12 April 2015
- From the section UK
Prolific author and anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger – who wrote more than 25 books on childbirth – has died at her Oxfordshire home at the age of 86.
In the 1960s and 70s she developed the concept of a “birth plan”, which aimed to give more choice to pregnant women.
She believed mothers, not clinicians, should be the focus during childbirth.
She came to be seen as a pioneer in her field and received an MBE for her work. Her publisher Pinter & Martin said she died on Saturday after a short illness.
‘Freedom and choice’
Born in a thatched cottage in Taunton, Somerset, in 1929, Ms Kitzinger studied social anthropology at the University of Oxford, then taught and carried out research at the University of Edinburgh.
A strong advocate of home birth and natural birth, Ms Kitzinger had her own five children at home and believed midwives played a crucial role.
In her 1962 book The Experience of Childbirth she also argued that birth had the potential to be a “psychosexual experience”.
Among her other books were The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Ourselves as Mothers. Her autobiography is due to be published next month.
Her husband Uwe Kitzinger, who she met while studying at Oxford and married in 1952, said she was “a woman of great spunk”.
“She was an icon of home birth who decided to have a home death,” he said.
“She took to her bed three months ago, but she was drinking Kir Royale and champagne and eating chocolates three days ago, knowing she didn’t have long.
“She was great to be married to, and she was a wonderful mother. She and I were married for 63 years. We said goodbye with a prayer.”
Her eldest daughter, Celia Kitzinger, said her mother taught her from an early age that “the personal was political”.
She said: “As I was growing up I learnt from her campaigns for freedom and choice in childbirth that passionate and committed individuals can create social change.
“She never hesitated to speak truth to power.”
‘Natural birth guru’
Prof Kitzinger said her mother had campaigned on a wide range of issues including female genital mutilation, prisoners giving birth in handcuffs and human rights in midwifery in Eastern Europe.
She added: “She is so much more than a ‘natural birth guru’.”
Her publisher Pinter & Martin said her work had had enormous impact on millions of women around the world.
An active writer and campaigner into her eighties, Ms Kitzinger set up the Birth Crisis Network, a helpline for mothers who had experienced a traumatic birth.
Writing on her website, she said: “The romantic image of a radiant mother, a beautiful baby in her arms, her golden hair lit by the sun’s rays, displayed on the jackets of many birth books is far removed from reality.
“New mothers are often unhappy. This major life transition is made incredibly difficult by poverty, poor housing, overcrowding, and social isolation.
“But one reason why many women have low self-esteem and cannot enjoy their babies is that care in childbirth often denies them honest information, the possibility of choice, and simple human respect.”
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