Childbirth education pioneer and feminist icon, Sheila Kitzinger has five daughters. After reading and reviewing Sheila’s passionate, beautiful, inspiring memoir: A Passion for Birth, published shortly before her death this spring, I did a short interview with her daughter, Jenny Kitzinger…
- How has your own work been influenced by your mother?
I grew up knowing that the ‘personal was political’ – including issues such as birth, marriage and death – and believing that nothing was taboo or closed off for discussion.
My early work on AIDS, and then on child sexual abuse, as well as my most recent work on the treatment of patients in long-term coma, has all been fundamentally influenced by my mother’s approach to life and work.
- What was it like to grow up with a birth activism “celebrity”?
To me my mother was just normal – so I took for granted her passion, determination and impact on the world, and the privilege we had as children of meeting lots of interesting people from the world of women’s rights, politics, and the arts.
- I was struck by the focus on humanitarian work in Kitzinger’s memoir. Do you have any childhood memories of these experiences and their influence? Are you still involved in cause-oriented work as an adult?
We often had people staying who needed support – it was lovely to meet the different people who came into our home – and to see the practical support and nurture my mother offered them. Sheila was also clear that the personal was political and that alongside supporting individuals it was necessary to learn from them and work alongside them to tackle root causes of problems.
My sister Tess was centrally involved in support for refugees – a cause also close to my father’s heart (he came over to England as a refugee in 1939). I was involved in setting up one of the first incest survivors refuges. Polly was also active in disability rights, advocating for people with mental illness. Our oldest sister, Celia, is a leading campaigner for sexual equality and equal marriage.
Since my sister, Polly’s car crash in 2009, Celia and I have worked together to examine the treatment of people with catastrophic brain injuries, including rights at the end-of-life. Although we are both full professor, and publish academically, we are committed to making work accessible to families, health care practitioners and policy makers. That is why we designed an online support and information resource about the vegetative and minimally conscious state.
- How many times did you hear birth stories around the dinner table?
We are a loud and talkative family. We would often discuss childbirth issues around the dinner table – alongside topics such as sex. This was fine at home, but I think when we went out to eat in restaurants I am not sure next door tables always enjoyed either the content of our lively debates, or the volume of the conversation as we became engrossed in family debate and everyone spoke at once!
- What do you feel like is your mother’s most enduring legacy?
The transformation of assumptions about childbirth – alongside a broader contribution to respecting women’s experience and supporting their rights to have choice and control over their own healthcare decisions.
A Passion for Birth, My Life: anthropology, family and feminism by Sheila Kitzinger
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