My Book – Invisible & Deviant Mothers: Childbirth in Visual Culture

by  Rachel Bride Ashton  (Author)(Visual arts) Paperback – 9 Feb. 2023 £10

Press on my name above for a link to buy the book on Amazon

The book will also be available to buy soon in Dundee Contemporary Arts and Waterstones and Blackwells.

Institution-controlled births have predominated in our fictional on-screen culture for decades. When compared with less frequent home birth narratives, two dominant stereotypes emerge. People giving birth within the medical system tend to be portrayed as good, compliant but invisible, usually passive and not in control, as seen in examples like E.R. (1994-2009), Greys Anatomy (2017-2020), Knocked Up (2007), Friends (1994-2004), Offspring (2010-2017), What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)and Sex Education (2022). Those birthing outside of the hospital, and their attendant midwives are represented as active and visible but deviant and often ridiculous, for example Grace and Frankie (2018), The Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)and The Back Up Plan (2010). More recently Pieces of a Woman (2020) challenges the dominant home birth fiasco by exploring a more woman empowered narrative, but ultimately the (deviant) mother is punished by her baby’s death, exacerbating deeply ingrained medical hegemony.
Reality television shows, OBEM (2010-2018)and Newborn Russia (2014), inadvertently expose deep rooted misogyny and obstetric violence at the heart of the medical model of birth. This book argues that globally, on-screen culture could be seen as systemic medical propaganda which turns birth into a process where mothers are secondary to the baby-product. The Birth Reborn (2013-2018) documentaries tackle these issues but are alone in highlighting the violence and racial inequalities in maternal care the world over. My method of research combines critical literature with my multi-disciplinary art practice. I embody and represent female tropes and helpful bacteria and reveal the ‘deviant woman’ as ‘maternal holobiont’ in complex installations. These portray powerful and active depictions of women-centered birth comparable to recent documentation by femicentric organisations like Restore Midwifery (2022), which are beginning to appear on social media. I argue that these could set the precedent for new ways of portraying birth in cinema and television.

This is an earlier mock-up of the book. We chose a slightly different title for the final version, as seen above, and the book is not quite as thick, but otherwise looks pretty much like this. It’s a nice quality publication.