Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Lawrence, Susan C.

Second Advisor

Raeburn, John

First Committee Member

Simmons, Tom

Second Committee Member

Lewin, Ellen

Third Committee Member

Prussing, Erica


Unassisted childbirth--giving birth at home without a midwife or physician present--emerged as a movement in mid-20th century North America. While only a small number of women choose to give birth unassisted, its significance extends far beyond its numbers. Unassisted birth illuminates trends in maternity care practices that drive, and sometimes force, women to choose unassisted birth. It also is part of a larger set of connected values and lifestyle choices, including home schooling, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, ecological awareness, cloth diapering, sustainable living, and alternative medicine. Finally, the emergence of UC as a conscious birth choice requires a re-examination of how we understand, frame, and interpret childbirth paradigms.

There is very little written about unassisted birth in the academic world, although media reports on the practice have become increasingly prevalent since 2007. This dissertation begins the conversation for a scholarly inquiry into unassisted birth. My research is based primarily on interviews, essay-response surveys, and archives of internet discussion groups. After setting unassisted birth in historical context, I explain why women make this choice; the knowledge sources they privilege; how they understand the concepts of safety, risk, and responsibility, and their complex and sometimes contradictory relationship with midwifery. I also examine midwifery, and to a smaller degree, obstetrical, perspectives on unassisted birth, focusing on how birth attendants who are sympathetic to UC reconcile that with their training and experience attending births.

Unassisted birth has changed the core questions we need to ask about birth. Instead of home or hospital?, natural or epidural?, or midwife or obstetrician?, questions asked by existing models of childbirth, unassisted birth poses a different set of core questions: Is birth disturbed or undisturbed? Is it social or intimate? managed or intuitive? attended or unattended?


childbirth, freebirth, homebirth, midwifery, pregnancy, unassisted birth


354 pages


Copyright 2008 Rixa Ann Spencer Freeze