The experience of childbirth is one of the most corporeal of the human condition. Against a backdrop of profound change in the milieu of birthing over the past 30 years, especially in the developed world, a number of discourses now compete for the status of the safest, most fulfilling birth experience. Supporters of biomedical and ‘natural’ approaches make their respective claims to those, with obstetricians broadly aligning their professional interests with the former and midwives with the latter. There is mounting evidence that childbearing women’s experiences of birth are often shaped in the uneasy space between the two. Within sociological discourse in health, embodiment is a dominant theme but, to date, research has concentrated mainly on new reproductive technologies, and there is a dearth of recent research and theorising around the act of parturition itself. This paper argues that because of this, there has been a polarising tendency in current discourses which is having a largely negative impact on women, professionals and the maternity services. A call is made for an integration of traditional childbirth embodiment theories, mediated through compassionate, relationally focused maternity care, especially when labour complications develop.