Ina May just makes it up as she goes along

It must be great to be able to make up your own scientific “facts” as you go along. No need for pesky studying and research. No need to bother with real facts that don’t corroborate your world view. Self proclaimed “midwife” and homebirth promoter Ina May Gaskin should know. She just makes it up as she goes along.

The latest iteration? This astoundingly uneducated and inane view of animal reproduction:

There are 5,000 different kinds of mammals, do you really think we are the only ones that could not work it [birth] out.

Gaskin is quoted approvingly as having said this at a recent homebirth conference in Ireland and I’ve seen her issue this statement in interviews. The only thing more astounding than the fact that Gaskin seems to think it is okay to propagate blatant falsehoods is the fact that her gullible followers happily swallow whatever nonsense they are fed.

Gaskin apparently inhabits a fantasy world where everything that is “natural” works perfectly, including birth, and evil doctors have tricked women into believing that human childbirth can go wrong. In Gaskin-land, animals, specifically mammals, “know” how to give birth without asphyxiated babies, stuck babies, placental problems, etc. etc. etc. Ergo humans, being mammals, also “know” how to give birth and would do so if it weren’t for the interference of obstetricians.

How unfortunate, then, that Gaskin-land is a figment of Ina May’s imagination. She simply made it up. Obviously she didn’t bother to read the extensive leterature on mammalian reproduction or she would have learned in very short order that oxygen deprivation, dystocia, placental problems, etc. etc. etc. occur quite frequently in nature.

Had Gaskin bother to look for instead of fabricate scientific facts she would have learned that the study of animal reproduction is a distinct discipline known as theriogeneology. And had she bothered with only the briefest glimpse of the theriogenology literature, she would have learned that mammalian reproduction has very high rates of fetal and neonatal mortality.

Consider:

Dogs apparently don’t “know” how to give birth.

Canine perinatal mortality: A cohort study of 224 breeds

… A retrospective cohort study was performed by studying 10,810 litters of 224 breeds registered in the Norwegian Kennel Club in 2006 and 2007. Perinatal mortality was defined as the sum of stillborn puppies and puppies that died during the first wk after birth (early neonatal mortality) and was present in 24.6% of the litters. Eight percent of the puppies died before eight days after birth, with 4.3% as stillbirth and 3.7% as early neonatal mortality..

How about farm animals? They don’t “know,” either.

A survey of equine abortion, stillbirth and neonatal death in the UK from 1988 to 1997.

The diagnoses in 1252 equine fetuses and neonatal foals were reviewed and analysed into categories.

Problems associated with the umbilical cord, comprising umbilical cord torsion and the long cord/cervical pole ischaemia disorder, were the most common diagnoses (38.8%: 35.7% umbilical cord torsion and 3.1% long cord/cervical pole ischaemia disorder). Other noninfective causes of abortion or neonatal death included twinning (6.0%), intrapartum stillbirth (13.7%) and placentitis, associated with infection …

Factors associated with neonatal lamb mortality

Three factors were associated with lambneonatal mortality: birthweight (P<0.003), number of lambs born per ewe (P<0.001) and lamb sex (P<0.32). Lamb birthweight had the greatest predictive power for survival during the neonatal period. The neonatal mortality rate was 14.3%. The age specific mortality for lambs one day old was 7.9% (P<0.05). Seventy-nine percent of the lambs that died, did so by the end of the fourth post-natal day. Starvation was associated with 58.3% (P< 0.05) of the lamb deaths.

Surely animals in the wild “know” how to give birth. No, they don’t “know” either.

NEONATAL MORTALITY IN NEW ZEALAND SEA LIONS (PHOCARCTOS HOOKERI) AT SANDY BAY, ENDERBY ISLAND, AUCKLAND ISLANDS FROM 1998 TO 2005

… Throughout the breeding seasons 1998–99 to 2004–05, more than 400 postmortem examinations were performed on pups found dead at this site. The primary causes of death were categorized as trauma (35%), bacterial infections (24%), hookworm infection (13%), starvation (13%), and stillbirth (4%)…

And let us not forget:

Masculinization costs in the female hyaena

The authors report that up to 10 percent of first-time mothers, and over 60 percent of first-born young die during birth through the hyaena clitoris.

In other words, mammalian reproduction has a very high rate of perinatal loss, in many species even higher than in humans. The causes are similar, including hypoxia, dystocia and placental dysfunction.

Ina May Gaskin’s claims about mammalian reproduction are nothing more than fabrications. Mammalian reproduction is fraught with danger for both the offspring and the mother. Human reproduction is no different.

This should also serve as an object lesson to Gaskin’s acolytes. Just as she fabricates flat out falsehoods about mammalian birth, she also fabricates “facts” about human childbirth. You can’t believe anything she says because she just makes it up as she goes along.

  • Charlotte

    Canines, equines and sheep are unusual examples for birth risks in the animal kingdom, since each is a species that has been domesticated and carefully bred by humans for a very long time, thus supplanting many of the pressures of natural selection with those of human selection. While the link on sealions is now defunct, their stillbirth statistic doesn’t seem particularly odd. However, the female dominant structure of hyena packs does put very unusual selective pressures on them, which overtime seem to have resulted in their radically unusual genitals and birthing process. To the best of my knowledge, they have one of (if not the very) highest maternal death rates of any undomesticated mammal.

    I haven’t been able to find a ton of data on inter-species maternal and perinatal death rates outside of captivity, but I would be very interested in learning more about them if you could provide me with some good sources.

    Thank you,

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