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The sacred dimensions of pregnancy and birth


This paper is an exploratory study of the ways pregnant women in American society are elevated to a sacred status and symbolically marked as moving through a rite of passage. Utilizing insights of Emile Durkheim, Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and Arnold Van Gennep, it analyzes interviews with four women pregnant six to seven months and two women who had recently given birth. The analysis underscores how changes in the ways these women were treated by others, and changes in their dietary and hygienic habits, acted to place them in a special social category. The paper suggests that further research is needed into the roots of these sacralizing behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. The conclusion emphasizes the importance of this frame of analysis in expanding our understanding of many of the burning social dilemmas currently revolving around the event of pregnancy.

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Dedicated to the memory of Howard Balin, M.D.

I want to thank Harold Bershady, Charles Bosk, Renee Fox, and Adam Weisberger for their contributions to my thinking on this subject and their help and advice in the writing of this paper.

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Balin, J. The sacred dimensions of pregnancy and birth. Qual Sociol 11, 275–301 (1988).

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  • Pregnant Woman
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Issue
  • Exploratory Study
  • Cross Cultural Psychology