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Research Mentor and Department
Dr. Carolyn Sargent
The concept of risk is pervasive in contemporary discussions of childbirth –both amongst professionals and consumers. While risk is often presented as an objective entity, in reality it is an elusive concept to define, particularly within the context of maternity care. Since the nineteenth century, obstetricians and midwives have conceptualized the risks of birth differently. This thesis examines how two groups of practitioners in Missouri, obstetricians (OBs) and certified professional midwives (CPMs), perceive risk in pregnancy and childbirth. By combining archival investigation techniques with original qualitative research, I hope to demonstrate that risk in maternity care is far from a static concept. Rather, analyzing risk perception requires looking beyond individual knowledge systems to examine who it is that holds authoritative knowledge and how that knowledge drives definitions of risks and cultural understandings of what risks are acceptable during pregnancy and birth and what are not. After describing the history of maternity care in the United States, reviewing the relevant literature related to birth and risk perception, and presenting a qualitative study on the differences in risk perception between OBs and CPMs in Missouri, I move on to discuss the implications that differences and similarities in risk perception may have on the future of maternity care in Missouri.