‘Women still die? What did I get myself into?!’: A Survey of Contemporary Folk Beliefs Surrounding Pregnancy in North American Culture

This presentation will analyse present day folk beliefs surrounding fertility, experiences of being pregnant (including pregnancy cravings), and delivery in North American culture, drawing on in-depth interviews with roughly fifteen North American women who have been pregnant, covering a range of experiences in terms of age and stage of life during pregnancy. This paper will explore what interviewees had heard about pregnancy before getting pregnant, their experiences of being pregnant and giving birth, and what they had heard or believed about the meanings of these experiences based on both official health advice and informal friend and family networks. The presentation will explore three different areas of folk beliefs surrounding pregnancy: beliefs surrounding fertility, predicting the sex of the baby, and alleviating birth pains passed down from ancestors, folk ideas reflected in current popular culture about pregnant women’s bodies as out of control, and the beliefs and concerns about sifting through the vast and often contradictory range of advice available for pregnant people during this moment in time.


Sarah Shultz is an independent folklorist based in New York City. Her research and teaching interests include foodways and expressions of individual and group identity, culinary tourism, the folklore of pregnancy, the role of food traditions in the construction and contestation of white supremacy, personal experience narrative and expressions of gender identity, folk belief, and supernatural folklore. She received her MA in Folk Studies from Western Kentucky University and her PhD in Folklore from the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

Image title

Birth on the birth stool. Anonymous woodcut from the year 1513. From Rösslin: The swangeren women and midwives rose garden.

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Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

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24th Oct 2024 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

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