not to cross the picket line made it a difficult choice. I was lucky to have supportive mentor who was accepting of whatever decision I made, but perhaps luckier still that the strike was called off before I had to choose between my principles and my academic progression. I didn’t have to decide, and I am still not sure what I would have decided.

All this gets me thinking to what stands between us and the things we want to do, or the versions of ourselves we want/need to be. Each time a strike is announced I find myself thinking “if only everyone went on strike this time, imagine how much more quickly this issue could be resolved!” but then I remember it’s not that simple. There are many reasons people can’t (or feel they can’t) strike, and no one individual should be made to feel responsible for the action’s success – or ‘failure’. They did not ask to be put in a position where they either accept the unacceptable working conditions on offer, or stick their neck out. We can’t know the individual decision-making process people undertake when deciding whether to participate in industrial action or not. And we also can’t know the factors they are taking into account – their work culture, their financial situation (because for those on the payroll, striking means losing pay), whether their relationship with their team and manager is supportive, whether they are out at work about their politics… not to mention the additional considerations to take into account before standing on a picket line (because I would argue it’s somewhat of a privilege to have health that enables you to stand outside for four hours in winter making a point).

What we can do is ask of the people not yet able to stand in solidarity (and I count myself as potentially one of those people this last week) – “what would enable you to make a different choice?”.

For me, there is also an element of needing to acknowledge the confines of being a student midwife within the NHS, and they way this limits our options. A good friend of mine recently compared being a student midwife to being a teenager, in that it is a time when we experience the combination of overwhelming, overblown emotions with the realisation that we have very little say in how things can turn out. This certainly feels true to me.

However It also means I will continue to grow beyond this point. It is a necessarily temporary stage. I will not be a student midwife forever.