Birthing in a Risk Society: A Qualitative Analysis of Pregnant and New Mothers' Experiences

Alli Janelle Puchlopek, University of New Hampshire, Durham


Social scientists have often debated the concepts of “choice” and “agency” in the context of childbirth in the United States, often critiquing dichotomous “natural” and “medicalized” models of birth for restricting mothers’ self-determination and authority to make informed decisions in vastly different ways. This study seeks to understand how a sample of 15 mothers mainly located in New England who plan to or already have given birth in a variety of ways or settings (e.g. at home, in a hospital, attended by a combination of midwives and obstetricians) make sense of planning for birth, discussing how they construct expectations and knowledge based upon interactions from everyday life. Findings show that mothers enjoy feeling empowered by culturally-constructed ideas about birth, but also face social judgment for individualized meanings of charged topics like risk and safety. Finally, this work discusses the process through which women make informed decisions about their own birth based on ideas formed through everyday interactions. This study’s findings hope to increase empirical perspective on the current culture of pregnancy, obstetrics, and midwifery in the United States while examining the discourse surrounding childbirth choices and motherhood within culture.