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 foetal viability at 24 weeks, usually entails a process of labour, birth, and the possibility of an encounter with a recognizably human foetal corpse. The ambiguity of this ending of a pregnancy, which many experience as a stillbirth or neonatal death but which is medically and legally defined as a miscarriage, places women in a liminal area where they may make powerful claims to motherhood and the personhood of the foetus/baby that died. 

My PhD is investigating ways in which women in England who have experienced second trimester pregnancy loss construct the personhood of their foetus/baby and their own bereaved motherhood using techniques such as naming, funeral rituals and charity fundraising. The context in which women do this is a legal, medical and, ultimately, state discourse which claims that a pregnancy which ends before 24/40 weeks did not involve the production of a ‘person’ or a ‘mother’. However, this discourse is being challenged, both by the actions of individual women, and at a national level through the production of new discourses by charities, parliamentary groups and government departments.

I plan to use both anthropological and sociological approaches in multisite research to try to understand the relationship between the embodied experience of this specific type of pregnancy loss and the national discourses which produce and are produced by these new ways of thinking about a foetal person and a mother.


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