Women, Power, and Childbirth: A Case Study of a Free-Standing Birth Center

By Josephson, Jyl | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Women, Power, and Childbirth: A Case Study of a Free-Standing Birth Center


Josephson, Jyl, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


TURKEL, Kathleen Doherty, WOMEN, POWER, AND CHILDBIRTH: A Case Study of a Free-Standing Birth Center. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey (an imprint of Greenwood Publishing Group), 1995, 184 pp., $52.95 hardcover.

This book is both, as its subtitle indicates, a case study of a particular birth center, as well as a more general discussion of women-centered critiques of the medical model of childbirth and of the control of childbirth by medical professionals. The book discusses the feminist critique of the control of the birthing process by physicians as well as critiques of the technocratic model of childbirth. Turkel clearly articulates the importance of the social power of physicians in shaping our understanding of birth. She agrees with previous feminist authors who have argued that the increasing medicalization of birth in the twentieth century, and the concurrent transformation of birth from being seen as a natural process to being viewed as an unnatural process requiring control by physicians has resulted in the marginalization and disempowerment of birthgiving women.

The first five chapters lay the groundwork for the case study by offering a critique of medical models of childbirth, and positing midwifery as a more desirable approach. The author sees what she terms "technocratic perspectives" (p. 13) as ideologically driven, and draws on general critiques of science and technology by Foucault, Habermas, and Marcuse, as well as specifically feminist critiques of medicalized birth by Rothman, Jordan, Martin, and Ehrenreich and English, among others. Turkel points out that the medical model does not always fulfill its own promises: some technologies intended to reduce the risks of childbirth actually introduce more risks to both mother and fetus/infant. The principal problem with the medicalization of childbirth, however, is that it objectifies and disempowers the woman giving birth.

By contrast, midwifery places the birth-giving mother at the center of the birthing process. Midwifery views birth as a natural process in which intervention should be minimized where possible, with a focus on preventive care, empowering women to control their own process of pregnancy and birth, and providing support to birthing women and their families. …

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