Milli Hill and Cathy Warwick on the dangers of childbirth: lying or ignorant?


Is Milli Hill deliberately lying or just ignorant?

Consider the way she begins her latest piece Is childbirth really such a ‘risky’ business?:

If you believe everything you read, then you probably think that childbirth is one of the riskiest activities any human can undertake.

Actually, it isn’t, and statistically you’re massively more likely to meet your maker behind the wheel of your motor.

Ummm, Milli, here’s a newsflash: childbirth IS one of the riskiest activities any human can undertake and you or your baby are MUCH more likely to die in childbirth than in an automobile accident.

Childbirth is and has always been, in every time, place and culture, a leading cause of death of young women and THE leading cause of death of babies. Indeed, according to Save the Children, the day of birth in the most dangerous day of the 18 years of childhood.

Childbirth seems safe only because of modern obstetrics. Obstetrics has lowered the perinatal mortality rate 90% and the maternal mortality rate 99% in the past 100 years. But midwives cannot provide many of the services that have made childbirth so safe and therefore, for their own economic self interest, they and their apologists like Hill deny that those safety measures are really necessary.

Homebirth and natural childbirth advocates keep throwing memes against the wall, hoping one will stick. Obstetricians don’t follow scientific evidence! Except that they do. The media is to blame for the pain of childbirth! Except that it isn’t. Homebirth is a human right! Except that it’s not. A healthy baby isn’t enough! Except that for most women, it is. The latest entry in the midwifery meme collection is childbirth isn’t risky!

Except that it is.

Consider what Cathy Warwick, head of the Royal College of Midwives has to say on the subject:

There is concern at the RCM and among midwives, that our focus on risk, and the way that we are describing risk, is making women feel scared. Ironically, creating fear, in itself, causes risk – if women are fearful then they are less likely to release the hormones needed for a straightforward birth.

Does Warwick actually believe the nonsense that comes out of her mouth?

She’s already been forced to publicly retract one of her completely fabricated claims. Warwick claimed that the Netherlands, which has a high rate of homebirth, the lowest perinatal mortality levels for babies in Europe. Just one problem: The Netherlands has one of the HIGHEST perinatal mortality rates in Western Europe. Oops!

Now, she’s spewing nonsense about risk. Ms. Warwick’s behavior is especially disturbing given the sad state of midwifery in the UK. After a spate of preventable perinatal and maternal deaths due to midwives being unwilling to call other specialists; after a government report that revealed that 20% of obstetric funding now goes for liability; and after another government report that chastised midwives for covering up the deaths at the hands of their colleagues, one might think that Ms. Warwick would be busy doing whatever she could to promote better outcomes. Instead, she seems to think her job is to promote employment opportunities for midwives.

Lying about, dismissing or discounting the risks of childbirth is deeply unethical. We would rightfully be shocked by a physician who represented heart surgery as without risk or even plastic surgery as without risk. Women need to know the REAL risks and benefits, both of procedures AND of refusing procedures. We should be equally shocked by midwives like Warwick (and her cheerleaders like Hill) who represent childbirth as without risk, or refer to the “risks” of childbirth in scare quotes.

No one should forget that midwifery is a business, and it is part of the larger industry of natural childbirth. Both earn profits by convincing women to forgo interventions, pain relief and safety measures. Emotional manipulation of women is key to the success of the industry, and the emotional manipulation includes chivvying women into rejecting safety measures by being fundamentally dishonest about the very real dangers of childbirth.

Warwick and her cheerleader Ms. Hill should be embarrassed by their defense of the status quo and by the fact that they are either actively misrepresenting the risks of childbirth or simply ignorant of them. Either way, they are failing in their ethical obligation to be honest about the risks of birth and serving an industry (the natural childbirth industry) that profits by being dishonest about those risks.