Claire L. WendlandJun 29, 2022
Maternal Death from Six Angles
University of Chicago Press 2022
A close look at stories of maternal death in Malawi that considers their implications in the broader arena of medical knowledge.
By the early twenty-first century, about one woman in twelve could expect to die of a pregnancy or childbirth complication in Malawi. Specific deaths became object lessons. Explanatory stories circulated through hospitals and villages, proliferating among a range of practitioners: nurse-midwives, traditional birth attendants, doctors, epidemiologists, herbalists. Was biology to blame? Economic underdevelopment? Immoral behavior? Tradition? Were the dead themselves at fault?
In Partial Stories: Maternal Death from Six Angles (U Chicago Press, 2022), Claire L. Wendland considers these explanations for maternal death, showing how they reflect competing visions of the past and shared concerns about social change. Drawing on extended fieldwork, Wendland reveals how efforts to legitimate a single story as the authoritative version can render care more dangerous than it might otherwise be. Historical, biological, technological, ethical, statistical, and political perspectives on death usually circulate in different expert communities and different bodies of literature. Here, Wendland considers them together, illuminating dilemmas of maternity care in contexts of acute change, chronic scarcity, and endemic inequity within Malawi and beyond.
Rachel Pagones is an acupuncturist, educator, and author based in Cambridge, England. Her book, Acupuncture as Revolution: Suffering, Liberation, and Love (Brevis Press) was published in 2021.