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Teen Pregnancy and Doula Care: A Space for Feminist Praxis?

Sat, August 12, 8:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Level 5, 510D

Abstract

Sociology could pay fuller attention to the experience of teen pregnancy. Much of the extant work interrogates it as a social problem (Luker 1996; Murcott 1980; Bonell 2004), while a few studies consider institutional responses to young mothers via abstinence-only education (Fields 2008), public policy geared at pregnancy prevention (Rhode 1993), and formal obstetric care (Brubaker 2007). Though not representative of the majority, some pregnant teens access social service agencies that aim to increase their life chances. Some of these agencies have labour support programs that model a feminist critique of the medicalization of childbirth. Said programs pair pregnant teens with doulas—women who are starkly older and privileged by comparison; women whose feminist, if not activist, orientation leads them to prioritize women’s (over doctors’) agency during childbirth. How do pregnant teens respond to this alternate vision of maternity—to the doula’s insistence that the woman defines her birth experience and advocates to see it realized as much as possible? Do they embrace or reject, feel empowered or constrained, by such feminist praxis? To date, no sociological work has captured how young mothers experience this specific institutional response to pregnancy and childbirth. The response that is captured in the literature is that of financially-secure adult women—those who have the greatest means to and most often access doulas. Attending to this gap, I report on ethnographic fieldwork I am currently conducting with a Toronto-based social service agency that provides free labour support to teens.

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