Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rhetoric of Childbirth: The Trial of a California Midwife

In 2001 I was awarded a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis. My dissertation, The Rhetoric of Childbirth: The Trial of a California Midwife, examines the language used by medical experts in the 1997 trial of Abigail Odam, a San Diego midwife who was arrested and convicted of several felony counts of "Practicing Medicine Without a License" for childbirths she assisted with in private homes. 

I've just made the book available on the web as a pdf. You may download it for free from my storefront.

This is academic writing at its finest. Definitely not simple. Those of you reading this blog in other countries are probably not aware of the professional schism between physicians and midwives in the United States, typical of the larger divide between conventional Western medicine and traditional/alternative healers.

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Here is the Abstract:

How one characterizes pregnancy determines how the exigency of birth should be handled.  Should pregnancy be defined as a medical condition as obstetricians would claim, or is childbirth a natural, normal event rarely requiring medical intervention, as midwives would have it?  The testimonies of health care professionals who appeared as witnesses in the case of The People of the State of California v. Abigail Odam were analyzed using Kenneth Burke's dramatistic pentad in order to demonstrate the significant professional demarcation revealed by the discourse, clinical approach, and philosophical worldviews held by adherents of the medical model of birth and traditional midwifery.  Trial testimonies such as these make it possible to see how physicians and midwives describe physiological processes in markedly different ways--the result of differences in perspective arising from very different terministic screens.  The trial also provides a situated example of the state's alliance with conventional philosophy, science, and medicine, and how the lay midwives, who came to the trial as a culturally marginalized profession, were further hampered by the structural imposition of rules of evidence and discourse that tended to undermine their rhetorical style and non-scientific worldview while simultaneously privileging the discourse of physicians.


  1. Wow, I look forward to downloading a reading your dissertation as midwives and home birthing is a topic I finding interesting and like learning more about. I recently watched two very interesting documentaries Pregnant in America and The Business of Being Born. I was shocked to learn that the USA has the highest infant mortality rate of all industrialized nations! Plus the rapid rise in the last 40 years of c-sections.

    Thanks for making your dissertation available for free online!