In this essay for The Conversation I discuss how different cultures frame women’s birthing bodies, what this means for women’s labours, and what other possibilities there are. I explore the ways in which my own experiences of preparing for and giving birth were framed by cultural imaginsations in Australia, and what I found to be different during my fieldwork in villages in Laos. In Australia, I felt my body being treated with suspicion by health care providers who saw birth as ‘a very inefficient process.’ Much of the public conversation here is around birth as a dangerous and potentially traumatic experience. In Laos, however, much cultural messaging affirms that birth is nothing to fear and many women prefer birthing at home supported by their family (even if other options are attainable). This changes the idea of birth labour:

If birth labour in Australia implies the labour of faulty bodies at producing a product (much like a factory worker might labour on a production line), in Laos the meaning of birth labour is the sociability around the birthing woman. Birth labour here is the work of revelry, the effort it takes to suspend everyday rules, and the contributions we all made by simply being there, adding to the creative, out-of-the-ordinary spark generated by gatherings.

This exploration, I hope, sheds light on other birthing possibilities and helps expand imaginations. The essay is an edited excerpt from As if Already Free – edited by Holly High and Joshua O. Reno (Pluto Press).