The reception of Elaine Scarry’s landmark text, The Body in Pain, focuses in part on exploring how pain might be understood as beneficial or therapeutic. Childbirth is often cited as the paradigmatic instance of this kind of beneficial pain. This essay examines conceptualisations of labour pain in biomedical, natural childbirth and reproductive justice movements that explore the limits of Scarry’s description of pain as ‘unshareable.’ Political struggles over pain in childbirth centre on the legibility of pain in labour. Feminist and natural childbirth activists have developed an understanding of pain at birth as central to maternal subjectivity, where pain is a biopolitical force and its management a means of self-transformation. The essay considers how the visibility and expressivity of labour pain could contribute to what Imogen Tyler and Lisa Baraitser (2013) term a new ‘natal politics’ that addresses concerns for reproductive justice and the disproportionate injury and death experienced by black birth givers.
- Gender Research Group
- reproductive justice