Claiming Respectable American Motherhood: Homebirth Mothers, Medical Officials, and the State

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Abstract

Based on ethnographic research regarding public policy and grassroots organizing for midwifery in Virginia, this article explores how medical discourses around appropriate health care practices intersect with state discourses about what practices are considered “respectable” versus “pathological” for its citizens. In recent legislative debates about the legalization of direct-entry midwifery, medical officials have extended their criticism of midwifery and homebirth to mothers who resist state-sanctioned childbirth practices. This article examines how medical officials challenge the respectable mothering practices of homebirthers by linking them with women they deem pathological—child abusers, negligent mothers, and drug users—and placing them outside the cadre of “normal” American mothers who acknowledge the “logical” and “natural” superiority of biomedical childbirth practices. I also address homebirth mothers' responses, which assert that their political advocacy for midwives is a respectable mothering practice because they are responsible citizens who desire what they deem the best care for their children.

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