Response to loss mothers

Homebirth deaths occur with depressing regularity, and I report on them with depressing regularity. The response of many of the loss mothers is also depressingly regular, so it seems necessary to explain some things about the internet.

1. No, your public blog is not private.

A personal blog is like a television channel. If you set up a personal television channel and only a few of your friends watched it, you might think that your channel is as good as private. It’s not; no channel on the regular dial is private. You would have no reason to complain if people other than your personal friends watch the channel. Similarly, you cannot complain when other people find your personal blog, either through Google or through others who have mentioned it.

There are many things you can do if you want your blog to remain private. You can password protect it, you can prevent Google from indexing it or you can host it on a secure server. Unless you do these things, your blog is public. Anyone can read it and anyone quote it.

2. Copyright does not prevent quoting your blog.

Copyright protects your work from someone trying to pass it off as her own or to profit from it. It does NOT prevent others from quoting your work if they attribute it to you and if they link back to you. There are, in fact, explicit protections for quoting work used in specific contexts such as parody and for educational purposes.

Fundamentally, The Skeptical OB exists to educate people, about the dangers of pseudoscience in general, and about the dangers of homebirth in particular. Quoting from homebirth blogs in order to illustrate various claims is well within the purview of an educational blog. It is not illegal to quote a public blog.

3. They call it the World Wide Web for a reason.

On of the most important characteristics of the web is that it is linked together. If you don’t want to be linked to the rest of the web, you can make your blog private (see above), but if it is not private, it will be linked and not just to other websites of which you approve.

4. This blog has a purpose and that purpose is to expose quackery in all its forms, with special emphasis on obstetric quackery.

Yes, I may use humor, and yes I write about scientific papers, news reports, homebirth celebrities, etc., but it is all for the larger purpose of educating the public. If I quote your or link to your blog it is because I feel it has an educational purpose. In that I am like most homebirth bloggers who create blogs to educate others about homebirth. If it turns out that your story actually educates people about the risks of homebirth instead of the benefits, so be it.

5. I am not unmindful of the suffering of homebirth loss mothers.

I don’t for a moment think that homebirth loss mothers suffer less because they decided to have a homebirth. However, I do think that the suffering of babies who are injured and die at homebirth is basically ignored within the homebirth community. There is a lot of pretending and denial surrounding homebirth deaths, from euphemisms like “born sleeping” (sounds a lot better than “born dead”), to “angel babies,” to absurd insistence that they don’t deserve our concern because they would have died anyway. That’s usually a self-serving lie.

I will continue to speak out on behalf of babies who are injured or die at homebirth, NOT because I think they are more important than their mothers, but because I think they are ignored within the homebirth community.

Perinatal death at homebirth is not rare; it is all too common. It may sometimes seem rare because homebirth is a fringe practice but as the practice attempts to enter the mainstream, the number of deaths is rising.

To homebirth loss mothers I say this:

I am very, very sorry that your baby was injured or died. So sorry, in fact, that I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. It is deeply unfortunate that your stories serve as object lessons of the dangers of homebirth, but, in my judgment, the loss is compounded if we refuse to learn from these deaths, if we refuse to acknowledge just how common they are, if we let substandard self-proclaimed “midwives” continue practicing, and if we allow organizations like MANA (the Midwives Alliance of North America) to get away with hiding serial “babyslaugher,” the newborn equivalent of unintentional manslaughter deaths.