Paid Family Members? Doulas, Contradictions, and Politics Near Birth

A Talk by Dr. Andrea Ford, Medical Anthropologist and Research Fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self, and Society at the University of Edinburgh
Co-sponsored by the Program in the History of Science and Medicine at Yale

Talk Abstract
Since the professionalization of American midwifery in the 1990s, the phenomenon of non-medical birth attendants called doulas has taken off. Doulas exist as both an activist platform for birth reform, and a niche commodity for bespoke care. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in California during which I practiced as a doula, this talk elaborates how doula care in the contemporary US is a microcosm of contradictions that animate politics near birth, and more broadly. Doulas attempt to ameliorate multiple forms of reproductive stratification, from facilitating scientific literacy to fending off obstetric violence to moderating access to technology. They have been hailed as the “answer” to the abysmal maternal and infant mortality disparities in the US. Yet they also reproduce such stratification. On the one hand, doulas epitomize the privatization of health within the decades-long neoliberal transformation of public welfare. On the other, they represent grassroots pushback against an already-privatized, racist, classist, and ineffectual maternity system. The contradictions of professionalization are actively debated in doula communities, and the debate speaks to broader tensions in kinship, medical care, reproductive politics, and American society at large.

white woman with brown hair, smiling More about Dr. Ford
Dr. Andrea Ford is a medical and cultural anthropologist and Research Fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self, and Society at the University of Edinburgh. Her work on health and disease lies at the intersection of reproductive and environmental justice. She is also a birth doula and reproductive justice advocate, with a focus on publicly engaged scholarship. Her book manuscript, Near Birth: Embodied Futures in California, investigates the culture surrounding childbirth in the California Bay Area. It pays particular attention to the construction of legitimate knowledge, as well as popular and activist imaginaries of utopian/dystopian futures and embodied ecological concerns including environmental toxicity and the human microbiome. Currently she is starting new projects on endometriosis, period tracking, and menstrual health, with a particular interest in hormones. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2017.

May 10, 2021
12 pm EST, join via Zoom
Admission: Free, with registration
Registration: Register here

**Please note that we’re meeting at 12pm this week, not 6pm**

View the full spring schedule here.

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