The best books that explore the spirituality of pregnancy and birth

Why am I passionate about this?

I became a mother while a graduate student. Bombarded by societal expectations and advice on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, I quickly combined this life experience with my scholarly interests and wrote a dissertation on Christian women and childbirth. I later began to explore expressions of religion and spirituality outside of traditional religion – a topic that found expression in my book Sacred Pregnancy. I am a professor of American Studies and Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD and have a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have!


I wrote...

Sacred Pregnancy: Birth, Motherhood, and the Quest for Spiritual Community

By Ann W. Duncan,

Book cover of Sacred Pregnancy: Birth, Motherhood, and the Quest for Spiritual Community

What is my book about?

Sacred Pregnancy is part a retrospective on changing paradigms of and feminist discourse on motherhood, part sociological study of changing religious demographics and understandings of religious experience in the United States, and part exploration of the spiritual movements and spiritually guided reproductive health services that bring all these themes together.

Resting on the premise that motherhood in general and pregnancy specifically should not be brushed aside as beneath intellectual inquiry or as settled subjects, Ann Duncan explores a new form of religious community: a growing number of diverse movements that blend business with a spiritual approach to the reproductive health of women.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Birth as an American Rite of Passage

Ann W. Duncan Why did I love this book?

This book is a classic and essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of thinking and practicing of childbirth in the United States. 

More than that, it makes a compelling argument that birth should be seen as an American rite of passage. Through a history of the development of current norms and rituals of childbirth as a medicalized procedure and comparison of that paradigm to more holistic treatments of pregnancy and birth, Davis-Floyd opens the door to thoughtful and sustained attention to the support and options we provide birthing people moving forward.

By Robbie Davis-Floyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Birth as an American Rite of Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic book, first published in 1992 and again in 2003, has inspired three generations of childbearing people, birth activists and researchers, and birth practitioners-midwives, doulas, nurses, and obstetricians-to take a fresh look at the "standard procedures" that are routinely used to "manage" American childbirth. It was the first book to identify these non-evidence-based obstetric interventions as rituals that enact and transmit the core values of the American technocracy, thereby answering the pressing question of why these interventions continue to be performed despite all evidence to the contrary. This third edition brings together Davis-Floyd's insights into the intense ritualization of…


Book cover of Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America

Ann W. Duncan Why did I love this book?

Blessed Events started me on my journey to study birth and religious and spiritual meaning making.

In this book, Klassen uses an ethnographic approach to interview a wide spectrum of women who have chosen home birth and understand the act in religious terms. Placing these intimate portraits of women from a variety of religious and spiritual perspectives in the context of religious and medical theory and history, Klassen makes a strong case for birth as a site for religious and spiritual experience.

By Pamela E. Klassen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blessed Events as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blessed Events explores how women who give birth at home use religion to make sense of their births and in turn draw on their birthing experiences to bring meaning to their lives and families. Pamela Klassen introduces a surprisingly diverse group of women, in their own words, while also setting their birth stories within wider social, political, and economic contexts. In doing so, she emerges with a study that disrupts conventional views of both childbirth and religion by blurring assumed divisions between conservative and feminist women and by taking childbirth seriously as a religious act. Most American women who have…


Book cover of Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution

Ann W. Duncan Why did I love this book?

Though not directly engaging with religion and spirituality, this book by Adrienne Rich is a foundational text of third-wave feminism.

In this 1976 book, Rich discusses her own conflicted experience of motherhood as a window into the influence of patriarchy and politics on the institution of motherhood.

Seeing motherhood as a societal institution rather than just an identity, Rich uses her poet’s voice to describe how motherhood as an experience is always directly influenced by the societal pressures, norms, and expectations of the moment.

By Adrienne Rich,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Of Woman Born as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Of Woman Born, originally published in 1976, influential poet and feminist Adrienne Rich examines the patriarchic systems and political institutions that define motherhood. Exploring her own experience-as a woman, a poet, a feminist and a mother-she finds the act of mothering to be both determined by and distinct from the institution of motherhood as it is imposed on all women everywhere. A "powerful blend of research, theory, and self-reflection" (Sandra M. Gilbert, Paris Review), Of Woman Born revolutionised how women thought about motherhood and their own liberation. With a stirring new foreword from National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer…


Book cover of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Ann W. Duncan Why did I love this book?

My book and other books profiled here point to the potential of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood as an opportunity for ritual and meaning making and as lightning rods for societal expectations and norms.

In this powerful book, Roberts takes on the ways in which these opportunities are inequitably available in the United States. With maternal mortality among black women alarmingly high, this book demonstrates that the struggle for reproductive justice must be part and parcel of any rethinking of how we experience and support childbirth in the United States.

By Dorothy Roberts,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Killing the Black Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Killing the Black Body remains a rallying cry for education, awareness, and action on extending reproductive justice to all women. It is as crucial as ever, even two decades after its original publication.
 
"A must-read for all those who claim to care about racial and gender justice in America." —Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
 
In 1997, this groundbreaking book made a powerful entrance into the national conversation on race. In a media landscape dominated by racially biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, Killing the Black Body exposed America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies. From…


Book cover of Imagery, Ritual, and Birth: Ontology between the Sacred and the Secular

Ann W. Duncan Why did I love this book?

Hennessey’s book looks directly at how birthing people use specific objects, ritual, poetry, and other aspects of material culture to infuse experiences of birth with ritual and being.

She blends theory with specific and captivating examples to develop a social ontology of birth – in other words, a description of how meaning in birth is created through these objects. What emerges is a striking case for the potential of birth for ritual and meaning and the necessary interweaving of religion, nonreligion, and a sense of the sacred.

By Anna M. Hennessey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Imagery, Ritual, and Birth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every human being is born and has gone through a process of birth. Yet the topic of birth remains deeply underrepresented in the humanities, overshadowed by a scholarly focus on death. This book explores how imagery is used ritualistically in religious, secular, and nonreligious ways during birth, through analysis of a wide variety of art, iconography, poetry, and material culture. Objects central to the book's study include religious figurines, paintings about birth, and other items representative of pregnancy, crowning, or giving birth that have an historical or original meaning connected to religion. Contemporary artists are also creating new art in…


You might also like...

I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

Book cover of I Meant to Tell You

Fran Hawthorne Author Of I Meant to Tell You

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Museum guide Foreign language student Runner Community activist Former health-care journalist

Fran's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not a criminal, she stumbles into other secrets that will challenge what she thought she knew about her own family, her friend, Russ—and herself.

I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

What is this book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in childbirth, motherhood, and home birth?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about childbirth, motherhood, and home birth.

Childbirth Explore 30 books about childbirth
Motherhood Explore 47 books about motherhood
Home Birth Explore 8 books about home birth