Catching Babies: The Politics of Midwifery in Documentary Birth Narratives
Martin, Mary Alice
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Culture is a salient factor in a woman’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Expectations of a hospital birth, continuous electronic fetal monitoring, epidurals, and ultrasounds (among other “normal” maternity care practices) are deeply tied to the American master narrative of childbirth. Midwifery practices in different spaces—home, birth center, and hospital—are interrupting the trajectory of medicalized childbirth. Today, the profession of midwifery involves many different groups of practitioners working toward a common goal of providing woman- centered care. Midwives believe in the innate ability of women’s bodies to give birth. They see birth as a safe, physiological process. They safely monitor their patients without pathologizing the process. I have focused on American documentaries about midwives and childbirth, looking specifically at how the history and culture of birth has been represented in different spaces from World War II to the present. How do they construct knowledge and authority within different birth spaces, and how does that affect the social statuses of the midwives, of the mothers? How do race and class and privilege operate in terms of access to care? And how are documentary films shaping the collective imagination of birth and midwifery in the United States?