IN LABOR: Women and Power in the Birthplace by Barbara Katz Rothman
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IN LABOR: Women and Power in the Birthplace

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A striking, undoctrinaire exploration of obstetrical care--set out as a comparison between the medical model and the midwifery model. Rothman, a sociologist (Baruch College, CUNY), had both of her children at home out of concern for her own and her babies' health. In the course of her research and preparation, she saw that ""two fundamentally different models were being used"" in caring for pregnant women. Her ""medical model,"" arising out of a male profession in a patriarchal society, reflects ""a man's-eye view of women's bodies,"" as well as the technology of an industrial society. If that society sees the male body as a norm, argues Rothman, then there can be no norm for pregnancy; the fetus-mother relationship is thus describable as parasite and host: two separate beings whose needs conflict. The way is clear, then, for all sorts of ""medical management"" aimed at keeping a woman as ""normal"" as possible throughout the ""stress"" of pregnancy--even though, says Rothman, she may be the way she is physiologically supposed to be as a pregnant woman. What Rothman calls the nondeveloping ""midwifery model"" arises, on the other hand, from a woman-centered ideology in which childbirth is a normal and healthy activity, and fetus-and-mother are initially one and not in conflict. In the medical model, therefore, the woman presents herself as needing medical services; in the midwifery model, she has birth attendants--but she gives birth. Rothman reviews the history and politics of maternity care, and examines each step from pregnancy until after birth from the viewpoint of each model. She also notes that some consumer movements (Lamaze, LeBoyer, ""prepared childbirth"") have become hospital-oriented, and teach women to expect and accept medical intervention. (The LaLeche League, however, has managed to remain womancentered.) For women to be in control, Rothman believes, and be able to give birth (rather than be delivered), they must be at home. (Midwives delivering in hospitals necessarily fall into the medical model.) Moderate in tone, cutting across traditionalist and feminist lines, Rothman's text complements the books on home birth (like Alice Gilgoff's fine 1978 book of that title) and provides an alternative to exposÉpreachments (like Diana Scully's 1980 Men Who Control Women's Health). Without hyperbole, she shows us how firmly the medical model has gripped us all.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1982
Publisher: Norton