Ricki Lake has blood on her hands: An open letter

Dear Ms. Lake,

I notice that you are quick to claim credit for a rising number of homebirths in the wake of your film The Business of Being Born:

The impact of the documentary was monumental. The blogosphere blew up (I can handle a few people yelling at me if it means my message is being heard!) Every day women stop me on the street to share stories of their safe, successful, meaningful births. Many say they felt “in the dark” about their options until seeing The Business of Being Born…

I wonder if you’re also willing to accept blame … for the babies and mothers who have died because they believed your nonsense.

What do you say when women stop you to share stories of their dead babies, babies who died because their mothers saw your movie and believe that homebirth was safe and empowering? What do you say when they share their stories of a ruptured uterus, a breech baby with a trapped head, a severe shoulder dystocia? What do you say when they tell you how their “midwife” encouraged them to labor for days and push for hours, all the while unaware that the baby had died from the stress of labor?

In the past several months alone I have written about 10 babies who have died at homebirth in addition to the older stories recounted on the website Hurt by Homebirth. And this week, a mother apparently died as a result of an attempted homebirth. Just this afternoon, in fact just before I sat down to write this, I learned of a baby born this week after an attempted homebirth whose parents are currently trying to process the fact that their baby has suffered significant brain damage.

What do you tell them, Ms. Lake? Oh, and don’t bother saying, “babies die in the hospital, too.” That may work on uneducated lay people, but that doesn’t work on me. I know that CDC data shows that homebirth triples the rate of neonatal death. I know that in the state of Colorado, licensed homebirth midwives attending planned homebirths have a death rate DOUBLE that of the state as a whole (and the state numbers include premature babies, babies whose mothers have pre-existing medical problems, and babies whose mothers suffered complications of pregnancy.

In fact I know, and perhaps you know, too, that the Midwives Alliance of North America, the organization started by your friend Ina May Gaskin, is refusing to release their own death rates because an appalling number of the 23,000 babies in their database died at homebirth.

Do you plan to take responsibility for these deaths, Ms. Lake. Because if you do, I have a great idea for you. I think you ought to set some of your profits from YOUR business (and it is a business) of being born (books, DVDs, etc) into a no-fault compensation fund for those parents who have lost babies at a homebirth. I’m not sure how much money would be available for each family, since, unfortunately, there is a large and growing number of such families, and I don’t know if would be enough to cover the millions of taxpayer dollars that are going to be spent caring for the babies who were left brain damaged by homebirth. Nonetheless, it seems to me that it is the least you could do.

But if you don’t plan to take responsibility, and I’m not holding my breath because I would turn awfully blue, the very least you could do is amend your film, books and website to reflect the very real dangers of homebirth. I don’t doubt that you were unaware of the dangers of homebirth when you started, and as you seem to have no knowledge of science, statistics or obstetrics, you may still be unaware. But it doesn’t take any specialized knowledge to count the growing number of dead babies, babies who died preventable deaths because their mother listened to you.

Sincerely (and with a great deal of sadness and anger),

Amy Tuteur


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