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Accepted Paper:

Uncertainty at the threshold of life  
Alma Aspeborg (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

Today, prenatal screening offers parents ostensible control over pregnancy outcomes. Fieldwork suggests that demand for screening is growing in Sweden as a result of neoliberal self-realization ideals. But screening cannot guarantee a positive outcome and may cause just as much worry as reassurance.

Paper long abstract:

Pregnancy is inherently uncertain. Folklore is full of advice for expectant mothers and methods for divining a child’s future – evidence that humans have long sought to control pregnancy outcomes and stave off uncertainty. Today, when social and technological development has given us control over more aspects of life than ever before, pregnancy remains fundamentally uncontrollable. Prenatal screening in particular seems to offer the assurance of a healthy and “normal” child, and has become standard practice in much of the developed world. But has this testing really given us the security that we want? Or has it instead created new forms of healthcare-induced worry? And if so, what will happen with this worry as tests pick up on smaller and smaller deviations with hitherto unknown symptoms?

In this paper, I present findings from fieldwork with Swedish parents and midwives, and suggest that both availability and demand for prenatal screening is growing in Sweden, especially in affluent, urban areas. This can be connected to neoliberal imperatives to maximize our own potential – turning the family into a carefully orchestrated lifestyle or self-fulfillment project – as well as to a free market where companies vie for parents’ money with the newest tests. However, prenatal screening cannot guarantee a healthy baby, leaving parents and midwives to navigate an uncertain terrain where that which should bring reassurance might instead increase worry, and where the choice lies between ever more advanced testing, or learning to live with uncertainty at the threshold of life.

Panel Heal02
Uncertain futures, uncertain bodies
  Session 2 Thursday 8 June, 2023, -