Reinscribing the Birthing Body: Homebirth as Ritual Performance


In this article, I examine the clinical practices engaged in by U.S. homebirth midwives and their clients from the beginning of pregnancy through to the immediate postpartum period, deconstructing them for their symbolic and ritual content. Using data collected from open-ended, semistructured interviews and intensive participant-observation, I describe the roles ritual plays in the construction, performance, and maintenance of birth at home as a transgressive rite of passage. As midwives ritually elaborate approaches to care to capitalize on their semiotic power to transmit a set of counterhegemonic values to participants, they are attempting, quite self-consciously, to peel away the fictions of medicalized birthing care. Their goal: to expose strong and capable women who “grow” and birth babies outside the regulatory and self-regulatory processes naturalized by modern, technocratic obstetrics. Homebirth practices are, thus, not simply evidence-based care strategies. They are intentionally manipulated rituals of technocratic subversion designed to reinscribe pregnant bodies and to reterritorialize childbirth spaces (home) and authorities (midwives and mothers).