Accepted Paper:

Good at heart. Fetal heartbeat listening practices in midwifery care in Germany  


Annekatrin Skeide (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic research in midwifery practices in Germany, I show how producing knowledge and creating intimacy are entangled in fetal heartbeat listening. I argue that in different monitoring practices, different intimate knowledges and knowledgeable intimacies are brought about.

Paper long abstract:

Besides sonography, fetal heart rate monitoring provides the intimate technological access to the unborn child in pregnancy and childbirth care.

There remains debate over whether to use continuous or intermittent monitoring, given that RCT based research cannot 'conclusively prove' that one style of monitoring improves child health outcomes more than the other.

In my research, however, I attend to the different intimacies and knowledges that are produced in these different styles of monitoring.

Drawing on ethnographic research on fetal heart rate monitoring in midwifery practices in Germany, I follow the affective relations that are created between fetal monitoring devices, women, midwives, and children. In continuous monitoring practices the coordination between health care staff, women and children takes place via shared intimate knowledge of the child's heartbeat. In order to produce 'good heartbeats' midwives, women, and children have to invest and actively participate. I demonstrate intermittent monitoring practices that are flexibly mobilized to build increasingly intimate relationships between woman, child and midwife. Hearing and knowing how to hear the child's heart, which means establishing knowledgeable intimacies, is crucial to this process. Monitoring becomes backgrounded, while reciprocity in the relation between woman and child is established.

Heartbeat listening practices in pregnancy and childbirth care do not only produce knowledge or lead to particular effects, but combine knowledge production with creating intimacy. In those practices knowledge becomes intimate and intimacy holds knowledge.

Panel A15
Intimate entanglements in science and technology