Homebirth as systems-challenging praxis: knowledge, power, and intimacy in the birthplace

Qual Health Res. 2008 Feb;18(2):254-67. doi: 10.1177/1049732307312393.


In this article, I examine the processes and motivations involved when women in the United States choose to circumvent the dominant obstetric care paradigm by delivering at home with a group of care providers called direct-entry midwives. Using grounded theory, participant observation, and open-ended, semistructured interviewing, I collected and analyzed homebirth narratives from a theoretical sample of women (n = 50) in two research locales. Findings interpreted from the perspective of critical medical anthropology suggest that women who choose to birth at home negotiate fears associated with the "just in case something bad happens" argument that forms the foundation for hospital birth rationales through complex individual and social processes. These involve challenging established forms of authoritative knowledge, valuing alternative and more embodied or intuitive ways of knowing, and knowledge sharing through the informed consent process. Adherence to subjugated discourses combined with lived experiences of personal power and the cultivation of intimacy in the birthplace fuel homebirth not only as a minority social movement, but also as a form of systems-challenging praxis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Home Childbirth / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Midwifery*
  • Northwestern United States
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Pregnancy