Midwifery Good, Zealotry Not So Much

What Women Really Think
May 6 2011 11:23 AM

Midwifery Good, Zealotry Not So Much

American culture has produced many great things, from jazz to air sex competitions . But one thing I must criticize is that we have a strain of extremism in our culture that leads to widespread crankery.  Our cranks have gotten attention lately because of national kerfuffles over birth certificates and terrorism-related conspiracy theories, and now we have an even sadder example of what happens when people take their pet causes a step too far. Karen Carr of Baltimore has pleaded guilty to child endangerment and unlicensed medicine for performing a high-risk birth at home that led to the death of the baby.  Despite the ugliness of this situation, the diehards in the midwifery-uber-alles community won't back down .

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for midwifery and home births as an option.  Midwife proponents make a good case for low-risk births being performed with minimal interventions in environments that feel more like home than a medical setting.  Midwifery costs less than using a doctor, and cost-effectiveness isn't something we should turn our nose up at in these times of rising health care costs.

Advertisement

But in some corners of the home birth movement, a zealotry has set in.  Doctors have become demonized and the belief that women's bodies were "designed" for childbirth drifts into believing that because childbirth is "natural," it's not dangerous.  The ugly truth of the matter is that while childbirth is safe for many or even most, it's still very dangerous by most reasonable measures.  Extremists in the home birth movement remind me of anti-vaccination zealots; they paint a picture of "natural" medicine being superior to medical science without acknowledging the sky-high maternal and infant mortality rates of the era before medical science.  The result is what happened in Carr's situation, where a breech birth led to an infant stuck in the birth canal for 20 minutes, leading to the baby's death.

To be clear, the vast majority of midwives are moderates in this debate.  The woman who hired Carr only did so after other providers refused to do a home delivery of a high-risk pregnancy.  Again, I have no problem with most midwives or with trying to reduce medical interventions on low-risk births.  But as with the people who drift from being organic-food enthusiasts to anti-vaccination zealots, there is a danger of extremism eclipsing common sense.  And unfortunately in these cases, children are the ones who pay the price.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.