Ina May Gaskin has blood on her hands

Why are reporters so credulous? Why don’t they ask hard question? Why do they fall for smoke and mirrors?

That’s what I’d like to ask the long list of journalists who take Ina May Gaskin at her word and never investigate. Samantha Shapiro is the latest reporter to allow herself to be hoodwinked by Ina May Gaskin in the article Mommy Wars: The Prequel: Ina May Gaskin and the Battle for at-Home Births.

Let’s get something straight: Ina May Gaskin has blood on her hands, and not merely the blood of her own child sacrificed on the altar of homebirth. Gaskin presides over a large multi-faceted business empire comprised of trade, propaganda and lobbying organizations, all with one purpose in mind: allowing uneducated women like herself to provide substandard medical care to pregnant women while ignoring the growing pile of tiny bodies.

In discussing homebirth, there is one question that MUST be asked and answered. How many babies die at the hands of homebirth midwives? As far as I can tell, Shapiro didn’t ask, wasn’t answered, and didn’t bother to investigate on her own.

It’s not like the data isn’t available:

The latest CDC figures (publicly available on the CDC Wonder website) show that planned homebirth with a non-nurse midwife has a mortality rate 600% HIGHER than low risk hospital birth.

Nearly all the existing scientific studies, as well as state, national and international statistics, show that planned homebirth increases the risk of perinatal mortality 3-7+ times higher than low risk hospital birth.

Colorado has had a rate of homebirth death that exceeds that of the state as a whole (including premature babies and women with pre-existing medical conditions) AND has risen in every year since they licensed homebirth midwives in 2006. California has a homebirth death rate that is double that of low risk hospital birth. In Missouri, the risk of intrapartum death at homebirth is nearly 20 times higher than hospital birth. Oregon has received complaints on 19 deaths, nearly 4 times the rate expected in the years the data was collected. And North Carolina is vying to be the homebirth death capital of the US: they had 5 publicly reported homebirth deaths last year for a rate 12X higher than low risk hospital birth.

Studies from the UK show that homebirth increases the risk of poor perinatal outcomes. The data from Australia shows that homebirth increases the risk of perinatal death. The data from the Netherlands shows that low risk birth with a Dutch midwife has a HIGHER death rate than high risk birth with a Dutch obstetrician. There are one or two studies from Canada that demonstrate that homebirth rates can be safe when transfers during labor exceed 40%, a truly massive transfer rate.

The Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), the organization of American homebirth midwives started by Gaskin, has collected death rates of 24,000 planned homebirths attended by their members. During the years they were collecting that data, MANA told their membership it would be used to promote the safety of homebirth. Once they analyzed the data, they reversed themselves. MANA refuses to release the number of those 24,000 babies who died at the hands of homebirth midwives. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that MANA’s own data reveals appallingly high rates of perinatal death.

Shapiro ignores this mass of data. Indeed she never even bothers to look for any data. Instead her piece contains passages that could have been lifted directly from Gaskin’s promotional literature.

To her credit, she acknowledges that Gaskin has no training of any kind, that one of her own children died at homebirth when she refused to seek medical attention for him and that The Farm is a new age cult, but Shapiro gives Gaskin a pass on far more than safety data.

Shapiro does not mention (and perhaps does not know) that Ina May Gaskin is a feminist anti-rationalist. Feminist anti-rationalists dismiss science as a male form of “authoritative knowledge” on the understanding that there are “other ways of knowing” like “intuition.” Many are post modernists who believe that reality is radically subjective, that rationality is unnecessary and that “including the non-rational is sensible midwifery”

According to Gaskin:

… Pregnant and birthing mothers are elemental forces, in the same sense that gravity, thunderstorms, earthquakes, and hurricanes are elemental forces. In order to understand the laws of their energy flow, you have to love and respect them for their magnificence at the same time that you study them with the accuracy of a true scientist.

The invocation of mysterious forces, “energy flow” and intentional biologic processes marks her as a garden variety charlatan. Yet reporters like Shapiro are loathe to question her grasp of medical reality.

How much blood does Ina May Gaskin have to have dripping from her hands before journalists will think to ask about it? How many babies have to die at homebirth before it will cross the minds of Shapiro and her colleagues to investigate Gaskin as the deadly charlatan that she is?

I’m afraid that the only thing that will shake journalists out of their complacency is the death of a celebrity’s baby at homebirth. Sooner or later that is going to happen, and journalists will “discover” that babies have been dying preventable deaths at homebirth all along. Until then, they won’t ask the difficult questions; they’ll simply accept what Ina May Gaskin says and reprint it wholesale.