URI lecturer to discuss contemporary birthing issues, Feb. 14

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Cesarean rates are up, as are numbers of births outside hospital settings

KINGSTON, R.I. –February 1, 2012 –Public discourse on the role of choice in giving birth has taken on increasing significance as the result of two recent and diametrically opposed trends in the U.S.: a rising Cesarean-section rate that reached 32.9 percent in 2010 – a 50 percent increase in just a decade – and an historic increase in the number of women who give birth outside of the hospital environment, according to Alana Bibeau, a lecturer in women’s studies and sociology at the University of Rhode Island.

Bibeau will discuss her research Tuesday, Feb. 14 from 4 to 5:15 p.m. in Room 402, Lippitt Hall, 5 Lippitt Road, Kingston. Her lecture, “Mothers of Invention: Birthing Babies in a ‘Post-feminist’ Era,” is free and open to the public.

“Media reports and research studies, in attempting to uncover the origin of these developments, polarize even the experts,” says Bibeau. “Lurking behind policy statements and medical jargon is the social reality that these changes in how women give birth in the U.S. today are not simply medical, but structural –brought about by enormous social, economic, legal, and political changes that have taken place over the last century.

“Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in three states and 109 qualitative, in-depth interviews with physicians, midwives, childbirth educators, and mothers, my research revealed that the rhetoric of safety, choice and control dominates mothers’ understandings of pregnancy and birth, though the extent to which they rely on each of these concepts varies depending on whether they give birth at home, in birth centers, or in hospitals and on the type of care provider in attendance,” she says.

“Notably, despite the differences in their narratives, women of all backgrounds and experiences express deep anxiety about this concept and indicate ambivalence about the extent to which technology and litigation have come to dominate contemporary birth practices in the U.S.”

In addition to her academic work, in 2004, Bibeau began supporting women in labor; in 2006 she completed her formal doula training at the Seattle Midwifery School through DONA International. She is a Certified Labor Doula (CLD) through Childbirth International and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Rhode Island Birth Network.

Bibeau’s lecture, the Dana Shugar Colloquium lecture, is named in honor of the late Dana Shugar, who began teaching English and women’s studies at URI in 1991 and was a multiple nominee for the Teaching Excellence Award. She died in 2000 after a long struggle with breast cancer.