Hannah Lane-Davies

Birth Work, Reproductive Justice, and Communities of Care

April 6, 2021   /  

Student Name: Hannah Lane-Davies
Majors: Anthropology, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Advisor: Dr. Christa Craven; Second reader: Dr. Tom Tierney

Caring for pregnant and postpartum families is a complex and multifaceted experience for birth workers, including midwives, obstetricians, doulas, and social workers, in the United States. Over the past 100 years, there has been a shift from giving birth primarily at home with the guidance of midwives to giving birth in hospitals under the supervision of obstetricians. This shift is situated in the political alliances between doctors and politicians, changes in technology, and larger social structures that dictate hierarchies across race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability. This project takes an ethnographic and historical approach to exploring how these hierarchies have influenced the formalization of support for birthing families over the past century. Through a series of nine interviews with birth workers in a diverse midwestern city, this project explores how contemporary birth workers—especially those who assist (and/or are themselves part of) historically marginalized or underserved groups—care for themselves. Ultimately, this study focuses on the ways birth workers navigate the intersections of their personal and professional commitments to Birth Justice during a pivotal moment in antiracist organizing and the stratified impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

Hannah will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

86 thoughts on “Birth Work, Reproductive Justice, and Communities of Care”

  1. So impressive, Hannah. Great job pivoting to make your topic respond to Covid. I’m already using your Audre Lorde and Grace Lee Boggs quotes!

    1. Thank you, Tobi! Audre Lorde and Grace Lee Boggs are both powerful voices for our contemporary moment.

  2. It has been such an honor to see you grow as a scholar and activist over your four years at Wooster, and especially to have the opportunity to work with you on bringing this project to completion! One of the things I’ve been most impressed by this year is how reflective and articulate you have been about the intersections between your own experiences with pandemic caregiving and those of the birth workers you interviewed. If you could offer advice to others whose caregiving roles have expanded during COVID, from your research and/or personal experience, what would it be?

    1. Thank you for your question (and your unwavering support and inspiration), Dr. Craven! I think advice related to caregiving can be challenging because everyone has different experiences and what works for some folks doesn’t work for others. However, both my research and my own life have shown that finding regular practices of care for oneself (activities like meditation, movement, journalling, going outside, and time to relax with loved ones) are essential and incredibly challenging for caregivers. When things feel chaotic and out of control, taking time to slow down and give to yourself what you give to others can feel downright impossible…and that’s where the social change part of my I.S. is relevant. I think we really need to prioritize understanding that sustainable care practices are not optional but required to mediate the intense impact of caregiving in a violent world. There is a lot of self care discourse that suggests caregivers should just “go take a bath” but that discourse doesn’t interrogate the systems of oppression that disproportionately impact caregivers who are women, trans folks, and people of color and lead to burn out–if you’re worried about your physical and emotional safety, getting food on the table, or paying for medical expenses care can mean getting those needs met (which is what I mean when I use the term “community care”). I also think asking for help, working on nurturing community, and being absolutely clear about what you need (and spending time considering what those needs really are) are powerful things for caregivers to do. One of my contributors explained to me that as a caregiver, she’s been practicing being honest about not always “being okay” and in this instance, as in many others, acknowledging the power of feeling your feelings can’t be underestimated–Audre Lorde definitely teaches us that.

  3. Thank you for sharing accessible insights about your research, Hannah. Your connection to your topic has always been apparent and it is so rewarding to see that passionate work come to fruition.

    1. Thank you for teaching me about care and leading by example to show me that it can be so challenging…particularly when it comes to giving that care back to yourself. It’s good work.

  4. Wonderful presentation, Hannah. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to read and discuss your incredibly thoughtful, caring, and timely thesis.

    1. Thank you Dr. Tierney! Our ongoing dialogues have been one of the best parts of this project (and my whole time at Wooster). Your support and your questions are invaluable. I love that this is just the beginning of many more conversations about care in our culture.

  5. Congrats, Hannah! This research is super interesting and very important and I’m glad that you were able to do it this year!

  6. What a beautiful force of intellect and gentle care you are. This is incredible work, and I am amazed by you!! Congrats my sweet friend,
    xoxo, Alex 🙂

    1. Thank you for these kind words, Alex! I am always inspired by the carefulness with which you approach the world–it’s so important.

    1. Thank you, Auntie Mable! Spending time with you and M has most definitely helped me further see the importance of care for others–and brings me so much joy. Thank you for cheering me on.

  7. Congratulations on an exceptional IS, Hannah! Your research has given me a much more dynamic and nuanced understanding of care work and care workers. As we start to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, what are the most important lessons we should take away from this past year in terms of supporting care workers?

    1. Hi Lynette! First of all, thank you again for all the care you’ve put into seeing this project through. I think we need to understand that as folks become vaccinated and larger social events and gatherings become possible, care and community are still needed. The pandemic has only magnified long-standing challenges and disparities related to childcare, parental mental health, and expectations related to parenting and they’re not just going to go away when people return to more in-person events. Moving forward, I want us to keep asking this question: how can we further acknowledge that care is essential to liberation and make the labor of care more sustainable within our society? I’m not sure I have the answers to that question but I do know that we have to acknowledge we need care–both for ourselves, our families, and the world.

  8. Congratulations!!! It has been such an honor to have you as a colleague and to write together!

    1. Hi Tessa! Thank you for being honest about my writing when I need it most and sitting me down to work on that very first WGSS paper almost four years ago 🙂

  9. Such inspiring work, Hannah! So proud of you and all the work that you’ve done. The world is better for having you in it. Congrats!

    1. Andrea!! Thank you for listening to me ramble about this project on our long walks and for being such a wonderful and supportive friend in my life. See you soon!

  10. Hannah, this is such an amazing I.S. project. Thank you for putting the time and work into this. Much love!!!

    1. Thank you, Stachal! I am so grateful to be your peer and your friend. Sending you so much love right back.

    1. Thank you Dr. Mamtora! I’ve definitely learned so much from this project and look forward to learning more!

  11. Hi Hannah! What a great and informative presentation about such an important topic! I’m so proud to see the culmination of all your hard work! Great job!

    1. Thank you, Lydia! And thank you for all the late night conversations in our room about how we might go about putting more care out into the world.

  12. What a well-thought-out and important I.S! The photographs are beautiful. Did you ever think about doing a visual methodology in undertaking your research or would that have greatly complicated HSRC approval?

    1. Hi Marloes! Thanks for your question and your kind words 🙂 As someone who loves photography, I spent a lot of time considering how to integrate some sort of photovoice, photoessay, or portrait series into my IS. I had initially planned to ask my contributors if they would engage in some sort of photography project with me and had HSRC approval to conduct a photovoice component. However, there are two main reasons my final project does not include a photography aspect. My interviews all ended up being virtual which meant there were major limitations on the possibility of doing a portrait or photo voice series with my contributors in-person. Additionally, my contributors were all fairly overwhelmed by the balancing act that is pandemic caregiving (both professionally and personally) and I decided it was best not to ask them to contribute any more time to my project than the interview. I was able to work with a Birth Justice organization at my field site briefly over the summer and took some photographs for them, but due to HSRC reasons I did not include those images in my IS. However, as you can see from my presentation, I’ve begun to gather a series of images that feature mothers and their children during the pandemic and I think they exemplify the dynamics of pandemic motherhood many of my contributors told me about in our interviews. Post-Wooster I plan to do a lot more photography (particularly of everyday life) and I hope that I can continue this series. Thanks again for your question and for being such a supportive anthro buddy 🙂

  13. Congratulations Hannah! This was such an amazing presentation! How have your thoughts or feelings regarding your own reproductive rights and/or plans for having children in the future been impacted after writing on this topic?

    1. Hi Willow! Thank you for your question. My thoughts and feelings related to my relationships with children and families and what that looks like for myself have absolutely been impacted by this project. Having children really requires a whole community of support and so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to intentionally and sustainably approach creating a community of caregiving in which children are raised by their own parents, but also aunties, uncles, grandparents, friends, and other community members–networks of care that very much exist in many cultures but that have been marginalized in the United States by emphasis on the white heterosexual two parent nuclear family that is a direct legacy of colonialism. There is a lot to think about related to queering what we understand as “family” and that’s something I will continue to explore both personally and in my own research and activism.

  14. Amazing work, Hannah! I really, really enjoyed your presentation and learning about your research. My only regret is not finding more opportunities to connect with you during your time at Wooster – not only are you an inspiring scholar, but all-around inspiring human!

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Krause! I feel the same way about you and I’d love to connect next time I’m back in Wooster! 🙂

  15. Hannah, I am endlessly impressed by the dedication and thoughtfulness you put into your research. It has been an honor to learn alongside you for the last four years!

  16. Hello Hannah, I am really impressed by the theoretical and political approach of your research and by the ethnographic approach of your IS. This is a unique research with a huge potential. Absolutely. I am looking forward to reading your future publications. Congratulations! I have one curiosity. Considering that your interviews took place in the Midwest, do you think religion –religious frameworks– could also produce hierarchies across race, gender, class, sexuality, and even ability?

    1. ¡Hola Profesor Medina! Si–pienso que religión es un aspecto importante cuando piensan sobre las identidades. En el Medio Oeste, la religión es una estructura muy frecuente en las vidas de muchas familias y las religiones tienen un impacto en el trabajo del las comadronas en este proyecto. ¡Muchas gracias para su pregunta!

  17. What an incredible project Hannah! I really like how you named the various systemic realities that intersect with reproductive justice; dynamics such as queerness, racism, classism and disability justice impact reproductive justice in immeasurable ways. So excited to see the amazing work you will continue to do post-Wooster 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ellie! It has been incredibly helpful to learn from your amazing soan/wgss IS last year and I’m grateful for the work you do. Much solidarity!

  18. Hannah,
    you have offered such an inspiring and truly beautiful research project informed deeply by love, care, and empathy. It has been a joy to have you in classes, talk with you in between those classes, and come to know you as someone who has bestowed your love and care to my own children. I am deeply moved by your project and how, through your research, you continue to move anthropological discourses and center Black Feminist scholarship, activism, and justice forward in such a careful and thoughtful way.
    Muchos abrazos,

    1. ONF–thank you for being the reason I see myself as someone who can be a social scientist and for all the love, care, and guidance you give to me. I am so grateful to have you in my corner and so glad I get the privilege of being in yours, too.

  19. This is an amazing presentation. I really enjoyed listening to a brief summary of your findings. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of your methodology? Thanks

    1. Hi Marissa! Thank you for your question. I really enjoyed the interview aspect of this project but I was definitely worried about connecting with contributors I had not met in person over digital platforms–but that ended up going much better than I anticipated and became easier the more interviews I conducted. My topic hold significant complexity and nuance related to framing and discussing identity and lived experience and one of the most challenging aspects of this project has been trying to navigate those topics during my interviews and analysis with care and self-awareness. Thanks again for your question!

  20. Congratulations, Hannah! You have always approached your work on motherhood and medical anthro with such nuance and care. Best of luck on the rest of the semester (and thank you for years of sociology and suffering with me!)

    1. Thank you, Lillie, for teaching me what care means in the face of friendship and being my hope for a future full of community.

  21. Hannah, it’s wonderful to see and hear about the results of this important feminist work that you’ve spent so long carefully thinking and working through. Congratulations! The photos are so lovely as well.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Thomas! This project has definitely grown since I first started it with you and I’m grateful for the feminist research skills you’ve helped me learn along the way.

  22. Congratulations, Hannah! Interesting research and wonderful use of photographs in your presentation.

  23. Congratulations, Hannah! Your photographs are so compelling. It is wonderful to see such intimacy captured during this pandemic. How has COVID changed your work/eye as a photographer?

    1. Thank you, Ryan! Photography initially felt like just another thing that I couldn’t do during COVID, but later in 2020 I was able to meet families outside for sessions and began to focus more on motherhood in my photography. A few of the images in my presentation are from the weeks I stayed with one of the families I babysit for and I began pulling out my camera to capture the really tender moments I was witnessing between the girls and their parents–and that experience taught me that I feel it’s really important to photograph the mundane and the smaller moments in everyday life. There can be a lot of artistic expression in capturing those memories. I think many of the photographs featured on my slides feel so intimate because of the close relationships I have with the subjects–there’s a comfortability and intimacy that comes with knowing someone well enough for them to let you photograph them in the quiet and tender experiences that make up so much of motherhood. In the coming months, exploring what it means to photograph every day life is something I’m very much looking forward to doing.

  24. Congrats Hannah, amazing work! All the best for your future, you’ll do great 😄

    1. Thank you so much, Eraj! I miss seeing you every week and can’t wait to learn about your IS when the time comes!

  25. Congratulations! Thank you for your work. I feel acknowledged, appreciated, and honored as a mother of three who chose to birth at home with the nurse midwife, Sandra D. Fields, who has lovingly cared for me for 36 years. Caring is powerful.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Deborah, and also for raising Ella whose conversations with me about parenting and care were deeply important to the origins of this project! Caring is powerful and I’m so glad you’ve had amazing midwifery care.

    1. Thank you, Mo, for learning about care with me and for being a scholar I will always look up to. Being your friend is one of the most joyful privileges of my whole life.

  26. A huge congratulations, Hannah! It has been amazing witnessing your awesomeness from afar since our Spanish class together (not to mention how honored I am that you were one of my first friends in the Wooster community). Everything about this work screams “critical and significant” and I can already see your dedication and leadership in this field carrying you far!

    1. Alice!! Thank you SO much for your supportive feedback. This project has been a big adventure and I’m so glad I did it. Can’t wait to see where your IS takes you–I’m sure it will be totally awesome.

  27. I appreciate the complexity of the project . I also really love how it has fueled your passion for the further investigation and restructuring of our communities to create a sustainable and positive change!

  28. Congratulations, Hannah, on an amazing project. You continue to inspire with your thoughtfulness and empathy. I’ve really missed seeing you around campus this semester!

    1. Thank you so much Dr. McConnell for all your support and for really encouraging me to pick a topic I felt passionately about. I miss our chats and hope to see you soon!

  29. Hannah, you continue to move and inspire me in all that you do, and wow, this project truly embodies the depth, curiosity, authentic care, and joy that you bring to every space you are in. As an aspiring doula, I am especially fascinated and inspired by your work.


    1. Hi Lia! Thank you so much! In true feminist form, I definitely found that this project blurred the lines between private and public and personal and political to show that the labor of care is undoubtably political (both for myself and my contributors). So much of me is in this project and so much of this project is now in me. Wishing you well!

  30. Stunningly important work! I love how you included photography as part of your praxis of care.

    1. Thank you Helis, for always being one of my (as Cameron Esposito puts it) “queeros” and teaching me from the very beginning of my wgss education that care for oneself and others is absolutely essential and revolutionary. I’m glad we’re still having these conversations four years later. 🙂 Rock on.

  31. This I.S focuses on a topic that needs more visibility, and you are doing a phenomenal job with all that you do daily.

  32. Congratulations on bringing this project together in such a thoughtful and compassionate way.
    I am proud of you always.

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