Concealing and Revealing: Beyoncé’s Pregnancy Photo Shoot, Part One

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. In today’s post Chelsea Phillips writes about Beyonce’s recent pregnancy photo shoot.

On 1 February 2017, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter announced that she was pregnant with twins on Instagram, sparking a social media frenzy. The initial image, laden with symbolism, was quickly revealed to be part of a larger, fully-produced pregnancy photo shoot by the artist Awol Erizku. In early April, I sat down with a group of friends and colleagues to discuss the shoot. The conversation ranged from its historical and contemporary artistic influences, to Beyoncé’s performance of pregnancy, identity, race, and culture; what follows is a partial transcript of that conversation.

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Postpartum Madness

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Marystella Ramirez Guerra looks at an incident of ‘postpartum madness’ from the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s.

A 28-year-old woman was brought before the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s for murdering her only child.[1] Three years prior she had been a patient of Johann Christian Stark, sub-director of the new Jena birthing house. While a patient there she had given birth naturally and had lost very little blood in what was then considered the body’s naturally cleansing of impure blood during the postpartum period.[2] Failure to lose large amounts of blood was seen as problematic as it indicated that the body was unable to clean itself of the excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy. Excess accumulation of fluids in the body was thought to bring on illness and, in the case of fluids in the female body, it was believed the nerves were particularly affected.

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Pregnancy in Prison – Past and Present

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Rachel Bennett explores maternity care in the early days of female-only prisons.

Following one of her early visits to Newgate prison, Elizabeth Fry noted that “nearly three hundred women with their numerous children, were crowded [in the cells of the prison]; tried and untried, without classification, without employment, and with no other superintendence than that given by a man and his son, who had charge of them day and night.”[1] Mrs Fry would go on to help establish the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate and, later, the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. She also gave evidence to the 1818 House of Commons Committee on prison conditions. Among other things, during her work she advocated for the more tailored treatment of female prisoners based upon tenderness and religious instruction and argued that this more feminine approach needed to be delivered by female prison attendants.

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‘Am I Pregnant?’: Women’s Magazines as a Source of Information

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Ciara Meehan explores women’s magazines as sources of information about pregnancy in a pre-digital age.

When I was fifteen, I had intercourse. I’m nineteen now and though I get periods regularly I wonder if I could become pregnant as a result of what happened then.[1]

 When I was twelve years old my brother and I did something very wrong. Only a year later did I realise how wrong it was. That is five years ago now and I never told my mother. I have regular periods, but fear that I might become pregnant as a result of what happened. I have symptoms which worry me greatly … Do you think I might have cancer?[2]

 I am sixteen and something wrong happened me when I was about twelve. I didn’t know then that it was wrong and now I worry, as my ankles swell and I notice my eyes get black. I have regular periods, but could I have some infection? I’m afraid to tell my mother. Could I be pregnant?[3]

 These three letters, written by teenagers who feared pregnancy years after intercourse, are deeply disturbing. They reveal a complete lack of understanding about how pregnancy occurs and the length of the gestation period (while also implying, in one case at least, that sexual abuse took place). Letters about becoming pregnant after a significant length of time are not a regular occurrence in the Irish women’s magazines of the 1960s that I have been examining for my current project, but they do speak to a bigger, more frequent issue – complete bewilderment about pregnancy.

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What about fathers?

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Leanne Calvert explores men’s roles in childbirth in the nineteenth century.

What about fathers? Men and childbirth: some evidence from nineteenth-century Ulster.

Every week, millions of us tune into Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute –the fly-on-the-wall documentary series that follows midwives and expectant mothers in maternity wards across Britain and Ireland. The unlikely star of the show, however, can be found standing next to the hospital bed –the expectant father. In any given episode, fathers can be seen nervously fidgeting and pacing, holding their partners’ hands, and encouraging them as they puff through each contraction. Many fathers are present at the time of delivery and some even cut the umbilical cord. Such scenes have become commonplace in contemporary society. Today, fathers are a visible presence in the delivery room and, with the increasing availability of paternity leave, are much more involved in early childcare than previous generations of men. But, just how modern is this conception of fatherhood? What role did fathers in past centuries play in childbirth?

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Book Competition Winner!

competition-oneCongratulations to Mark Benson on winning the Perceptions of Pregnancy book giveaway. Mark’s choice of blog post was Laura Neff’s post on Missing Mothers. Maternal deaths in the United States.

Mark is a final year PhD researcher at Queen’s University, Belfast examining a history of ‘the provision of abortion in Northern Ireland, 1900-1968’. Supervised by historian Professor Mary O’Dowd and sociologist Dr Lisa Smyth, the project uses medical archives and court records to explore the changing landscape of legal, illegal and ‘discreetly’ legal procedures sought out by women and their partners.

In addition to the above,  he works acompetition-twos a tutor with QUB’s social inclusion department, the widening participation unit. The WPU focuses on A level students from low income backgrounds who are categorised as ‘those most able but least likely’ to attend university. His other projects include co-developing a new interdisciplinary module highlighting the histories of groups and topics traditionally marginalised by Irish society and often overlooked by academia.

He will be letting us know what he thinks of the collection after he submits his thesis.

Congratulations again from the Perceptions of Pregnancy team

Obstetric Violence in Ireland’s Past and Present

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Cara Delay and Beth Sundstrom employs the term ‘obstetric violence’ to understand Ireland’s reproductive history.

In October 2012, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, 17 weeks pregnant, sought treatment at a Galway hospital when she began to miscarry. Although there was no hope for a successful pregnancy, staff at the hospital allegedly told Halappanavar that they could not legally assist her with a medical abortion. When Halappanavar died of septicemia several days later, her tragic personal story spurred an unprecedented dialogue on women’s reproductive and health care rights in Ireland.

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