Controlling the Narrative: Beyoncé’s Pregnancy Photoshoot, Part 2

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. This weeks post is part two of Chelsea Phillips’ conversation 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 was quickly revealed to be part of a photo shoot by the artist Awol Erizku. In early April, I sat down with a group of friends and colleagues to discuss the shoot: art historian Tim McCall, performer and playwright James Ijames, and pop culture maven Ashley Leamon joined me.

What follows is Part Two of that conversation. You can read Part One here.

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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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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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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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Risky hormones, birth defects and the business of pregnancy testing, Part II

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 Jesse Olszynko-Gryn continues to explore the relationship between pregnancy testing and birth defects in the 20th century. To read Part One of Jesse’s work, click here

In 1982, a special report in The American Journal of Nursing warned that information on the safety of ‘drugs for two in pregnancy’ was ‘scanty, hard to find and often not up to date.’ The Physicians’ Desk Reference was ‘stuffed full of the unhelpful disclaimer “the safety of drug X in human pregnancy has not been established.”’ The placenta was not a ‘barrier’, but a ‘sieve’, so only ‘medically indicated’ and ‘relatively safe’ drugs ought to be given to pregnant women. ‘No sex hormone’, it seemed, was considered ‘safe during pregnancy’; all should be avoided.[1]

Then, as now, concerns around sex hormones and birth defects focused primarily on the systemic use of synthetic estrogens and progestogens in oral contraception and the prevention of miscarriage. The previously widespread use of oral pregnancy tests, a third major source of concern, had, in 1982, recently ceased in most ‘developed’ countries.

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