Naomi Campbell’s Feminist Pregnancy

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 week Kate Cornforth considers Naomi Campbell’s recent birth announcement.

Naomi Campbell for British Vogue ‘Motherhood On Her Own Terms’  https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/naomi-campbell-british-vogue-interview

‘How DID Naomi Campbell welcome a daughter at 50?’[1]

“I can count on one hand the number of people who knew that I was having her,”[2] Naomi Campbell has appeared this week on the front cover of VOGUE with the title of her exclusive interview, ‘Motherhood On Her Own Terms’, and I, like thousands of others, immediately wondered: How has she done it? Can people have babies in their 50s?

Then I challenged myself.

As a scholar researching the representation of the pregnant body, I am fanatical about questioning why pregnant bodies remain confined to ideologies under the eye of public scrutiny. I argue that there is a ‘dominant pregnancy script’, seen in fiction, film and on social media that impacts on, and restricts, how one is not born, but rather becomes, a mother.[3] Naomi Campbell has become a mother, and people are concerned about ‘how?’ because she has not conformed to the dominant pregnancy script, or patriarchal ideal of pregnancy and parenthood that means that to ‘do’ pregnancy correctly is to be heterosexual, able-bodied, financially stable, and, unlike Naomi Campbell, the ‘correct’ age.

Breaking down the dominant pregnancy script

Naomi Campbell has broken the dominant pregnancy script and followed ‘her own’ feminist pregnancy script.[4] The focus of my research, the Feminist Pregnancy Script (FPS), challenges the ‘dominant pregnancy script’ of the past and encourages choice throughout pregnancy. Campbell’s approach to her own pregnancy epitomises the FPS: Vogue highlights how she continues to be ‘a force for change and to demand greater Black representation in an industry long criticised for its lack of diversity’. The FPS is just such a ‘force for change’, challenging people’s perceptions of pregnancy, ultimately underlining that there is no ‘correct’ way to do pregnancy.

More than that, though, the FPS is not only for pregnant people. It emphasises the importance of the behaviour and attitudes of non-pregnant people. For change to happen, there must be a cultural shift in others’ attitudes toward the pregnant body: judgemental discourse around pregnancy can be dismantled by celebrating diverse, feminist pregnancies.

No but really, how did she do it?

Screen capture of the top articles on Google when searching ‘Naomi Campbell’.

‘Pregnant bodies are public bodies, so pregnant women are also regulated by others – health-care professionals, family members, friends, and even strangers.’[5]

First the pregnant body is under constant scrutiny; then how one chooses to mother or parent is up for examination shortly after. The newspaper articles say it all: ‘She wasn’t adopted – she’s my child’ and ‘Naomi Campbell confirms baby daughter is not adopted’. The Daily Mail’s ‘Femail’ section has been quick to ‘reveal how she could have cleverly hidden a bump after fertility treatment or used a surrogate to carry her child’.[6]

Instead of wondering ‘how?’ we should ask ‘why do we care?’. Naomi Campbell is on the front cover of a major magazine; a Black mother who has not conformed to the dominant pregnancy script. Let’s reach the point where we all follow the Feminist Pregnancy Script, where we congratulate rather than challenge, celebrate rather than scrutinise.

Be more feminist.


Kate is a PhD student from the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Chester, U.K. Her thesis, Following a Feminist Pregnancy Script: The Representation of the Pregnant Body in Contemporary Fiction, Film and on Social Media focuses on the struggles that pregnant people face during the gestation and postpartum period, particularly when the pregnancies are ‘unborn’, ‘unheard’ or ‘unsaid’. With her past work including The Representation of Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Nineteenth-Century British Novel, she is keen to research the literature, film and social media of today to understand what it is like to be pregnant in 2022, and to conceptualise a new theory called the ‘feminist pregnancy script’, an inclusive guide for all types of pregnancy.


[1] Stephanie Linning, How DID Naomi Campbell welcome a daughter at 50? (2022) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-10514323/How-DID-Naomi-Campbell-welcome-daughter-50.html&gt; [accessed 15 February 2022]

[2] Sarah Harris, A Model Parent: Naomi Campbell Opens Up About Motherhood On Her Own Terms (2022) <https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/naomi-campbell-british-vogue-interview&gt; [accessed 15 February 2022]

[3] A re-visioning of Simone de Beauvoir’s famous: ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’.

[4] Harris, A Model Parent: Naomi Campbell Opens Up About Motherhood On Her Own Terms

[5] Elena Neiterman, and Bonnie Fox, ‘Controlling the unruly maternal body: Losing and gaining control over the body during pregnancy and the postpartum period’, Social Science and Medicine, 174, (2016), 142-148, <https://www-sciencedirect-com> [accessed 4 March 2019], p. 145.

[6] Linning, How DID Naomi Campbell welcome a daughter at 50?

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An Experience of Home Births in Rural Ireland: 1883 – 1903

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 week Kim Burkhardt explores her great-great grandmother’s experiences of birth in rural Ireland.

Harriet Susannah Ellis – the fifth of twelve children (plus an older half-sister from her father’s first marriage) – was born February 5, 1863 in Co. Sligo, Ireland. Her family moved around Ireland – seemingly possible due to the country’s new railroad system – as her father transferred from one teaching job to another. Her family moved to Co. Wicklow, south of Dublin, when she was seven. 

Harriet and James Chartres Bookey went to Dublin from rural Ireland (from Co.  Wicklow) to get married on September 5, 1882. Both were the children of professionals; Harriet’s father was a school master; James’ father was a doctor. Their fathers had served together on the parish vestry in their Church of Ireland parish in County Wicklow in 1870. Her parents and many of her siblings had left Co. Wicklow – due to her father’s next job transfer – prior to her marriage. She and an older sister had remained in Co. Wicklow (she was a teenager when her father accepted his next job).

After their apparent “elopement trip” to Dublin, Harriet and James returned to briefly to Co. Wicklow, then lived in the tri-county area of Counties Wicklow, Wexford, and Carlow until emigrating to North America in 1913. Four of their older surviving children – adults, by this time – emigrated ahead of them, one at a time. Harriet and James – with another five of their ten surviving children (still children) – then followed the first four emigrants to Vancouver, Canada.

Ireland’s 1911 census records indicate that Harriet had thirteen pregnancies, with ten surviving children. Genealogical research uncovered birth certificates for twelve of her children (information presented in the chart below created for her descendant’s genealogy book). Given that registering stillbirths in Ireland didn’t start until 1995 (it is still optional), it’s uncertain whether the thirteenth birth certificate simply wasn’t found or if that pregnancy involved a miscarriage or a stillbirth. 

table created by Kim Burkhardt

All of her children were born at home. For the twelve birth certificates identified, midwives were present for all but the first three births. The midwives who attended the births of Harriet’s later children – and who then submitted birth certificates for those children – spelled Harriet’s name in a variety of ways (see chart).

Harriet was twenty years old when she gave birth to her first child in Co. Wexford, eleven-and-a half months after getting married. It was an unattended home birth. The child – a male who wasn’t named – only lived two hours. In what must have been devastating for Harriet following this unattended birth in her first year of marriage, Harriet herself completed both the child’s birth certificate and the child’s death certificate, reporting that the child was “weakly from birth, no medical attendant.” This first child’s birth and death records are shown below:

When genealogy was underway, we pondered whether a medical attendant at the birth might have been able to save this child; if, for example, a midwife had been present or if her father-in-law – a doctor (and, by this time, the husband of Harriet’s older sister) – had been present at the birth.

Harriet gave birth every one to three years over the course of twenty years. When one of the youngest children was born, it was born late in the evening when the other children had already gone to bed. The midwife brought the newborn into a bedroom of some of the children, asking those children if they wanted to meet their new sibling; one sibling, named Florence (who recalled this story when she was a centenarian), recalled that she and her siblings all shouted “NO!” and they pulled their blankets over their heads!  Given that her last child was born twenty years after her first child…and her last child was home until adulthood, Harriet ultimately spent forty years raising children. Harriet’s husband – who was seven years older than her – died in 1919 in Vancouver when their youngest child was sixteen, so Harriet finish raising children as a widow.

Harriet had come from a large family; she was the fifth of twelve children (plus an older half-sister from her father’s first marriage); her husband James was the youngest of eleven children. She mirrored this pattern having thirteen children, ten of whom lived (two of the children who died did so in their first three months of life, we don’t know whether the third was alive at birth). Harriet and James’ siblings, however, did not have large families. Five of Hariet’s siblings had no children, one sibling had children but we don’t know how many, one sibling had four children, two siblings had five children each. Thus, Harriet’s large brood was an outlier among her siblings.


Kim Burkhardt, M.B.A is one of Harriet’s great-great granddaughters. She co-wrote  Harriet’s biography (2016) with Brian Ellis, Brian Ellis being a grandson of Harriet’s youngest brother. The full biography tells the story of her, including more about her experience of raising children. Her biography can be ordered online at  https://harrietsusannahellis.wordpress.com/. She is now writing the biographies of all four of her maternal great-great grandmothers. These for great-great grandmothers were born in the 1840s – 1860s – one born in Ireland, one born in Canada, two born in the United States. Three of these women became widows while still raising children, the fourth died of Tuberculosis – thus leaving her husband a widower with children still at home; in no cases did these widow/widower spouses remarry until after their children were grown (Harriet was the only one to remarry at all; she remarried at the age of seventy-one). (see:  https://womenofyesteryear.com/ )

Forget Leaving Room for Jesus: Fornication and Community Control in Transitional New England

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 month, Frances Norman, a final year undergraduate student at the University of Hertfordshire, shares some insights into pre-marital sexual behaviour and pregnancy in the Atlantic world.

In July 1791 Sally Peirce ‘Swore a Child’ on Jonathon Ballard, the son of Martha Ballard, an eighteenth-century New England midwife who recorded her life across almost 10,000 diary entries. [1] Sally’s child was born in October of the same year and she and Jonathon married in January 1792. The eighteenth-century was a transitional period for sexual control across America and within New England, which was more sexually restrictive than urban areas of the country. [2] Sally’s pregnancy offers insight into premarital sexual relationships, as well as the role of community and familial control in courtship, pre-marital relationships, and the wider policing of sexuality.

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Maternal Impressions

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 month, PoP network member Sarah Fox shares her insights on the debates (both historical and contemporary) on maternal impressions.

On the 14th September 2020, the Daily Mail reported upon a pilot study being undertaken at the University of Heidelberg.  The headline read: ‘Anxious mums can pass on their stress to their babies – leaving them with an ‘emotional imprint’ that can scar them for life, scientists warn.’  The article reported that children of mothers suffering from anxiety or depression experienced raised heart rates during a stress test called ‘still face test’. “We found that if a mother was anxious or depressed, their baby had a more sensitive physiological response to stress during the test than did the babies of healthy mothers” researcher Fabio Blanco-Dormond is reported to have said.  An article on sciencetimes.com raised the stakes still further reporting that the infant’s significantly (8 bpm) increased heart rate “could develop into emotional stress in later years.” The findings are reported as being at the cutting edge of scientific research. “To our knowledge this is one of the first times this physical effect has been seen in three-months old infants” according to the Daily Mail’s report.  Yet the idea that a mother’s thoughts and feelings can impact both physically and emotionally on their unborn child has very long and complex roots.

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