Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Second Edition, by Robbie E. Davis-Floyd has been hyped as feminist propaganda and an eye opening must read for childbearing women. This book was first published in 1992 with the second edition following in 2004. Outside of the preface to the new edition, the book was not changed or updated. This is much to its downfall.
Davis-Floyd is an anthropologist whose life work surrounds human childbirth. She views our current system of childbirth as technology driven, under a technocratic and paternalistic model. She analyzes the need for societies and groups to have rites of passage, birth being one of these rites. She examines the history of childbirth through conceptual frameworks that changed through generations. The underlying theme in most of these frameworks is that women’s bodies are flawed. During the industrial revolution and scientific awakening, mankind began to view the body as machine. The ultimate machine is the male machine, and the female machine is the flawed or continuously faulty body. It is under this belief that drives current trends and medical approaches to childbirth.
Davis-Floyd interviewed many women during and after their pregnancies. She analyzed these interviews for underlying themes in how women view childbirth under the current medical paradigm. Surprisingly, the majority of the women wanted or at least accepted the medical approach to birth. Drat!
However, the question must be asked: is this because we are products of our culture? Are we as a society bred to believe that birth in a hospital with all the latest gadgets and procedures (of which many have no scientific evidence basis) is the best and only way? I’d say yes. How often do we hear the dogma of the medical approach to birth because it is inheritantly dangerous? Why are we ignoring the evidence that many of the dangers are technologically grounded?
Outside of this discussion, the author includes her interpretation of the medical and hospital procedures performed during childbirth starting from the wheelchair into the labor room. Because this book was originally published in 1992 many of the procedures discussed are out dated. It is still interesting to read why such things (enemas, shaves, ritual separation of mother and baby) occurred.
Because some out dated procedures remain in the book, many discredit this work as foolish drivel. I agree that the author should have updated her references and ritual analysis of hospital childbirth procedures. There certainly is enough evidence out there to continue to support her theories and analysis.
This book will not tell moms-to-be “what to expect”, but it may help in making informed choices. If you are looking for a book chock full of birth stories with benign messages, look elsewhere. There are birth stories in this book, which I found interesting, but will likely leave The Baby Story crowd unfulfilled.