Date of Award

2018

First Advisor

Francisca Oyogoa

Second Advisor

David Myers

Abstract

This thesis contains both a literature review and a comparative analysis of how historical vs. contemporary birthing practices in the United States have been affected by existing power dynamics. It is rooted in the understanding that U.S. healthcare system exists within a structure entrenched—since its inception—in misogyny, racism, classism, and various other inequities. Before the 19th century, childbirth was attended by midwives in homes. Formally-trained White male Physicians, who were only brought into homes during complicated births, eventually pushed childbirth into hospitals in the early 20th century. Until sulfa drugs (antimicrobial agents) were introduced in 1937, physicians’ increased operative medical interventions led to greater risk of infection and increased maternal mortality. Although such interventions (such as C-sections) are potentially life-saving, they have, in some cases, been made routine and risk becoming excessive. Black mothers, who faced greater risk in hospitals than did White mothers before sulfa drugs were available, continue to garner less benefits. With disproportionately high Black infant and maternal mortality rates compared to other racial groups, U.S. maternal healthcare may be under-medicalized for Black women while possibly being over-medicalized for most others—especially White mothers.

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