Despite the widespread availability of free antenatal care services, most women in rural South Africa attend their first antenatal clinic late in pregnancy and fail to return for any followup care, potentially leading to avoidable perinatal and maternal complications. Using interviews with pregnant women from the rural Hlabisa district of South Africa, we documented perceptions of health and health care during pregnancy and investigated factors shaping the utilization of antenatal care. Our findings indicate that most women in this setting do not perceive significant health threats during pregnancy, and in turn view more than one antenatal care visit as unnecessary. In contrast, women perceive labour and delivery as a time of significant health risks that require biomedical attention, and most women prefer to give birth in a health facility. This paradox, in which health care is important for childbirth but not during pregnancy, is embodied in most women's primary reason for seeking antenatal care in this setting: to receive an antenatal attendance card that is required to deliver at a health facility. Health education programs promoting antenatal care are required to explain the importance of effective antenatal care toward maternal and child health.