Doctoral Research

A qualitative study of embodiment among women with physical disabilities during the perinatal period and early motherhood

Although pregnancy, labour, birth, and motherhood have health and identity implications for all women, perinatal health research focuses primarily on the care experiences and outcomes of non-disabled women. Likewise, non-disabled women dominate popular and feminist discourses of the body, femininity, pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

In short, the purpose of this study is to better understand how women with physical disabilities experience the perinatal period and early motherhood, with an emphasis on embodiment (1) and care experiences.

Community Report now available!! Here you will find a copy of the report I created highlighting some of the findings from my study as well as recommendations to better support pregnant and parenting women with physical disabilities.

First published paper based on my study findings, specifically focused on barriers to perinatal care.

Click here for study updates 31-40

Click here for study updates 21-30

Click here for study updates 11-20

Click here for study updates 1-10

Beyond providing a greater theoretical understanding of embodiment among women with physical disabilities and what the process of becoming a mother means to them, this research is pertinent considering the context of disability in our world today, including efforts by the United Nations and others to recognize the health rights of disabled people, as well as the growing disabled population, of which women represent more than half. While equivalent data is not available in Canada, recent American data indicate that women with physical disabilities become pregnant at similar rates to non-disabled women (Iezzoni et al., 2013; Horner-Johnson et al., 2016). Despite the growing number of women with physical disabilities becoming mothers, women with physical disabilities encounter numerous barriers to perinatal care (Signore et al., 2011; Tarasoff, 2015). Most commonly, they report encountering physically inaccessible care settings, negative attitudes, and a lack of knowledge about the interaction of pregnancy and disability among perinatal care providers.

It is my hope that this research will be used to help perinatal care providers and others to better understand women with physical disabilities’ experiences and in turn to improve perinatal care experiences and outcomes for this marginalized population. This research study also serves as forum for women with physical disabilities to share their stories – stories that often go unheard – and to celebrate women with physical disabilities’ resilience, creativity, and joy during the perinatal period and as mothers.

For this study, I am interviewing women with physical disabilities in Ontario, Canada who have given birth in the last 5 years with a range of experiences and identities, including diverse sexual orientations, racial and ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, and family structures.

Update: Data collection officially ended in November 2015. Data analysis is now underway. Stay tuned for study results!

Contact me at or 416-535-8501 ext. 30589 for more information about the study.


1) Embodiment refers to “individuals’ interactions with their bodies and through their bodies with the world around them” (Davis, 1997, p. 9). I understand embodiment to be relational.

For more information about this research study, including the literature and theories that inform this work, please contact me or visit my Resources page.


This research study is supported by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto (Open Fellowship and Doctoral Completion Award), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Doctoral Fellowship, 2014-2016), and a CIHR-STIHR Fellowship in Health Care, Technology, and Place (2014-2015). Knowledge Translation activities (community report, conference presentations) are supported by the CIHR-ISC IGH Gender, Sex and Health KT Supplement (2015-2017).

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