Aimee Middlemiss

Department: Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology
Discipline: Sociology and Philosophy
Research Centre/Unit: Egenis

Project Summary

Working PhD title: Contested personhood in Second Trimester pregnancy loss in England.

In England, the loss of a pregnancy in the Second Trimester, after 13 weeks’ gestation but before legally defined foetal viability at 24 weeks, often entails a process of labour, birth, and the possibility of an encounter with a recognizably formed foetal body.

The ambiguity of this ending of a pregnancy, which is medically and legally defined as a miscarriage, but which some women experience as a stillbirth or neonatal death, places women in a liminal area in which this life event is not socially acknowledged.

In this context, some women may make powerful claims to motherhood and the personhood of the foetus/baby that died. Others may wish for acknowledgement of loss which does not depend on defining themselves as mothers, or their foetuses as babies.

My PhD is investigating women’s experiences of Second Trimester Pregnancy Loss in the South West of England using qualitative interviewing and ethnographic fieldwork. It draws on both reproductive sociology and anthropology to try to understand the interaction between personal experience and legal, medical, and other social discourse in this type of pregnancy loss.

Supervisory Team

Professor Susan Kelly, Sociology.

Dr Katharine Tyler, Anthropology.

Wider Research Interests

Previous Projects:

‘Knowing they’re there’: Pregnant women’s use of Doppler ultrasound devices to listen to the foetal heart at home.

Foetal Doppler technology, used in midwifery and obstetrics to assess the presence and rate of a foetal heartbeat, is now widely commercially available in the UK. This project was an exploration of how and why pregnant women use the technology in a domestic setting, drawing on qualitative interviews with women in Cornwall and submitted as part of my MRes in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Exeter, 2017.

Developing Akrich’s concept of de-scription, the study found the Doppler as a technology has a script which is both strong enough, open enough, and compatible enough with other cultural ideas to be translatable to the domestic setting. The auto-auscultation allowed by the scripting of the Doppler situates its use within literature related to self-tracking practices, and the study found the Doppler is used in an attempt to manage risk in the precarious medicalised pregnancy in which women are established as responsible for foetal outcomes. However, women also re-script the technology when they use the domestic foetal Doppler to enhance their embodied experience of pregnancy, and to create and manage intimate social relationships, including those between the coming child and family and friends, in acts of agency which challenge the medicalisation of pregnancy.

The study concluded with some recommendations for policy change regarding advice on domestic foetal Doppler use, especially in relation to calls to ban the devices for home use, and on foetal listening by midwives.

Authored Publications/Reports

Aimee Middlemiss () #SaveAnthropologyAlevel: the campaign which tried to retain anthropology in British schools. , Teaching Anthropology, Vol 6 (2016): A-level Anthropology: A retrospective , 15-19

Aimee Middlemiss (13th March 2018) The Fetal Dopplers Bill is based on limited evidence about pregnant women’s use of the device, LSE British Politics and Policy Blog