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Midwifing the notion of a 'good' birth: a philosophical analysis.

Smythe, Elizabeth; Hunter, Marion; Gunn, Jackie; Crowther, Susan; Couper, Judith McAra; Wilson, Sally; Payne, Deborah


Elizabeth Smythe

Marion Hunter

Jackie Gunn

Susan Crowther

Judith McAra Couper

Sally Wilson

Deborah Payne


Objective: to ponder afresh what makes a good birth experience in a listening manner. Design: a hermeneutic approach that first explores the nature of how to listen to a story that is already familiar to us and then draws on Heidegger's notion of the fourfold to seek to capture how the components of a'good birth' come together within experience. Setting: primary birthing centre, New Zealand Participants: the focus of this paper is the story of one participant. It was her second birth; her first birth involved a lot of medical intervention. She had planned to travel one hour to the tertiary birthing unit but in labour chose to stay at the Birth Centre. Her story seems to portray a 'very good birth'. Findings: in talking of birth, the nature of a research approach is commonly to focus on one aspect: the place, the care givers, or the mode of care. In contrast, we took on the challenge of first listening to all that was involved in one woman's story. We came to see that what made her experience 'good' was'everything' gathered together in a coherent and supportive oneness. Heidegger's notion of the fourfold helped reveal that one cannot talk about one thing without at the same time talking about all the other things as well. Confidence was the thread that held the story together. Key conclusions: there is value in putting aside the fragmented approach of explicating birth to recognise the coming together of place, care, situation, and the mystery beyond explanation. Women grow a confidence in place when peers and community encourage the choice based on their own experience. Confidence of caregiver comes in relationship. Feeling confident within 'self' is part of the mystery. When confidence in the different dimensions holds together, birth is 'good'. Implications or practice: one cannot simply build a new birthing unit and assume it will offer a good experience of birth. Experience is about so much more. Being mindful of the dimensions of confidence that need to be built up and sheltered is a quest for wise leaders. Protecting the pockets where we know 'good birth' already flourishes is essential.


SMYTHE, E., HUNTER, M., GUNN, J., CROWTHER, S., MCARA-COUPER, J., WILSON, S. and PAYNE, D. 2016. Midwifing the notion of a 'good' birth: a philosophical analysis. Midwifery [online], 37, pages 25-31. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 25, 2016
Online Publication Date Apr 1, 2016
Publication Date Jun 30, 2016
Deposit Date Sep 8, 2016
Publicly Available Date Apr 2, 2017
Journal Midwifery
Print ISSN 0266-6138
Electronic ISSN 1532-3099
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Pages 25-31
Keywords Normal birth; Place of birth; Confidence; Hermeneutics; Heidegger
Public URL


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