Sadly, we live in a world where people feel free to ignore scientific fact when it conflicts with their philosophy. There are large numbers of people who feel free to ignore the scientific fact of evolution because it conflicts with their philosophy that the Bible is literally true; there are large numbers of people who feel free to ignore the scientific fact of climate change because it conflicts with their economic philosophy of zero legislation to protect the environment; and there are large numbers of people who feel free to ignore the scientific fact that childbirth is inherently dangerous. We call those risk deniers “natural childbirth advocates.”
Comedian John Oliver parodied the mainstream media’s efforts to portray the denial of scientific fact as a “debate” with one commentor on the side of science and the other on the side of denial. Below, you can watch the full hilarious clip of what a real debate on scientific fact should look like:
Let’s examine some of Oliver’s points, points he made about climate denialists, but which, in my judgment apply equally to natural childbirth and midwifery denialists of childbirth risks.
1. In regard to those who deny scientific fact:
Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: ‘Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?’ or ‘Do owls exist?’ or ‘Are there hats?
Similarly, when natural childbirth and midwifery advocates like Milli Hill insist that childbirth is not inherently dangerous, our response ought to be”
“Who gives a shit what Milli Hill thinks? You don’t need midwives’ or their advocates’ opinion on a fact.”
2. On scientific consensus:
As the Guardian explained,
The body of scientific evidence supports human-caused global warming: 97% of peer-reviewed scientific papers taking a position on the subject over the past 20 years are in agreement about this.
Similarly, a large body of scientific and historical evidence supports the inherent dangerousness of childbirth. Childbirth is and has always been, in every time, place, and culture (including our own) a leading cause of death of young women. Moreover, according to recent paper in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The dangers of the day of birth:
Even with modern obstetric practice the risk of a baby dying on the day of its birth in the UK is greater than the average daily risk of death until the 92nd year of life. We have shown that this risk is comparable with many other high-risk activities, and results in many life years lost.(my emphasis)
The scientific consensus among obstetricians, the people who are experts in all form of childbirth, not just “normal” birth, is overwhelming.
3. False journalistic balance:
The media nevertheless continues to treat the subject as a ‘debate’, often with 1 person representing the 97% consensus and 1 person representing the less than 3% fringe minority.
Similarly, the mainstream media treats midwifery and natural childbirth claims about the risks of childbirth as a debate with 1 person (an obstetrician) representing the overwhelming scientific consensus on childbirth risk and 1 (a midwife or lay natural childbirth advocate like Hill) representing the fringe denialists.
4. The real debate should be how we respond to scientific fact.
The ‘debate’ should center on what to do about climate change; it’s not about the science.
There is no “debate” on the fact that childbirth is and has always been a leading killer of women and THE leading killer of children. The debate should center on how we manage the very real risks.
I wrote last week about the way in which natural childbirth advocate Milli Hill and Royal College of Midwives Head Cathy Warwick are actively misrepresenting the risks of childbirth.
Hill subsequently acknowledged on Twitter that childbirth might be more dangerous than she claimed, but then asserted:
I don’t say birth is not risky. Life is risky. Picking your nose is risky. But birth risks are overemphasised to women’s detriment.
Hill’s casual dismissal of the risk of death (and permanent injury) in childbirth is just another example of natural childbirth denialism.
As astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson has said in regard to climate change denialists:
The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
I will say the same to Hill and other natural childbirth advocates.
Childbirth is inherently dangerous whether you believe it or not. There is no debate about it. The only thing up for debate is how best to handle the deadly risks of birth.