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Pushing for MidwivesPushing for Midwives

Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement

Christa Craven

Narrated by Linda Velwest

Available from Audible

Book published by Temple University Press

With the increasing demand for midwives among U.S. women, reproductive rights activists are lobbying to loosen restrictions that deny legal access to homebirth options. In Pushing for Midwives, Christa Craven presents a nuanced history of women's reproductive rights activism in the U.S. She also provides an examination of contemporary organizing strategies for reproductive rights in an era increasingly driven by "consumer rights."

By framing the midwifery struggle through a political economic perspective on reproductive rights, Pushing for Midwives offers an in-depth look at the strategies, successes, and challenges facing midwifery activists in Virginia. Craven examines how decades-old race and class prejudices against midwives continue to impact opposition to—as well as divisions within—women’s contemporary legislative efforts for midwives. She argues that this recognition is vital for both scholars and activists if they hope to maintain their commitment to expanding reproductive rights for all women.

Christa Craven is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the College of Wooster.


“This excellent book accomplishes Craven’s dual goals of writing a history of women’s reproductive rights activism and describing contemporary ‘consumer rights’ strategies within the politics of the natural childbirth movement, which has failed to appropriately address race and class disparities. A must-read for anyone wanting to understand how to advocate more effectively for all women and the midwives women need to fully achieve their reproductive rights!”

—Robbie Davis-Floyd, author of Birth as an American Rite of Passage and co-editor of Mainstreaming Midwives: The Politics of Change

Pushing for Midwives shows how the resurgence of home birth is a local story crosscut by broader forces of race, class, and professional power. With impressive command of related scholarship and keen attention to the hazards and possibilities of living—and birthing—as ‘consumers’ under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism, Craven writes with a clarity that will appeal to a wide diversity of readers.”

—Pamela E. Klassen, University of Toronto, author of Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America and Pathologies of Modernity: Medicine, Healing, and the Spirits of Protestantism

“Craven makes a convincing case for her claim that a continued commitment to expanding reproductive justice is dependent on finding ways to see, and then to ameliorate, the race and class prejudices that lurk, thinly veiled, below the surface of the push for midwives. The most important contribution of this book is the author’s sophisticated and nuanced historical discussion of factors that have shaped struggles over reproductive healthcare in the Unites States.”

American Journal of Sociology

“In her beautifully rendered study of midwifery in Virginia, Craven shows how the rhetoric of ‘consumer choice’—a shibboleth of those promoting reproductive rights for women—excludes large segments of the childbearing population. In the best tradition of anthropology, she unpacks an irony, illustrating how our social and economic environment can simultaneously celebrate and constrain women's choices. Great stuff.”

—Raymond De Vries, Professor, Bioethics/Sociology/Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan and author of A Pleasing Birth: Midwifery and Maternity Care in the Netherlands

“The author's nuanced and well-written participant-observation is set against the backdrop of wider reproductive rights concerns and neoliberal economic policies.... Craven persuasively argues that it is only 'through a commitment to justice—not merely individual rights—that access to midwives and other reproductive options will become a reality for all women.' For scholars and students in women's studies, health sciences, sociology of medicine, and public policy. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


“A great example of feminist ethnography. [Craven's] open discussion of balancing her own personal commitment to homebirth activism with her academic interest in midwifery is a useful model for other feminist scholars. Craven’s ethnography gives an insight into the lives of homebirth activists in Virginia, where there still remains substantially less written about the experiences and voices of low-income women. She is successful in creating a text which is accessible to many audiences, including homebirth and reproductive rights activists, scholars, and students....Pushing for Midwives provides a thoughtful critique of how the ideology of consumer rights is impacting homebirth activism.”

—Association for Feminist Anthropology

Pushing for Midwives is a fascinating, richly analytical ethnography. Craven shows how class, especially, continues to create profoundly different orientations to reproductive politics, ‘respectability’, consumerism, consumers' rights, activism, and power. Pushing for Midwives provides a wonderful array of voices to help us consider the challenges of organizing for adequate reproductive health care today.”

—Rickie Solinger, author of Pregnancy and Power and Beggars and Choosers

“Christa Craven has set out to provide a rich history of women’s reproductive healthcare activism in the United States, and to explore current strategies employed in organizing for reproductive rights—access to midwifery care central amongst them....[Her] book offers a detailed historical analysis of the reproductive rights movement in the United States.... Craven does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of the multiple 'histories' of midwifery.... Craven’s book makes an important contribution to critical analyses of the growth of midwifery in the United States—embedding a strong analysis of social class into reflections of the politics of making change.”

American Ethnologist

Pushing for Midwives is a detailed account of the divisions in women’s health movements. In particular, Craven’s review of the history of women’s health movements and activism is very well written.... Craven provides an interesting discussion on feminist ethnography and the insider/outsider question.”

Gender & Society

Pushing for Midwives might be used as a template of feminist-activist scholarship for those desiring to produce it in the future.... [A] taut, accessibly written, close study of a movement.... Craven accomplishes what she set out to do, which was to write a nuanced, historically informed, possibly prescriptive ethnography of a complex social and political movement.”

American Anthropologist

“Women’s health activists and midwifery advocates will likely find a lot of food for thought in the pages of Pushing for Midwives.

Talk Birth

“This book offers valuable insight for research activists and scholars by adding to literature that seeks to understand how even good intentions can ultimately harm advocacy movements in the long run. For the feminist scholar, this book indicates that the current framing of reproductive rights under a consumer model serves to disenfranchise specific groups of women, whether intentionally or not. For students, Craven’s book highlights a movement that is not strictly a religious or political issue. There are members who are pro-life, pro-choice, Republican, and Democrat and are able to work together toward a shared goal. Her writing is clear, her examples are thoroughly detailed, and her ideas would serve to stimulate students at a variety of academic levels.... Craven makes a compelling argument for reframing the reproductive rights movement specifically and details a troubling historical pattern of socioeconomic-based rhetorical tactics. More broadly, she offers a cautionary lens through which to analyze the vocabulary and tactics in activist rhetoric that potentially serve to silence those they claim to help.”

Women's Studies in Communication

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