Childbirth in Santiago de Chile: Stratification, Intervention, and Child Centeredness


On the basis of ethnographic work with women from different economic and educational backgrounds in Santiago, I describe the experiences of labor and birth from the point of view of women’s priorities, socioeconomic constraints, and relationships with the medical system. I specifically focus on their desires expressed during the late prenatal period and their narratives of the actual birth. Class and the differences in opportunities resulting from educational and class inequalities melt down into near invisibility as vulnerability rises and women become increasingly subjected to medical decision making. The long-standing Chilean focus on child centeredness, while shown to benefit bonding, can work to obliterate women’s own desires and choices by encouraging them to “sacrifice their all” for the sake of the baby. This kind of sacrifice defines the meaning of the maternal body in Chile. I suggest further analysis of these factors is essential for an understanding of the hypermedicalized Chilean context.

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