Releasing and relieving encounters : Experiences of pregnancy and childbirth

Abstract: The experience of childbirth is an important life event for women, which may follow them throughout life. The overall aim of this thesis has been to describe and analyse these experiences from the women's perspective as well as the encounter between the woman and the midwife, and the possibility that a birth plan might improve women's experience of childbirth. The setting has been the ABC-centre (Alternative Birth Care), antenatal clinics and Sahlgrenska University hospital in Göteborg, and Karolinska hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. The studies have used both qualitative (phenomenological and hermeneutic) and quantitative approaches. The essential structure of the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth may be conceptualised under the heading ‘releasing and relieving encounters’, which for the woman constitutes an encounter with herself as well as with the midwife, and includes stillness as well as change. Stillness is expressed as being in the moment; exemplified as presence and being one's body. Change is expressed as transition; to the unknown and to motherhood. In the releasing and relieving encounter, for the midwife stillness and change equals being both anchored and a companion. To be a companion is to be an available person that listens to and follows the woman through the process of childbirth. To be anchored is to be the person that in the transition process respects the limits of the woman's ability as well as her own professional limits. The releasing and relieving encounter is not improved for women by a birth plan. Instead, in some aspects the relationship between the woman and her midwife during childbirth is reported as less satisfactory if preceded by a birth plan although some experiences of fear, pain and concerns for the child might be improved.