17th Oct 2018 5:30pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade, Room G4


Dr Tania McIntosh (University of Brighton)


Nearly everyone born in the UK has had contact with a midwife at some point in their lives. Midwives are present at all births, and deliver 75 per cent of babies born.

I will suggest that midwives have used a partial view of their history to bolster their current beliefs about their professional status, but that this is based on a fundamental misreading of their past. For midwives the past seems superficially to be a comfortable place where their role was assured; the reality is much more uncomfortable and much more contested.

Midwives believe that they are ‘with women’ and elements of their history that support this view are repeated and celebrated. Unsettling aspects, such as the fact that midwives could be cruel and unkind, or the fact that they often pushed the use of technology as much as doctors, are ignored or marginalised.

My paper uses evidence from a variety of sources including oral history, documentary and photographic archives to trace the complexity of midwifery beliefs and practices. It will connect this to a growing consumer movement in maternity, and the developing tensions between what women wanted and how midwives actually worked. The paper will also explore the impact that the differences in what midwives did, and what they think they did, have had on current practice and on the increasingly strained relationship between the general public and the midwifery profession.


I am dual qualified as both an historian and a midwife, and am currently the Programme Lead for Midwifery at the University of Brighton

I have carried out funded research into aspects of teaching and learning in midwifery, but my primary focus is on histories of maternity care. I have written extensively on the history of midwifery and maternity in the twentieth century, including The social history of maternity care published by Routledge in 2012. I have published on aspects of midwifery identity and professionalism from the late nineteenth century, and have made use of oral history to explore the working lives of both district and hospital midwives in the post-war period. My current work is on the development of policy and practice in maternity between 1960-2000, particularly narratives of risk and normality; the development and impact of technology; and development of media in reflecting and ‘selling’ narratives of pregnancy and birth.