Childbirth; Amish women’s health; Homebirth; Ethnography; Health sociology
In this article, I explore the connections between Amish gender socialization and Amish birth practices to suggest that an Amish construction of femininity shapes the ways that Amish women experience childbirth. This study is framed by Amish women’s health research and takes as a point of departure two observations often made about Amish childbirth practices: (1) medical research has found that Amish women have shorter labors than their non-Amish (English) counterparts, and (2) doctors, midwives, and birth attendants have argued that Amish women’s expression of pain during labor and delivery differs substantially from their English counterparts. I draw on my two years of ethnographic work on Amish midwifery and homebirth to argue that there is deep sociological richness in medical findings that often dismiss Amish life as merely culturally anomalous. I argue that Amish birth is shaped by the norms of Amish society, particularly those that govern gender. I conclude that many of the features of Amish birth that have so interested health researchers cannot be fully understood without a sociological investigation of Amish life, and plain Anabaptist scholarship seems well positioned to foreground the social and cultural features of Amish society that likely remain invisible to health researchers. Reciprocally, comparative health studies on the Amish may illuminate areas of inquiry that were previously understudied and offer new possibilities for future social and cultural research within plain Anabaptist studies.
I am grateful to the many Amish women who shared their homes, their lives, and their births with me and to Cory Anderson for his ongoing enthusiasm and support.
Jolly, Natalie. 2017. "Birthing New Kinships: The Cross-Pollinating Potential of Amish Health Research." Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 5(2):147-61.