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Am I Pregnant? Technology, Self-management, and Power

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Exeter

Abstract

This paper, adapted from a dissertation chapter in progress, examines pregnancy determination in contemporary America from the perspective of its users, women themselves. The home pregnancy test, not unlike second wave liberal feminism’s self-help movement, promised liberation from the medical gaze. This research asks, to what extent did the home pregnancy test move the locus of power from doctors, and where did it move the power? In-depth reproductive life history interviews were conducted with 40 women and 36 men who all had one or more experiences with home pregnancy tests. Participants were asked in detail about their use of the tests from their childhoods until present, and their responses varied widely. The interviews resulted in well over 300 unique narratives of home pregnancy test use which were coded and analyzed for recurrent patterns. My research finds that the home pregnancy test provides a brief moment of freedom from doctors. However, in the diagnosis network, the home pregnancy test merely siphons off women who doctors have no interest in seeing, and many women continue to be medically managed. Additionally, women’s own management of their sexual and reproductive lives, rather than freeing women from shame and anxiety, reproduces it in new ways. These intimate narratives reveal women’s fraught relationship with their own self-management via their use of the home pregnancy test. By examining the intersection of technology and women’s bodies, this research contributes to core questions about the dynamics and distribution of power in social life.

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