Meet the professor who wants you to share your birth story

Tanja Staehler, professor in European Philosophy at the University of Sussex wants to break down unhelpful barriers when it comes to childbirth and pregnancy.

Monday, 23rd September 2019, 10:48 am
Share you baby story

She is calling on mothers, fathers and midwives to share their experiences to help make communication that bit easier.

Be it thoughts on pregnancy, IVF, abortion, miscarriage, or childbirth to sharing advice she is looking for submissions to be featured in her new book and shared on website Birthsite.She said: “I gave birth in three different settings - two German hospitals, and then my home in Hove - and it was very interesting to see the differences between these experiences.“But also what was the same throughout, namely, that the midwives mattered a lot. “Also human relation in general: my partner, but also in Germany, the obstetrician. “My first experience in Germany was particularly interesting from a Sartrean perspective: Sartre claims that we have difficulties getting a perspective on ourselves and are therefore easily influenced by the opinions and looks of others. “When the German obstetrician said to me that I could have an epidural, I thought, he has seen so many women, and if he thinks this early into it that I might need one, then he can probably just tell that I am indeed the person who will. “But then the midwife said, maybe you don’t need one. I trusted her, and she was right. “It just alerted me how much we depend on the communication with others especially when we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation.”

Professor Staehler’s background is in European Philosophy, especially Ancient Greek philosophy and philosophy which focuses on our everyday experiences, out bodies and emotions.

Tanja Staehler with her two sons Nick and Leon

The hope is that the stories shared with ease conversations that many can find difficult, and break down the expectations that can be hidden in our society.“I was partly inspired by the debate that started when Keira Knightley penned an essay criticising the societal expectations placed on Kate Middleton to look immaculate just hours after giving birth.“These expectations, and the idea that people could judge new mothers on their appearance not long after they’ve brought another life into the world, aren’t healthy, and they contribute to a single narrative of how childbirth ‘should be’. “I don’t think we should judge individuals but instead listen and see what emerges from different voices and different stories.“This is how we can dispel that unhealthy narrative and show that there are many ways to experience these phenomena and that we should feel able to talk about all of them.”

Professor Staehler has previously worked with the Royal College of Midwives to develop a training module to help midwives communicate with women and their partners during labour.

Drawing inspiration from philosophical thinkers such as Sartre and Heidegger, her module, co-delivered with speech communication expert Dr Alexander Kozin, intends to help midwives understand how to better listen to patients; when to observe and reflect and when it’s better to be silent.

She has already received some submissions, but it keen for more.“I would like to gather all sorts of different voices and experiences in different ways. “I have recently received a poem about IVF, just to give an example about something a bit unusual.”

Submissions can be made direct to Tanja at [email protected]

The format and length of pieces can be flexible –anything from a sentence to a letter or an essay (up to five pages), and contributions can be anonymous or named.

Following a review process, experiences will be published on Birthsite and/or within the book Pregnancy, Birth, Being with Infants: Phenomenology of a Strange Experience which publishes via Amazon Direct, in early 2020.

If contributors would like their stories considered for inclusion in the book, please submit before September 30.