Homebirth, immaturity and risk taking

Homebirth advocates have a lot in common with teen drunk drivers. They appear to have the same insight, intelligence and maturity level of those teens. How else to explain that the greatest prestige comes from taking the biggest dare?

Homebirth advocates can be found in newspapers, and on blogs and message boards claiming that homebirth has been shown to be safe for low risk women. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that it’s not true (existing scientific evidence, state and national statistics show that homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death). The women writing these comments believe it is true. So how then to explain the fascination and approval given to stories of high risk women attempting high risk homebirth?

Consider this story that got wide play in the homebirth community: Home Birth of Twins Born Past 41 Weeks, One Footling Breech featured on that festival of ignorance and stupidity known as Birth Without Fear.

At that appointment the day before they were born, [the doctor] ran through a host of frightening ‘risks’ and recommended we get to a hospital and get the babies out by whatever means necessary…

What risks might those be? Twins are high risk, post term is high risk and footling breech is so high risk as to be absolutely contraindicated.

No problem. As with teenagers, the bigger the risk, the greater the prestige. Note the use of scare quotes around the word risk. The first step in building prestige for risk taking is pretending that only cowards believe that the behavior is actually risky.

A homebirth advocate who boasts that she will have postdates twins at home is like a teen who boasts that he can race another teen while drunk and stoned. See how brave the homebirth advocate is?

I knew that the best way to have my boys born safely, whole and healthy was to rely on my own body and mind and allow for a spontaneous natural labor to begin.

See how brave the drunk, stoned teenager is? He “knows” (his teen “intuition” tells him) that its going to turn out fine.

Why do they do it? For bragging rights, of course.

A growing body of research demonstrates that teen risk taking can be attributed to psychosocial immaturity.

… [R]isk taking in the real world is the product of both logical reasoning and psychosocial factors. However, unlike logical-reasoning abilities, which appear to be more or less fully developed by age 15, psychosocial capacities that improve decision making and moderate risk taking—such as impulse control, emotion regulation, delay of gratification, and resistance to peer influence—continue to mature well into young adulthood. Accordingly, psychosocial immaturity in these respects during adolescence may undermine what otherwise might be competent decision making…

Homebirth advocates are impaired in both aspects of decision making. They lack the the knowledge of science and statistics and the logical reasoning ability to make safe decisions about birth. In addition, they are incredibly vulnerable to the influence of peers within the homebirth subculture. The web is filled with birth stories and birth videos that exist for no other reason than to proclaim their authors’ superiority as mothers and to impress their peers.

Everyone knows that teens do stupid things, the stupider the better. Homebirth advocates are exactly the same. They do stupid things, the stupider the better.

That’s why the more contraindications you have to homebirth, the more prestige you will get from having a homebirth. Twins are contraindicated, so having twins at home gets lots of positive attention. Triplets are even riskier so that’s even better. Postdates are contraindicated at home, so that’s good for prestige points. Ditto for breech.

It is worth noting that there is not a shred of scientific evidence supporting twins, postdates or breech at home. In every study, and in every country where homebirth is regulated, twins, postdates and breech are absolute contraindications to homebirth. No matter. Being drunk and/or stoned is an absolute contraindication to driving, but there’s no prestige in following the rules.

In the case of homebirth advocates, it’s not that they are unaware of the risk. They do it and then publicize it specifically because they know about the risks but wish to preen within a subculture that admires taking a dare more than ensuring a safe outcome.

The next time you see a blog post, tweet, or homebirth video boasting about twins, or footling breech or premature birth at home, keep that in mind. These don’t demonstrate that the risk taking behavior is safe. They’re no different than boasting that you drove home drunk and stoned and made it there without killing yourself.

Driving drunk and stoned is about succumbing to peer pressure and seeking peer approval. It demonstrates psychosocial immaturity. Homebirth in a high risk situations is about succumbing to peer pressure and seeking approval. It demonstrates a chilling level of psychosocial immaturity in which a woman risks her baby’s life for no better reason than to impress her (equally immature) friends.