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© 2006 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd All rights reserved. This paper examines the endurance of an idealized version of birth - the natural (intervention free) birth - and the tensions between the discourse surrounding natural birth and the experiences of women who had operative deliveries (surgically assisted hospital births). The paper uses utopian theory to explore the discourse of natural birth. It draws on empirical research with 27 women who had experienced operative delivery. Interviews with these women highlight the contested and problematic nature of the natural birth discourse. While these women desire and support the idea of natural birth their own experience is of a range of medical and surgical interventions - an experience that was, for many of these women, difficult to reconcile. Notwithstanding this experience many of the women maintain a strong commitment to the natural birth ideal, indicating its enduring power. Rather than employing a traditional utopian approach ourselves (one that dictates the form and content of a possible future), we employ a more recent approach, drawing on the work of Levitas and Sargisson, and Foucault's notion of heterotopia, which has the potential to encompass and facilitate a range of possible birth experiences.

Original publication




Journal article


Social Theory and Health

Publication Date





299 - 318