Oregon homebirth midwives sued for $50 million

Meet Abel, a gorgeous toddler who cannot walk, talk or sit unaided as a result of oxygen deprivation sustained at a birth supervised by homebirth midwives.

Abel’s parents believe that the midwives and the birth center at which they worked should be held accountable.

According to the Bend Bulletin

… Kristine and Greg Andrews — on behalf of their son — are suing the state of Oregon, Motherwise Community Birth Center, midwife Nicole Tucker, CPM and midwife Christyn King, CPM for the medical problems they say the baby faces as a result of oxygen starvation during birth.

The lawsuit asks for $25 million in noneconomic damages as well as $22.5 million in economic damages in the form of ongoing medical and therapeutic care and lost wages. It also asks for $3 million in noneconomic damages to Kristine Andrews for the experience she had with her son’s birth…

The lawsuit states no monitoring equipment was used to check the fetal heart rate. Nevertheless, “the fetal heart rate was noted to indicate periodic bradycardia (slow heart rate) and nonreassuring decelerations of the fetal heart rate.”

When born, the infant did not respond to stimulation and did not breathe on his own. He was taken to St. Charles Bend, and 10 days later was discharged with signs of brain damage caused by oxygen starvation from birth.

The baby suffered, among other things, significant brain damage and cerebral palsy.

Abel’s parents have not stopped there:

Finally, the lawsuit alleges the state was negligent.

The Oregon Administrative Rules have a list of “absolute risk factors” for birthing centers. When a risk factor is present, the regulations state a pregnant mother should be transferred to a higher level of care, like a hospital. One of the risk factors is hypertension. The state listed the threshold at a blood pressure of 150/100.

According to the lawsuit, that threshold was “inappropriate and not evidence based.”

The Andrewses allege the state was negligent for several reasons, most notably because of the blood pressure level it lists as a risk factor. The lawsuit also alleges the state didn’t require a mandatory disclosure form … and that it didn’t implement “evidence based standards for the protection of Oregon citizens.”

In my view, this lawsuit, and a similar suit filed in Michigan are just the first shots across the bow. I suspect that, ironically, the ongoing attempt to popularize homebirth and license homebirth midwives is going to end in the abolition of the homebirth midwifery credential, the CPM (certified professional midwife) and reverse the trend to license homebirth midwives.

Before Ricki Lake and The Business of Being Born, and before the Big Push, the national effort to license homebirth midwives, homebirth was a practice restricted to true believers. Sure homebirth dramatically increased the risk of perinatal death, but lawsuits rarely followed in the wake of those deaths. For the true believers, process is more important than outcome, and a few dead babies here or there did not weaken their commitment to privileging the process.

But homebirth midwives got greedy. They wanted access to insurance reimbursement and to more customers. The resulting effort to popularize homebirth has led to women choosing homebirth because they believed the propaganda. They thought homebirth was safe because that’s what homebirth advocacy organization claim, despite their own data that shows that homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death. Indeed, the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), the organization that represents homebirth midwives, refuses to release their own death rates.

Parents learned in the hardest way possible about the dangers of homebirth and that homebirth midwives are not honest about the real risks of childbirth, about the fact that the CPM is not accepted by any other country in the first world due to lack of education and training, and that being near a hospital is meaningless in the face of a life threatening emergency.

This new group of homebirth parents were never true believers and they see no reason to protect incompetent midwives and deceitful homebirth advocacy organizations. They intend to hold them accountable.

And that will hopefully mark the beginning of the end for the licensing of homebirth midwives.

Learn more about Abel and the foundation his family set up to support children with cerebral palsy and birth trauma at We Are Abel.