Image shown: “Be with” Digital Image on Photorag.

Illuminating Childbirth: “Be with” Digital Image on Photorag.

Image shown: Artwork by Emma Finucane

Illuminating Childbirth: Artwork by Emma Finucane.

Image shown: Invitation to Participate - The Lab Gallery 2015. Photo credit: Emer O’Boyle.

Illuminating Childbirth: Invitation to Participate - The Lab Gallery 2015. Photo credit: Emer O’Boyle.


Illuminating Childbirth: Pelvis, Installation, Mermaid Arts Centre, by Emma Finucane. Photo credit: Emma Finucane.

Image shown: Detail from Response Room Installation

Illuminating Childbirth: Detail from Response Room Installation, Monoprints, Emma Finucane. Photo credit: Paul Tierney.

Emma Finucane. Photo credit: Paul Tierney.

Illuminating Childbirth: Exhibition, Installation, Mermaid Arts Centre. Photo credit: Paul Tierney.


The main participants in this project are women who have booked their maternity care with the community midwives from an urban maternity hospital in the Republic of Ireland.

The first artistic response to the exhibition of the initial research findings also involved a pregnancy yoga group, Mummy’s Tummy, based in Greystones and a County Wicklow based group of women who had given birth within the last 10 years.


This study aims to:
Illuminate the lived experiences of women who have recently given birth via a midwife-led model of care, highlighting what matters to women during childbirth.

To highlight women’s lived experiences of childbirth via visual artworks, art books, fine art prints and peer-reviewed academic publications.
To investigate what kinds of knowledge an artwork can produce.
To investigate the role of the artist in healthcare education.
To investigate if the artwork produced can be used in education practice.


The artworks have been developed through dialogue, process-based, participatory and collaborative practice with links to midwifery education, research and artistic practice.

The project was instigated by visual artist Emma Finucane and developed through conversations with Dr Maria Healy of Queen’s University in Belfast (previously Head of Midwifery in UCD). Dr Healy’s research interests include women’s experiences of intrapartum and postnatal midwifery care; enabling accessing to midwife-led care, promoting normal processes of birth and developing midwifery practice. The artist’s interest comes from personal experience of giving birth in Ireland in 2008 and 2010. Concerns raised from this experience have already been highlighted in Emma Finucane’s art practice. The community midwifery team were also involved in giving feedback during the development of the project.

The project was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the National Maternity Hospital.

Participants (pregnant women attending midwife-led services) were invited to take part in the research from both arts and healthcare settings. Posters were placed on noticeboards and printed invitations left with midwives for distribution within Antenatal Clinics. Digital images and invitations were installed in group exhibitions in both The Lab Gallery, Dublin 1 and Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, Co.Wicklow.

When a woman enquired about the project, a patient information leaflet and consent form were sent to them. Following informed consent, women were invited to participate in a one to one interview. Data collection was undertaken when the woman was between 2 to 12 weeks postpartum. The time period was selected to prevent possible loss of memory recall. Interviews were recorded and transcribed.

All illustrated findings of how the woman felt remain private until individual participants agree to the imagery or text being used in the art books. On completion of the research, all participants will receive an art print of choice from the book. All participants are also invited to submit their own drawings /  poems / prose about their birthing experience to be included in the art book.

On completion of the data collection, interpretative hermeneutic analysis will be utilized to highlight the commonalities or common themes. These will be depicted in an art form and a written interpretation developed for publication. In addition, individual analysis of each woman’s lived experience of childbirth will be represented in an artistic interpretation and, with permission, showcased in an art exhibition.

The art books will be created by Emma Finucane and only when approved by the participants, installed in QUB and UCD libraries for reference. The work will also be presented in exhibition format.

Artistic Outputs

2015: The Lab Gallery, Foley Street
Invitation to Participate, Installation of Invitations (‘free to take’), three monoprints, and a digital print of the poster installed in the satellite clinic.

2016: Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co.Wicklow
Invitation to Participate, Digital Image and Invitations (‘free to take’) Installed.

Nov 2017-Jan 2018: Mermaid Arts Centre
Exhibition: Response to the common themes arising.

June 2018: UCD Festival (June)
Response Room Installation

2019: Visual Art Books responding to the interviews will be installed in QUB and UCD

Evaluation Methodology

The project has incorporated on-going evaluation and a written report is due to be published by Autumn 2019.

Feedback has and will be collected from participants, health professionals, art professionals, nursing students and the general public. It will also incorporate published reviews e.g. CIRCA Art Magazine, artist reflective journal and academic evaluations.

Evaluation Outcomes

Published Evaluation to date:

Circa review of solo exhibition:


Having worked in our maternity service for over 30 years, I have listened to countless women describe their birth experience. Most couples will remember their entry to parenthood as the best time of their lives. Some women, on the other hand, tell us that their needs are not met by the current maternity services available in our hospitals. Listening to voices of women on the audio instillation was very powerful and I think young midwives and student midwives would benefit from hearing the birth stories. Giving young health professionals an opportunity to engage with Emma’s powerful work can broaden their perspectives of women who engage with the maternity services.’
– Director of Midwifery and Nursing

I was very moved by it, seeing such beautiful images of birth through Emma’s eyes and from the perspective of the pregnant women she worked with. It was also a very supportive and informative atmosphere for the new mums, a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips which is invaluable during pregnancy, especially their first. I recommended all my Pregnancy Clients in Yoga to see this exhibition, it was truly inspiring’.
– Mummy’s Tummy Yoga

I found the exhibition raw and full of layered meaning which reflects each woman’s own individual experience of birth. I enjoyed the mix of visual and audio as it made it very personable and as a midwife I think it reflects the privileged job that we have in being allowed to be apart of such a sacred journey…
– Community Midwife

I thought her exhibition was fantastic. As a midwife it was very interesting to see other people’s views . I thought it was very educational and thought provoking’.
– Community Midwife

Documentation and Dissemination

Since its inception, the development, outcomes and findings of this project have been presented widely.

Solo Exhibition Mermaid Arts Centre consisting of project documents, fine art prints, video and audio recordings (see images)

Artist Talks presented to:
Nursing, Midwifery and Fine Art students (NCAD & UCD)
General Public (Outpost Studios and Ormond Studios)

An international and interdisciplinary conference
Presented at Motherhood and creative practice: Maternal structures in creative work, London South Bank University, Center for Media and Culture Research and the School of Arts and Creative Industries.

ProCreate Project Archive included a Project PhotoZine, by Madeandpublished, housed in the Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths touring archive. Nottingham UK and NYC, USA – Annual Academic M.O.M. Conference, Manhattan College.

Academic outputs will be published in peer reviewed journals.

UCD Festival 2018: Response Room Installation – academic and general public audience.


Queen’s University Belfast; Domino Community Midwives, National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin 2; Parity Studios, UCD; Mermaid Arts Centre, Co. Wicklow

Date of Publication

April 2018

Project dates

Phase I: September 2014-December 2017

Phase II: May 2018 - May 2019

Funded By

UCD School of Nursing and Midwifery (Artist in Residence); Parity Studios, UCD (1 year studio space); Mermaid Arts Centre (exhibition).


Emma Finucane


Visual Arts

Healthcare context(s)

Maternity Hospitals, Primary Care/ Community Health, Training & Education

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory, Exhibition, Research, Residency


Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, South Dublin, Wicklow

Web link


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