Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

James, Susan. (1997). With Woman: The Midwifery Relation. Unpublished Dissertation Edmonton: University of Alberta.


< Abstract >

The word midwife, meaning “wfth woman” conveys the relational sense of the work of midwifery. Midwives are with woman through the physical and emotional care they provide throughout a woman’s pregnancy, birth and early mothering experiences and on a more philosophical level, strongly believing in women’s capability to grow, birth and nourish a child and to make decisions about her experiences. The women too, are with woman; most Canadian midwives are women.


The research question, what is ft like to be with woman? reflects a desire to develop an in-depth understanding of the experience of being with woman as a midwife and as a woman receiving midwifery care. Hermeneutic phenomenology was selected as the research method best suited to the purpose of the study. Data were collected through conversational interviews with women and midwives, observations of situations such as prenatal visits, prenatal classes, births, and homevisits, and aesthetic forms such as art, literature, and movies. Data were analyzed through writing and re-writing.


The analysis revealed five themes. A theme is a particular way of viewing the whole of the experience. The first theme, setting the tone for the relationship contributes understanding to the overall approach the midwife and woman take in initiating and developing their relationship. The second theme, trust reveals the primacy of trust within the midwifery relation. The third theme, having a birth expedence explores how the midwife and woman experience birth together. The fourth theme, fri ends, sisters, mothers, and angels discusses the ways in which the relation is experienced by women and midwives. The fifth theme, awakening to our women-selves reveals the nature of women’s work as experienced in the midwifery relation.


While the purpose of phenomenology is not to generate theories, the knowledge attained may be useful to midwives and to other healthcare professionals. Midwifery in Alberta is undergoing a period of intense transition as midwives enter the healthcare system as regulated professionals. The final chapter includes a brief analysis of the potential influences, both positive and negative, that regulation may have on the midwifery relation.