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Coming to Life:Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Mothering

Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Mothering

Sarah LaChance Adams

Publication Year: 2012

Coming to Life does what too few scholarly works have dared to attempt: It takes seriously the philosophical significance of women's lived experience. Every woman, regardless of her own reproductive story, is touched by the beliefs and norms governing discourses about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering. The volume's contributors engage in sustained reflection on women's experiences and on the beliefs, customs, and political institutions by which they are informed. They think beyond the traditional pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy, speak to the manifold nature of mothering by considering the experiences of adoptive mothers and birthmothers, and upend the belief that childrearing practices must be uniform, despite psychosexual differences in children. Many chapters reveal the radical shortcomings of conventional philosophical wisdom by placing trenchant assumptions about subjectivity, gender, power and virtue in dialogue with women's experience.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

What a joy to see a collection such as this. In it, Sarah LaChance Adams and Caroline Lundquist realize one of the hopes of the earlier generation of feminist philosophers of which I am a part: that philosophy takes seriously the experience and lives of women. Every woman, whether she has embarked on the path of motherhood and whether she has gotten there via pregnancy and childbirth, is faced with the default social expectation...

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pp. xv-xvi

Some four years ago, in the process of planning an international conference on pregnancy, childbirth and mothering, we awakened to the tremendous need for quality scholarship on these themes. It was then that we determined to begin assembling the present volume. We were well aware of the many obstacles with which we would have to contend—including and especially the very personal challenge of balancing our responsibilities to...

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Introduction: The Philosophical Significance of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering

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pp. 1-28

Philosophy has often been described as preparation for death. Cicero wrote that to philosophize is to learn how to die, and Heidegger claims that being- toward-death constitutes the authentic attitude toward life. These ideas are not intended to be morbid. Rather, they propose that we should not be enslaved by death, not be driven by our evasions of it through forgetfulness or the striving toward immortality. In doing so, we would miss...

PART I - The Philosophical Canon

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1 Plato, Maternity, and Power: Can We Get a Different Midwife?

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pp. 31-46

The dominant construction of maternity in contemporary American culture has deeply Platonic roots, in three primary dimensions. First, the figure of the (literally) pregnant philosopher is a conceptual paradox—the analogy between Socrates and the pregnant woman works in our dualistic tradition on an exclusively meta phorical level. Second, maternity is constructed as a form of fragility, a state fraught with multiple and constant dangers. ...

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2 Of Courage Born: Reflections on Childbirth and Manly Courage

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pp. 47-70

These two epigraphs express quite different attitudes toward childbirth. Steinem associates childbirth with heroic battle and manly courage while for Hicks childbirth is a merely animal process in which neither volition nor agency is present. Hicks’s joke is hostile, but is there something to it? Is childbirth not something that happens to women? And if so, how can what happens to a woman in childbirth be fairly compared to what a warrior...

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3 Original Habitation: Pregnant Flesh as Absolute Hospitality

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pp. 71-87

In this essay I develop a metaphor that evokes the idea of woman’s pregnant flesh as the original home and ground of human sociality. I explicate notions of flesh, of home, and of hospitality elaborated by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida and argue that these notions assume the temporal and existential priority of pregnant being. Underpinning my analysis is Edmund Husserl’s claim that the conscious...

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4 The Birth of Sexual Difference: A Feminist Response to Merleau-Ponty

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pp. 88-105

The first response to the announcement of a new birth is typically a question: “Is it a girl or a boy?” This question is both banal and revealing; it interpellates the newborn as a being for whom certain colors, toys, and modes of interaction will be deemed appropriate or inappropriate, but it also suggests a certain relation among birth, time, and sexual difference. What do we expect when we’re expecting, if not a girl or a boy? ...

PART II - Ethics

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5 Birthing Responsibility: A Phenomenological Perspective on the Moral Significance of Birth

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pp. 109-119

Most of the books available to expectant parents and others who are interested in learning about pregnancy and childbirth, whether they are conventional or unconventional, are united by a common goal: to describe and explain the normal as well as not so normal physiological and psychological changes experienced by the gestational mother and fetus during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.1 While this informative (and quite lucrative) genre of literature tends to concentrate heavily on the profound alterations...

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6 Birthmothers and Maternal Identity: The Terms of Relinquishment

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pp. 120-137

Much is made of the nature of motherhood, particularly of the ways in which maternal identity is derived in and through our children, making our life choices, and at times even our sense of self, contingent upon them. The women I know through my daughter’s friends are almost always first “Morena’s mom,” “Jonah’s mom,” and “Lien’s mom.” Only after a time do they become “Diana,” “Rachel,” and “Mei-Xing.” We laugh about it, of...

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7 What’s an Adoptive Mother to Do?: When Your Child’s Desires Are a Problem

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pp. 138-167

Parenting can be a daunting project under even the most “ordinary” of circumstances. Although we make many assumptions about how our children will turn out, we can fully predict or control little about a child’s future. My partner and I undertook parenting unusually deliberately. We decided to adopt two siblings through social services in our region. Working with an agency that did extensive...

PART III - Politics

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8 The Pro-Choice Pro-Lifer: Battling the False Dichotomy

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pp. 171-192

The term “pro-life” tacitly implies that those who are on the opposing side of the abortion issue, those who are “pro-choice,” are anti-life. Then there is also the term “pro-abortion,” which many individuals interchange with “pro-choice.” Yet very few people (if any) are really pro-abortion; that is, very few encourage abortions or view them as a cause for celebration. Why, then, do so many equate being in favor of abortion rights with being in...

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9 The Political “Nature” of Pregnancy and Childbirth

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pp. 193-214

According to recent reports from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, “the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has increased dramatically since the first in vitro fertilization in 1981.”1 The range of permissible ARTs (defined through federal legislation in 2004) includes the donation, freezing and storage of eggs, the donation of sperm and other reproductive material, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood; on...

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10 Disempowered Women?: The Midwifery Model and Medical Intervention

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pp. 215-238

Feminist theorists have spent a lot of time critiquing the medical model of childbirth. By contrast, they have paid little attention to the midwifery model because they widely assume that it empowers women. While I agree that the midwifery model is a huge improvement over the medical model, I believe there are aspects of the midwifery model (as it is practiced today) that do not empower women. In this essay, I focus on one way this is the...

PART IV - Popular Culture

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11 Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Film and Popular Culture

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pp. 241-262

From the nineteenth century until the late twentieth century, pregnancy was considered a medical condition and/or something to hide from public view. In recent years, women’s pregnant bodies have been displayed in ways that could not have been imagined just a few decades ago. A wave of recent Hollywood films have pregnancy as a main theme, showing bare pregnant bellies, water breaking, and vaginal birth and discussing the experience...

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12 Exposing the Breast: The Animal and the Abject in American Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding

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pp. 263-279

Current breastfeeding practices in the United States reveal a puzzling phenomenon.1 Despite a growing increase in the medical establishment’s recommendation that women breastfeed, many mothers who begin breastfeeding often decide to opt for the bottle shortly thereafter, and the women who do breastfeed overwhelmingly prefer to do so in private settings.2 It has been suggested that the reason for this behavior is at least partly accounted...

PART V - Feminist Phenomenology

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13 The Order of Life: How Phenomenologies of Pregnancy Revise and Reject Theories of the Subject

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pp. 283-299

Phenomenologies of pregnancy offer important contributions to feminist scholarship surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering. Feminists explore how traditional philosophical accounts of a “universal” or “generic” human experience are at minimum complicated and at maximum refuted by theoretical attention to the creation and care of children. A universal account argues that, while not inclusive of the obvious diversity...

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14 The Vision of the Artist/Mother: The Strange Creativity of Painting and Pregnancy

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pp. 300-319

I am expecting, and thus one might say that I am waiting. In Dutch (my mother tongue) one would say that I am “in a waiting condition,” in verwachting, which even more clearly expresses the waiting (wachten) aspect of being pregnant. Merleau-Ponty draws attention to the waiting pregnant body when he writes: “[in] this difficult situation, a situation over which [the pregnant woman] has no control, she must passively await its development."1 ...


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pp. 321-369


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pp. 371-391


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pp. 393-395


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pp. 397-401

Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

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pp. 403-406

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250561
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823244607
Print-ISBN-10: 0823244601

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text
Series Title: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy