Australian homebirth death shows it’s time to reform midwifery

Time For Change

Joseph Thurgood didn’t have to die.

Tate-Spencer Koch didn’t have to die.

Jahli Jean Hobbs didn’t have to die.

Charlotte Rodman didn’t have to die.

All four died preventable deaths at homebirth.

Joshua Titcombe didn’t have to die.

Nittaya Hendrickson and her unborn son Chester didn’t have to die.

Sareena Ali and her daughter Zainab didn’t have to die.

All 5 died preventable deaths in the hospital.

These 9 deaths, and dozens of similar deaths that I have written about over the years are distinguished by one common factor: all involved arrogant midwives; midwives who thought that they knew more about childbirth safety than doctors; midwives who were utterly, tragically, negligently wrong.

Let Joseph Thurgood’s death be a clarion call for an all out effort to reform midwifery. First world midwives, regardless of educational background, regardless of international location, regardless of the location at which care is provided, are desperately in need of better education about childbirth, greater understanding of their own limitations, and above all, administrators and thought leaders who understand that midwifery is about saving babies and mothers and not about extending the employment opportunities of midwives.

What happened to Joseph Thurgood? According to The Age:

A coroner has found a baby’s death after a home birth went wrong could have been prevented if the labour and delivery had been carried out in a hospital…

[The Coroner] said midwife Fiona Hallinan had indirectly contributed to the baby’s death by failing to tell the mother of the risks of home birth which had “sustained the misguided views of the mother, contributed to her disregarding the advice provided by obstetric medical clinicians and facilitated in her a level of confidence that she may safely proceed to home birth”.

The Coroner correctly identified that Joseph’s mother naively and erroneously thought that she was educated about homebirth because she had done “research” on the internet:

…Ms Thurgood’s use of the internet to research home birth was “sadly an example of the danger of untrained users utilising raw data or statistical information to support a premise as to risk, without knowledge and understanding of the complex myriad of factors relevant to the risk”.

“To disregard the obstetrician’s advice on the basis of a mantra founded in … data obtained from the internet is a dangerous course to follow,” the coroner said.

The coroner recommended the Health Minister consider regulating the practice of providing home birth services and develop a source of information to help prospective parents be fully informed of the issues associated with various birthing options.

That’s good as far as it goes; homebirth advocates pride themselves on what they know, but most of what they know is factually false.

But that only protects women who choose to deliver at home. How about women who choose to deliver at the hospital and then lose their babies or their lives because midwives deny them access to obstetricians and pediatricians? It doesn’t do anything for them. These same midwives are desperately in need of comprehensive education reform.

Unfortunately, obstetricians in first world countries have left midwives to their own devices, reasoning that they ought to be able to handle uncomplicated childbirth and call for help when complications occur. I suspect that most obstetricians have no idea that contemporary midwifery has been highjacked by a bunch of post modernists who appear to think that midwifery autonomy is ever so much more important than whether babies and mothers live or die.

I’m not talking about the clowns of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) who aren’t really midwives at all, just lay people with a pretend “credential” that they awarded to themselves. I’m talking about supposedly adequately trained midwives who spew nonsense, like:

Australian midwifery professors Jenny Parratt and Kathleen Fahy, responsible for the criminally inane “paper,” Including the nonrational is sensible midwifery.

British midwifery professor Soo Downe who invokes quantum mechanics, which she does not understand, to explain why midwives can ignore scientific evidence.

Cathy Warwick, head of the Royal College of Midwives, who thinks the solution to every problem, including the problem of preventable deaths at the hands of midwives, is to give midwives more autonomy.

Hannah Dahlen, spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives, who has callously asserted that perinatal mortality is a “kindergarten” view of birth.

Dutch midwifery leaders who have yet to take any responsibility for the appalling fact (which they acknowledge to be true) that Dutch midwives attending low risk births, home or hospital, have higher death rates than Dutch obstetricians attending high risk births.

These women, and many of those that they teach and represent, have become infected by a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance and obsession with autonomy at the expense of the lives of mothers and babies.

The Coroner is correct that women can benefit from greater and more accurate information about the risks of childbirth and homebirth, but even more women will benefit by overhauling midwifery education to reflect scientific evidence, as opposed to the midwifery fantasies that are currently killing women and babies.

Homebirth is just the tip of the iceberg. International midwifery has become infected by the rot of midwifery arrogance and self-interest. It’s time to start improving the education and accountability of midwives. Mothers and babies deserve no less.