Kitzinger, Sheila (1929—)

views updated

Kitzinger, Sheila (1929—)

British pregnancy and childbirth expert. Born Sheila Helena Elizabeth Webster in Somerset, England, in 1929; attended Bishop Fox Girls' School, Taunton, England; attended Ruskin College, Oxford; B.Litt. in social anthropology from St. Hugh's College; married Uwe Kitzinger (an economist), in 1952; children: five daughters.

Sheila Kitzinger, a noted British pregnancy and childbirth expert, studied to become a drama teacher before eventually obtaining a degree in social anthropology from St. Hugh's College. During the early 1950s, she did research on race relations in the United Kingdom at the University of Edinburgh. During this period, she also married economist Uwe Kitzinger and began a family, which grew to include five daughters.

It was through her appointment as a member of the Advisory Board of the National Childbirth Trust in 1958 that Kitzinger undertook a mission to empower women in the childbirth process by arming them with information. "It's extremely difficult to act as your own advocate," she declared, "unless you have the information to challenge doctors who often treat women as if they were irresponsible, selfish, and concerned only with their own emotions."

As a National Childbirth Trust teacher, Kitzinger has lectured throughout the world and has produced a number of books, beginning with The Experience of Childbirth (1962), and including Education and Counselling for Childbirth (1977), Women as Mothers (1978), Giving Birth: Emotions in Childbirth, Birth at Home, The Experience of Breastfeeding, The Good Birth Guide (1979), Pregnancy and Childbirth (1980), The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and Enjoying the First Year of Motherhood (1992), and Ourselves as Mother: The Universal Experience of Motherhood. In the latter book, Kitzinger compares childbirth in different cultures and criticizes many childbirth practices in industrialized countries—such as induced labor and cesarean sections—that depersonalize the process. "Our society sets us up to feel socially isolated, guilty, as if we are failures as mothers," she states. "In many traditional societies there is much more woman-to-woman support in pregnancy, during the birth, and afterward."

Kitzinger, who is described as "outspoken, frank, and decidedly feminist," lives in a familial commune outside Oxford with her husband, two of her daughters, and their families. In addition to writing and lecturing, she runs the Birth Crisis Network, a telephone counseling resource for women who have suffered an invasive or humiliating birth experience. She also serves on the Board of Consultants of the International Childbirth Education Association of the United States.


Findlen, Barbara. "Bold Type: Childbirth Is Powerful," in Ms. January 2, 1995.

Uglow, Jennifer, ed. The Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography, 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1989.