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Pushing for Midwives

Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement

Christa Craven
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Pushing for Midwives
    Book Description:

    With the increasing demand for midwives, activists are lobbying to loosen restrictions that deny legal access to homebirth options. InPushing for Midwives, Christa Craven presents a nuanced history of women's reproductive rights activism in the U.S. She also provides an examination of contemporary organizing strategies for reproductive rights in an era increasingly driven by "consumer rights."

    An historical and ethnographic case study of grassroots organizing,Pushing for Midwivesis an in-depth look at the strategies, successes, and challenges facing midwifery activists in Virginia. Craven examines how decades-old race and class prejudices against midwives continue to impact opposition to-as well as divisions within-women's contemporary legislative efforts for midwives. By placing the midwifery struggle within a broader reproductive rights context,Pushing for Midwivesencourages activists to reconsider how certain political strategies have the potential to divide women. This reflection is crucial in the wake of neoliberal political-economic shifts that have prioritized the rights of consumers over those of citizens-particularly if activists hope to maintain their commitment to expanding reproductive rights for all women.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0221-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Notes on Research and Activism
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    When I first began working with midwifery supporters in Virginia in 1999, I was already well steeped in the research of scholars studying reproduction who had become activists—including vocal proponents of the natural childbirth movement, such as Margaret Mead and Ashley Montagu, and later supporters of midwives, such as Brigitte Jordan, Sheila Kitzinger, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Robbie Davis-Floyd, among many others. Like many of these authors, I initially struggled with questions about how I would oscillate between my role as a feminist researcher, committed to the rigorous study of reproductive rights activism, and my role as an activist...

  5. Introduction Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement
    (pp. 1-23)

    In 2008, the Big Push for Midwives launched a nationally coordinated campaign to gain legal access to certified professional midwives (CPMs), a national certification for direct-entry midwives (DEMs) who are independent birthcare practitioners and the primary attendants of homebirth in the United States.¹ Organized primarily by homebirth mothers, the Big Push advocates “women[’s] right to choose their maternity care providers and birth settings.”² A second national effort aimed at gaining federal recognition of CPMs was spearheaded in 2009 by the Midwives and Mothers in Action (MAMA) Campaign, a collaborative effort by several professional organizations for midwives and “consumer” groups supporting...

  6. 1 Histories of Struggle Activism for Reproductive Healthcare since the 1800s
    (pp. 24-39)

    Although the concept of “reproductive rights” emerged in the context of feminist and civil rights activism in the 1960s and 1970s, struggles for access to reproductive healthcare have a much longer and complicated history. Not unlike the more recent activism for reproductive freedom—including access to midwives—these earlier struggles over healthcare reform, fertility control, twilight sleep, and the improvement of maternal healthcare are illustrative examples of the historical impact of stratified reproduction.¹ Although reproductive medicine has functioned as a key site of social control over all women’s bodies during the past two centuries,² the strategies of government and medical...

  7. 2 The Birth of Consumer Activism for Midwives From the Natural Childbirth Movement to Recent Legislative Efforts
    (pp. 40-60)

    As the natural childbirth movement gained popular support during the 1950s, it drew together a religiously and politically diverse array of women who had become dissatisfied with medically managed childbirth after labor and delivery care moved from the home to the hospital in the early 1900s. Despite the decline of the natural childbirth movement in the 1980s, many of the goals and resistant strategies of its proponents have endured, and midwifery and homebirth are now available in many U.S. communities. As explained in the Introduction, no “official” name has emerged for this contemporary movement, largely because struggles for access to...

  8. 3 Midwives in Virginia Educated, Eliminated, Criminalized, and Rediscovered
    (pp. 61-78)

    Although many scholars and activists have imagined a history of “sisters in struggle” for midwives over the past century, the poignant gap between predominately African American and immigrant women’s support of midwives in the early 1900s and the “rebirth” of struggle for new forms of midwifery among primarily white women in the late twentieth century demonstrate quite different social and political milieus for both midwives and their supporters. In addition, the shifting racial and socioeconomic backgrounds of midwives and homebirthers in the United States have also had significant impacts on the results of their efforts. The virtual elimination of African...

  9. 4 Mothers in the Legislature Claiming Respectable American Motherhood
    (pp. 79-96)

    Since medical licensing campaigns gained governmental support in the early 1900s, challenges and alternatives to the medical management of childbirth have fallen under the scrutiny and control of local and federal lawmakers.¹ Because professional licensure is handled at the state level in the United States, debates over the regulation of midwives have occurred in state legislatures throughout the nation since the early 1900s. Published accounts of these debates—both historically and during the past few decades—suggest that the assessment of “good” and “bad” midwives has been a primary concern in efforts to license midwives.² In the Virginia legislature, however,...

  10. 5 “I’m Not Really Politically Active, but…” Negotiating Political Identity and “Activist Mothering”
    (pp. 97-114)

    In light of medical and legislative efforts to discredit homebirth mothers, it comes as little surprise that many midwifery supporters in my study hesitated to identify themselves as overtly politically active in their struggle for midwives. Apprehension over the state’s response to an explicitly political identity was of particular concern for women from low-income backgrounds who shared fears of losing their children if government officials were to disapprove of their parenting or birthing choices. Many middle-class midwifery supporters responded differently to the damaging stereo types, however, by arguing that they were indeed respectable mothers, preciselybecausethey were active in...

  11. 6 Divisive Strategies Struggles for Reproductive Rights under Neoliberalism
    (pp. 115-138)

    As midwives became increasingly involved in legislative efforts to legalize their practice in Virginia, more and more of their supporters began to characterize their struggle as one for “consumer rights” within the legislature and grassroots organizing efforts. Although natural childbirth proponents had first adopted a consumer identity to advocate against medicalized childbirth in the 1960s and 1970s, contemporary homebirthers’ attempts to claimrightsas consumers stem from a much longer history of political and economic shifts toward neoliberalism in the United States—and throughout much of the world—a history that has prioritized consumer rights over citizens’ rights. It is...

  12. Epilogue: Beyond Consumer Rights An Update on Virginia and the Future of Reproductive Freedom for All Women
    (pp. 139-148)

    In 2008, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) renewed its public relations campaign to reiterate its long-standing opposition to homebirths. Shortly afterward, the American Medical Association (AMA) went a step further—it endorsed ACOG’s statement and vowed to develop model legislation to potentially outlaw all homebirths in the United States. In a smartly titled press release “Father Knows Best Meets Big Brother Is Watching”—reminiscent of Virginia homebirth mothers’ statements about their relationships with legislators and medical officials—representatives of the Big Push for Midwives launched a counterattack. Susan Jenkins, an attorney for legal strategy in the Big...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 149-180)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-200)
  15. Index
    (pp. 201-208)