Birth junkies

road to recovery
What is a birth junkie and why is she obsessed with other women’s births?

Many if not most homebirth midwives, doulas and, sanctimommies are quick to tell everyone that they are “birth junkies.” They consider it a boast, but in reality, it is evidence of serious shortcomings.

Kathy at Woman to Woman Childbirth Education explained proudly that a birth junkie has “an infatuation bordering on addiction (if not actually there) for birth and all things related to it.” She continues:

You might be a Birth Junkie …

  • if when you’re discussing something related to birth, you receive those polite but puzzled looks… right before your conversation partner moves away …
  • if you have birth-related artwork somewhere in your house (includes placenta pictures and belly casts, etc.)
  • if you currently have or ever did have a placenta in your freezer
  • if you have ever consumed placenta …
  • if you’ve ever gone to the bookstore and hidden “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (or some other similar non birth-junkie book) and replaced it with some pro natural-birth book …
  • if someone tells you she “had to have” a particular intervention and you can come up with several alternatives that were never mentioned to her …
  • if someone tells you her baby is breech and you give her names (bonus points if you know phone numbers) of chiropractors skilled in the Webster technique or people who can perform moxibustion
  • if you encourage your children, especially young children, to watch birth videos …

That’s not even the complete list. It’s less than half, but it highlights the serious problems with the concept.

1. Being a birth junkie (like being a Sanctimommy) involves butting into other women’s lives inappropriately. Birth junkies relish demeaning other women; she insists (without any evidence, of course) that any interventions another woman had were unnecessary, and any that she might be contemplating, such as C-section for breech, are unnecessary, too. As a special touch, they cheerfully recommend idiocy. Moxibustion for breech (I am not making this up) involves burning a small bundle of leaves at the tip of the 5th toe; this is supposed to cause the baby to turn to the head down position.

2. Birth junkies fetishize certain aspects of the birth process, and the weirder the fetish, the better. As Kathy makes clear, birth junkies fetishize the placenta. That includes making ink prints of it, keeping it indefinitely, and, or course, eating it.

3. Birth junkies insist on foisting their obsession inappropriately on others. They bore and offend other adults, and they insist that their children “especially young children” be exposed to the object of their obsession.

Others have noticed the pathological nature of the obsession. Barbara Katz Rothman, and sociologist and supporter of homebirth, spoke at last year’s conference of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). The presentation was “Birth Junkies: Working Through Our Relationship to Birth: Who owns the birth experience? Strategies for maintaining a non-addictive relationship with midwifery, responding to clients concerns about their own birth addiction, and ways of responding to the “birth junkie” term in the birth/midwifery community.”

Being obsessed with birth, one’s own births and the births of others, is pathological. And being a birth junkie has nothing to do with birth, with babies and certainly has nothing to do with helping other mothers. The women who are birth junkies suffer from a crippling lack of self-esteem. Their only “achievement” is the faux achievement of having an unmedicated, and preferably an outlandish, birth. Like the adult still talking about his SAT scores 20 years after the fact, birth junkies need to continually remind themselves of their “achievement” by obsessing about it, demeaning other women, and controlling other women’s births.

Homebirth midwives are just birth junkies who took it a step further. They are birth junkies who couldn’t manage to get into or through a college level midwifery program, so they decided to simply pretend that they were midwives. They made up their own certification, heavy on the inanity, and entirely lacking the education and experience that are necessary to be a competent midwife.

Most have no interest in a real midwifery program because being a birth junkie is not about birth and has nothing to do with preventing and managing complications. It’s all about them and their constant need for validation. Rather than being proud of their obsession, homebirth midwives who are birth junkies should be questioning it. If they truly care about women and babies, they owe it to them to get real midwifery training (the kind that would be recognized in other first world countries) instead of simply pretending that they are midwives. And if all they care about is boosting their own self-esteem, they should still get real midwifery training. That is a real accomplishment to be proud of.

This piece first appeared in July 2009