Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Reader 1

Piya Chatterjee

Reader 2

Mary Ann Davis

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© 2015 Gabriela M. Al-Shamma


Within this thesis I examine Western practices and conceptualizations of childbirth from three distinct angles, with the goal of better understanding how one can negotiate agency in contemporary childbirth. First, I outline the history of the medicalization of childbirth in the West, using a reference frame of the famous second wave feminist text, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Next, I conceptualize agency in the context of contemporary childbirth, first defining the ‘agency’ that I am working with, and then outlining some of the factors that play into the negotiation of agency in one’s childbirth; some of these factors include race, class, location, and information provided about specific medical and physical procedures. Finally, I destabilize the hegemonic Western understanding of labor and birth pain by situating pain as culturally constructed and contextually specific. I provide a few examples of ways in which we can reconceptualize pain in a way that situates it as a unique experience for each individual. The end goal of this thesis is to contextualize current childbirth practices within a specific history of medicalization, and to illustrate the complex nature of agency, but the importance of it to a childbirth in which the mother feels as safe and supported as possible.

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