Caesarean section in the absence of clinical indications : discourses constituting choice in childbirth : thesis submitted to Massey University of Palmerston North in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Midwifery, Massey University, Palmerston North

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This poststructuralist qualitative study explored the discourses constructing women’s choice for a caesarean section in the absence of clinical indications, in the talk and texts of women, midwives, an obstetrician, professional journals and the media publications. The study affirms inscriptions surrounding choice in childbirth are shaped discursively through a multiplicity of discourses underpinned by social and institutional practices. With advances in technology, childbearing women have a greater variety of options from which to choose. Controversial, is the option of a caesarean section, regardless of clinical need. The issue is depicted in both professional and popular discourse as contentious, complex and contradictory. Its momentum into the 21st century, as a new object of obstetric discourse, has been played out on a number of platforms. In this thesis I draw from the theoretical ideas of French philosopher Michel Foucault, to examine this complex debate. I argue there is a volatile moment in the history of childbirth in which an explosion of discourses have sculptured choice for a caesarean, in the absence of clinical indications, out of a repartee of autonomy, convenience, desire, fear and risk. In this precarious moment, new meanings joust with the old on a shifting terrain awash with rhetoric that co-opts, competes, and contradicts to bring about a caché of mutable ‘truths’. Whether caesarean, as an optional extra, can be explained in terms of a libertarian imperative, an embodiment of lifestyle, the satiation of desire, the attenuation of fear or the avoidance of risk, the democratisation of this choice has exposed a pathologising paradox, whereupon the normal emerges as the abnormal, and the abnormal emerges as the normal. The deconstruction of choice through a poststructuralist lens has enabled insight into how contradiction and contest befall the ‘order of things ’ and in so doing, provides new openings for contemplating the discursive positioning of women through the competing discourses of childbirth.
Caesarean section, Childbirth