Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Spring 5-7-2013

Major Department or Program



Jason Pribilsky; Nicholas Bader


American birthing culture commonly presents two primary birth options to an expectant mother, either a natural birth or a medical birth. However, ethnographic research among women in Walla Walla, Washington shows that most women do not adhere to this dichotomy of natural vs. medical birth. Instead many women see their births falling into a unique, grey area which is neither wholly “natural” nor “medical.” This refusal by Walla Walla women to categorize their own births as “natural” or “medical” is further complicated by the fact that the definition of “natural” childbirth is heavily contested among these mothers. Beyond the challenge of lacking a standard definition, “natural” childbirth poses great problems in the maternal community because of the positive value given to this idealized birth experience and denied to others. The value of “natural” childbirth is illuminated by the application of sports metaphors to describe childbirth and the positive feedback “natural” birthers receive from their community. Unfortunately, for mothers whose births are not classified as “natural” births, this de-valuing of their birth experience may lead to social isolation between these mothers and the greater maternal community. This thesis unravels the complex, and often problematic, effects of the term “natural” childbirth among Walla Walla women by spotlighting their voices in an ethnographic narrative.

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Subject Headings

Childbirth -- Terminology, Childbirth -- United States -- Statistics, Birth attendants -- Midwives, Hospitals -- Birth, Mothers -- Birth -- Natural, Walla Walla (Wash.) -- Women -- Childbirth, Birth attendants -- Obstetricians, Childbirth -- Medicalization, Categorization (Psychology) -- Case Studies, Delivery -- Methods, Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2013 -- Anthropology Department

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Public Accessible Thesis

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