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Birth as an American Rite of Passage

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  273 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
Why do so many American women allow themselves to become enmeshed in the standardized routines of technocratic childbirth--routines that can be insensitive, unnecessary, and even unhealthy? Anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd first addressed these questions in the 1992 edition. Her new preface to this 2003 edition of a book that has been read, applauded, and loved by women a ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 424 pages
Published March 15th 2004 by University of California Press (first published October 5th 1992)
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Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone really interested in childbirth
Recommended to Marla by: required reading list for doula certification
Shelves: childbirth
I read this as part of my training to become certified as a birth doula. An anthropological study of the "routine" practices of obstetrics today, how they came into play, and why women tend to go along with the status quo even after negative experiences. The author goes into detail about commonly, and often routinely used obstetrical interventions, even though their efficacy has long been called into question. She analyzes how different kinds of women internalize the messages they receive from t ...more
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: birth junkies, anthropology nuts, feminists
Mindblowing. On my journey towards learning more of the truth about birth in America, one niggling issue for me has been "Why do women continue to put up with this?" This book answers that and more. It takes a bit of time to truly get engrossed in the anthropoligical symbolism Davis-Floyd applies but once you do, man, what she says makes sense. Another great read for anyone interested in how women birth is important to feminism. The book is very obviously slanted towards homebirth, and she talks ...more
Oct 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
this is a very important book. it may be a little heavy on the (anthropological) jargon for some people but it is worth it. it's an eye-opening study of the medicalization of birth in our culture and it's really interesting, upsetting, and informative. she includes many interviews with women who have birthed in hospitals and obstetricians describing their socialization/training/beliefs. i do believe that any woman giving birth owes it to herself to explore this issue. it is actually statisticall ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, but wait until you aren't pregnant to read it!
Recommended to Brandee by: Ancient Art Midwifery Institute
Robbie Davis-Floyd brings about a sharp beam of light into the world of American birth and the various ways our culture allows it. She is a midwife and a childbirth educator and started this book as a social science study. She interviews mothers, midwives and OB's in order to glean info on what birth is in a hospital setting, a home setting and birth centers. She talks about the enculturation of women as soon as they enter a hospital (starting with the wheelchair that they meet you at the door w ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting book, especially if you're at all interested in issues of birth and/or how the medical system instills and promotes certain values in our culture. Floyd-Davis argues that the way birth occurs in hospitals serves to "initiate" women not only into the role of being a mother but also of what it means to be a member of our society (specifically the need to accept such values as the dominance of science, the body as a "machine," and fear of the female body). She contrasts the techn ...more
Oct 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: midwifery, textbook
The underlying message regarding the "technocratic" system of birth in the United States is true and resonates today, but the majority of the author's references were from the 1980s and before and the author is verbose and belabours her points extensively. Much of the research used is outdated so the statistics are no longer valid and some of the medical interventions that were prevalent then are not frequently used now. However, birth as a ritual is absent in the American culture and it would b ...more
Brooklyn James
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The anthropological view of birth is truly fascinating! The rites and social/cultural impact discussed within are eye opening. A VBAC home-birther to our second child after a highly intervened upon and technocratic hospital birth, I found myself in Davis-Floyd's narration. This book should be required reading for any and all medical students inclined to serve pregnant and birthing women (i.e. obstetrics/gynecology—midwives, doctors; postpartum/labor & delivery—RNs, LVNs & PCTs). Doulas a ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baby-books
Textbook style book.
Read until to the Birth Messages chapter. Breaks down all of the hospitals standards practices, the medical "reasons" for them, and gives testimonials of women's reactions to the practices.
Also, the Obstetrics as a Rite of Passage chapter is great. Talks about the process of desensitizing med students in the first two years of med school so they are able to see each situation as a "case" rather than a "person".
Sep 18, 2010 added it
This was jaw-dropping on the first page. I had never read any lengthy anthropological works, and this book made an impact on me in a lot of ways. Its incredibly powerful thesis is well-supported within the book and easy to buy. I wish I could find something a) more recent or b) by another author on the same topic just to help give me some perspective. I say this because I have a giant crush on this book and I wish I could think of it more critically.
Easily one of my favorite books, and probably the book most influential on my research orientation for my master's work.

This book is a basic, anthropological exploration of the technocratic system in which women in America give birth. It looks at childbirth as a quintissential right of passage, and argues that technocratic births are designed to inculcate core American values (control, science.)
Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childbirth
I actually read the older version with the red and white, striped cover. I was taking Robbie Davis-Floyd's class in college. The experience was absolutely eye-opening. Although some of the information (in the older version) was outdated for the current birthing environment, it was still an excellent read. I assume the newer version has updated information.
Mar 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well-researched treatment of the topic, but circa 1993 (I think). A lot of the information is now quite dated, especially concerning the legal issues around birth. For a much more current (and very gripping) book on the same subject, try 'Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care' by Jennifer Block.
Aug 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting book about how birth has changed in the US over the past century and the pros/cons, mostly the cons. It has tons of sources and information but I thought it was a little boring and all the footnotes and parentheses broke up the reading.
Clearly shows how birth, particularly supporting natural/homebirth, should be part of a feminist agenda.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
this is a leftover from my college days - the author was a professor - and it was the first glimpse for me of a different way of viewing traditional hospital births.
Lillibet Moore
Jul 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
love this book, especially the more I read
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a super easy read, but very eye-opening. Robbie Davis-Floyd unpacks the rituals of pregnancy, birth and the culture of biomedicine.
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great subject matter, and interesting read, but very dry.
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