Complicating the Generational Disconnect: Pregnant Women, Grandmothers-to-be, and Medicalization

Reproduction, Health, and Medicine

ISBN: 978-1-78756-172-4, eISBN: 978-1-78756-171-7

ISSN: 1057-6290

Publication date: 22 November 2019


Popular self-help pregnancy literature suggests a “generational disconnect” between pregnant women and their mothers, emphasizing the incommensurate experiences of the two generations. Based on longitudinal, in-depth interviews with a diverse group of 64 pregnant women and 23 grandmothers-to-be, this chapter explores how different generations of women negotiate the idea of a disconnect and its implications for the medicalization of pregnancy. My findings showed limited support for the generational disconnect. Nearly all of the pregnant women I interviewed who were in contact with their mothers consulted them to assess issues related to pregnancy embodiment. Black and Latina women and white women with less than a college degree disregarded or even rejected the disconnect; they tended to frame their mothers’ advice as relevant. Their mothers attended prenatal care appointments and frequently expressed skepticism about medical directives. By contrast, I found that highly educated white women tended to endorse the generational disconnect when it came to matters related to pregnancy health behaviors – what to eat, how much to exercise – and their obstetric care. The mothers of these women not only largely supported the generational disconnect, but also bonded with their daughter over a shared appreciation for scientific understandings of pregnancy. Foregrounding women’s perspectives provides insights into meaning-making in pregnancy and the ways that mothers of pregnant women can both stymie and deepen medicalization of childbearing.




For their feedback on previous drafts, I thank Ron Lembo, Erynn Casanova, Sarah Mayorga-Gallo, Rina V. Williams, Rebecca Sanders, Katrina Kimport, Maralyn Doering, and the Five College Reproductive Politics Group. A related analysis of pregnancy books was presented at a regular session of the American Sociological Association 2004 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. Data collection was supported by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant (SES-0402165) and the Dr Mary P. Dole Medical Fellowship, sponsored by the Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Association.


Bessett, D. (2019), "Complicating the Generational Disconnect: Pregnant Women, Grandmothers-to-be, and Medicalization", Reproduction, Health, and Medicine (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 129-151.

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