Midwife lets baby die, breaks law, pleads guilty to felonies; I think I’ll hire her

According to a recent piece in The Washington Post, certified professional midwife Karen Carr boasted in the wake of her guilty plea in connection with the entirely preventable death of a baby in her care, her phone is ringing off the hook with women wanting to hire her.

It can’t be because of her safe midwifery practices; it can’t be because she abides by the law; and it certainly can’t be because the trail of dead babies in her wake demonstrates that homebirth is safe. So why hire her? And why hire her now?

Such seemingly inexplicable behavior is reminiscent of the response of cults when their predictions prove entirely false.

In a fascinating article in Mother Jones (The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science), the author offers the classic tale of psychologist Leon Festinger’s research on a doomsday cult after its prediction for the end of the world proved false:

… [T]he aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin’s followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers—the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.

Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed…December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials’ new pronouncement: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

… In the annals of denial, it doesn’t get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin’s space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there’s plenty to go around…

In other words, in the wake of evidence that their fundamental beliefs were false, cult members responded by ignoring the evidence and attempting to explain how the fact that their beliefs were shown to be false, actually proved them to be true!

Sound familiar? It sounds distressingly like the response of homebirth advocates whenever their fundamental beliefs are shown to be false. If the Karen Carr disaster demonstrates nothing else, it demonstrates that homebirth practitioners are reckless, that intuition (of both mother and midwife) is useless, and that far from being as safe as hospital birth, homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death. How have homebirth advocates responded? Many have responded by insisting that the demonstration of Karen Carr’s incompetence proves that she is competent, so competent, in fact, that they want to hire her.

Homebirth involves a cult-like belief in its safety despite any and all evidence to the contrary. Homebirth advocates crown “prophets” like Ricki Lake and Henci Goer, when there is no reason to believe their “prophecies” about anything, let alone homebirth. They repeat outright lies over and over again, even after the evidence demonstrates that they are repeating lies. And the more spectacular the demonstration that they are utterly wrong, the more they insist that being proven wrong actually proves that they have been right all along.

Hiring Karen Carr as your midwife is like insisting that the fact that the world did not end on the predicted day actually indicates that the prophecy was correct. It demonstrates a disturbing willingness to ignore reality in a desperate effort to justify an uneducated and obviously inaccurate system of belief.