Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
CenteringPregnancy (CP) is a facilitative, non-hierarchal group prenatal healthcare program, which challenges the traditional provider-patient model of prenatal care and its central tenet that women and their pregnant bodies need medical professionals’ surveillance and intervention. Research has shown that participants of CP have better birth outcomes than women seeking traditional prenatal care, especially in reducing the rates of preterm and low birthweight. This is of particular importance as the US, particularly the US South, has the worst birth outcomes of any industrialized nation (National Academy of Science 2013). However, why CP participants have better birth outcomes is unknown. Based on an ethnographic investigation of the lived experience of CenteringPregnancy in Durham, NC, I argue that by breaking down the traditional hierarchal divide of patient/provider, combined with a facilitative style rather than didactic, lecture style of health education, Centering increases the participants’ cultural health capital. That is, the “repertoire of cultural skills, verbal and nonverbal competencies, attitudes, and behaviors, and interactional styles can influence health care interactions at a given historical moment” (Shim 2010:2). Further, the structure of Centering also allows for the group to become a form of social support for women. The increasing cultural health capital makes women more likely to adopt practices associated with better birth outcomes, while the social support engendered by the group may act as a buffer to the intersectional stressors experienced by women in the South today. Both of these aspects may contribute to better birth outcomes. However, how a woman’s cultural health capital is enhanced, and how and when they benefit from the social support engendered by the group is shaped by the intersections of race and class. Further, the extent to which Centering is successful in combating health disparities in birth outcomes is limited by its assumption of an autonomous individual who is freely able to make healthcare decisions.