July 17, 2019 - 9:15am
Delving into the historical roots of childbirth experiences, VIU’s new Canada Research Chair hopes to improve women’s encounters with the health-care system during this critical time.
Home birth, water birth or hospital birth; medicated or unmedicated; doctor or midwife – the ways in which women give birth and perceive a “good” childbirth have vastly changed over time; however, women have always sought to exercise some control over the childbirth experience. Dr. Whitney Wood has long been interested in how women experience birth and are treated during labour. Wood will be sharing her knowledge and expertise on the history of childbirth and women’s experiences of labour pain in the 19th and 20th centuries as VIU’s new Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in the Historical Dimensions of Women’s Health. She will also be teaching as a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
“Arts and Humanities is proud to have the opportunity to host Dr. Wood, an emerging but already proven scholar in the Historical Dimensions of Women’s Health. We hope to provide her with many opportunities for collaboration with her colleagues community partners,” says Marni Stanley, VIU Faculty of Arts and Humanities Acting Dean.
Wood first became interested in the history of childbirth while taking a history of medicine class during her undergrad at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“I learned about the history of Twilight Sleep – a form of anesthesia given to labouring mothers during the first decades of the 20th century, and I became instantly curious as to why this type of delivery had gained such popularity,” she recalls.
Wood continued to explore her curiosity about childbirth and labour pain during her PhD studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and with her first book, which is currently under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press.
She is the editor for Canadian and histories of medicine and reproduction content at NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality, an international collaborative blog that aims to bring the history of sexuality to wide public audiences. Wood is also the English-language book review editor for the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, the flagship journal for Canadian historians of medicine. Wood is looking forward to building on these experiences at VIU.
“I am excited to collaborate with researchers across faculties, especially the editorial team of Gender & History, a leading international journal housed right here on campus,” says Wood.
The Gender & History editorial team includes Cheryl Krasnick Warsh, a renowned historian of gender, medicine and popular culture in 19th and 20th century North America, and VIU’s first Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
During her first five-year term as Canada Research Chair, Wood will focus on three main projects that explore the history of women’s pain in modern Canada. She hopes to expand on her post-doctoral research on natural childbirth on Vancouver Island, Canada and around the world from the mid-to-late 20th century.
Wood also plans to work on a collaborative project exploring gendered experiences of medical violence (including childbirth trauma), and to host a conference at VIU exploring these themes. Finally, Wood plans to begin “a new project exploring the history of women’s pain across the life cycle,” she says.
“I’m interested in researching women’s pain in girlhood, menstrual pain, sexual pain, and how gender shapes attitudes towards pain in old age.”
In each of these three areas, Wood looks forward to involving VIU students in her research projects.
By examining the historical roots of women’s modern childbirth experiences and contemporary perceptions of women’s health, Wood hopes to provide context and support for public health and policy efforts that aim to improve women’s encounters with the Canadian health-care system.
“Women still face a number of barriers in accessing quality medical care and women’s pain, in particular, is widely underrecognized and undertreated,” she says. “By learning from our past, I hope we can address and correct ongoing inequities in women’s health to ultimately provide all women with better health care.”
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University