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Keywords:

  • maternal responsibilities;
  • anthropology of reproduction;
  • pregnancy;
  • ob-gyns;
  • Japanese Society

Abstract

This article explores the correlation between the social, cultural and political setting in which Japanese women gestate their babies and the kind of maternal responsibilities they are expected to exercise. By focusing on prenatal care, I look at ways in which Japanese gynaecologists formulate ideas about women's accountability for pregnancy outcomes and show how these ideas shape the practical strategies through which pregnancy is managed in medical institutions. While interrogating the perspectives these professionals bring into play, I am interested in the relationships between biomedicine, culture and the embodiment of women's roles. My findings reveal a broad range of physiological phenomena for which women are held accountable and a host of instructions they are expected to follow once they engage in prenatal care. Medical narratives render the pregnant body as the physical and mental environment that creates the foetus and highlights women's behaviour and health (rather than genes and chromosomes) as the major factors of foetal health. I show how the embodied mode of maternal responsibilities expected of women is mutually constituted by four interconnected realms of discourse and practice: the medical realm, cultural conceptions of self, national reproductive politics and the gendered division of labour.