Birthing Work

Birthing Work

Katharine McKinnon’s recently published book Birthing Work: The Collective Labour of Childbirth explores the highly contested terrain of child birth, and how what happens during a birth is the result of a collective process involving what people do and what things do.

These people and things include the mother and the birthing team, and the technologies and institutions, the furniture in the birth space, and the biophysical processes and chemicals such as the hormones that regulate labour and the blood that transports oxygen and chemical signals to the baby.

McKinnon elaborates how diverse experiences of child birth are shaped by the interactions between these multiple actors and how these interactions help to constitute the world into which a baby emerges.

McKinnon says that the book was provoked by her own experiences of “muddling my way through pregnancy and birth in three different places, with three different sets of doctors and midwives” and the deep sense of dissatisfaction that resulted.

McKinnon set out to “find language for the experience of childbearing, an experience that is both deeply profound and profoundly hard work,” and this has entailed writing a book “in a different kind of voice—one that begins to practise open-heartedness and emotional connection as a value within academic texts.”

The text has been kept accessible to readers by “keeping discussions of theory to a minimum, and attempting to purge the text of unnecessary jargon.”

What results is a book that Andrew Bisits, Obstetrician and Maternity Medical Co-Director at Royal Hospital for Women, describes as “a gold mine of observations, reflections and conjectures about the terrain of human birth that goes beyond the disputes and offers rich insights into the many corners of childbirth.”

With the publication of the book, McKinnon has been involved in related events including an Interdisciplinary Symposium, CARE: Transforming values through art, ethics and feminism, and a panel discussion on the question ‘Are there some jobs robots just shouldn't do?’

Birthing Work: The Collective Labour of Childbirth is a Palgrave Pivot imprint available from the publisher, or contact the author, Dr Katharine McKinnon at

Jenny Cameron