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Type: Thesis
Title: Negotiating perceptions of failure, risk and redemption in an Australian breast milk bank.
Author: Zizzo, Gabriella
Issue Date: 2013
School/Discipline: School of Social Sciences
Abstract: This thesis explores how the centrality of successful gestation and lactation in early maternal identity becomes problematic when unexpected complications arise. It is widely accepted that lactation and subsequent breastfeeding is an automatic and ‘natural’ response to having a baby. Yet it is not uncommon for women to encounter difficulties producing sufficient breast milk or breastfeeding, particularly those who have premature babies. In considering a group of women who have premature babies and experience difficulties with lactation, this research examines how they are constructed as ‘failed’ because they cannot perform in ways that most mothers take for granted. For women who are not able to produce their own breast milk, breast milk banks (BMBs) have been established to provide pasteurized, donor breast milk. The establishment of contemporary BMBs is supported by current medical and scientific discourses which endorse the benefits of breast milk over formula, where it is said that premature babies benefit considerably. Due to the powerful meanings associated with mothering, breastfeeding and breast milk, the concept of sharing breast milk in a BMB destabilises what is considered ‘normal’. Women who rely on another woman’s breast milk to feed their babies experience the use of the BMB as a challenge to their maternal identity, and they have to strategically manage and negotiate this process. To explore how women navigate the experience of breast milk banking in an Australian context, this thesis draws on qualitative research, utilising the first person narratives of women who have been involved in a BMB either as donors and/or as recipients. Taking a post-structural and an inductive approach, this research uses semi-structured interviewing, observations and a detailed discourse analysis to interpret data. Based on these methodological foundations, this thesis applies and extends Foucault’s theorisation on the body and power, which is central to the operation of the BMB. To extend the work of Foucault, this thesis engages with feminist critiques of his work to argue that women participate in a network of power through a project of ‘body work’, which is both constraining and enabling. A key orientating device of this thesis is the concept of redemptive mothering. Redemptive mothering is a transformative process whereby women attempt to shift from being constructed as failed and inadequate, to successful mothers. This requires their active participation in a project of normalisation enacted in an attempt to correct their failed bodies. If they are unable to normalise their bodies they must manage the perceived risks associated with receiving donor breast milk in order to realign the uncertainties regarding the exchange of bodily fluids. In considering the ways women navigate the BMB, this research argues that redemptive mothering is a technology of the self, which becomes a way that women free themselves from the constraining aspects of power and responsibility associated with infant feeding practices.
Advisor: Warin, Megan Jane
Ripper, Margie
Allen, Margaret Ellen
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Social Sciences, 2013
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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