Anthropology and birth activism : what do we know?

Robbie Davis-Floyd

This article appears in the Anthropology News 46(5):37-38.

A few days ago, I attended a dinner for birth activists in Seattle. The 14 women (and one man) gathered there
held our glasses aloft as a doula (a woman trained to provide support to the laboring mother) made the last
toast—“for all the women who don’t know.” My reactions trembled on the existential brink. As both an anthropologist and a birth activist, I am trained to honor and respect women’s choices and the knowledge systems on which they base those choices, but also to deeply question the cultural conditioning underlying all “choice.” And in both roles, I heard just as deeply the pity in the doula’s voice, the regret, the sadness—this was not a toast of celebration made “to” these women, but rather one of longing, a hope “for” these women (who constitute over 90% of the American childbearing population) that they may come to “know”— to see the light and truth of what birth activists are sure they are missing — the deeply embodied, tremendously empowering experience of giving birth on one’s own, without the artificial aids of drugs and technologies.

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