January 17, 2014: this week in homebirth idiocy


Let me give thanks where thanks is due: Thank you homebirth advocates; I can always rely on you to do my work for me, helpfully illustrating my central claims about homebirth advocacy.

For example:

1. The narcissism of homebirth advocates

Rixa Freeze attempts to enumerates many of my claims:

Along with accusations of being selfish, narcissistic, irresponsible, horribly misinformed, or tragically brainwashed, home birthers also are accused of wanting to control their birth.

Now read the whole post (it’s very short). Does it strike you that anything is missing?

That’s right. There’s no mention of the baby! You remember the baby, the entire point of the birth for the rest of us, not a prop unworthy of mention.

But apparently not for Rixa. In a post of only 302 words, Rixa uses the words “I,” “my,” and “me” 20 times. She mentions the baby 0 times.

Just in case you had any doubts that homebirth was about anything but the mother, Rixa confirms the narcissism of homebirth.

2. Earlier this week I wrote about homebirth and defining deviancy down. Simply put, homebirth has so many bad outcomes that  advocates have been forced to redefine bad outcomes as “good.”

Case in point: in the post Grounded Midwives, Chris Brecheen raved about the homebirth midwives who attended the female partner in his polyamorous relationship.

What wonderful things did they do?

Then they started talking about the placenta.

Not if, mind you, but what should be done with the placenta. I sat there trying desperately not to bust out into a few choice lines of Tim Minchin’s Storm while they were calmly discussing encapsulation vs. placenta stew with the apprentice midwife. It was just too much.

“So, is there any science behind this placenta stuff?” I asked, knowing full well there wasn’t …

“Not even a little bit,” the midwife said in a relieved voice.

Wait, what? Was she . . . maybe . . . as uncomfortable as I was?

I watched the midwife’s eyes flick over to the apprentice—the one who was offering to do the encapsulation. The midwife bit the corner of her bottom lip a little, and then launched into a discussion about how a placebo you believe in has real power even if it is the placebo effect. “If it works, it works—even if everyone knows it’s a placebo.” …

Suddenly, I had an ally—a midwife ally who knew this placenta crap was something people believed in, took seriously, would probably get offended about, but had absolutely no science backing it.

And that’s when I realized Renee was going to be in good hands …

Wait, what? The midwife condones her assistant making money from a procedure she knows to be pseudoscience and Chris is impressed because she acknowledged that it has no benefit?

This guy has very low standards.

And that turned out to be a good thing, because his partner ended up with a C-section after 80 (count ’em, 80!) hours of labor. What did the midwives do that was so impressive?

Renee needed a midwife who could in one moment stand defiantly between her and our utterly obnoxious doctor and say, “Her hips are perfectly wide enough.” But she also needed a midwife who could, an hour later, be gracious enough to defer to modern medicine when it was time to admit that progress had stopped and exhaustion was kicking in.

Wait, what? Chris thinks it was a good thing that the midwife delayed a necessary C-section by an hour because she had absolutely no idea what was necessary or not?

The midwife and Chris’ family behaved like toddlers: “How do you know!” “You can’t make me.” And, like toddlers, they ended being wrong and having to do it anyway.

This is supposed to be impressive?

3. I’ve often written that homebirth advocates have absolutely no concept of risk. They dramatically exaggerate the risk of rare complications, and grossly minimize the dangers of homebirth. Once again, my friends at MANA (the Midwives Alliance of North America) come through for me and illustrate my point.

In a post entitled HUMANizing Birth (get it “human”), MANA gives pride of place to a startlingly stupid analogy promulgated by midwife Saraswathi Vedam. You may remember Vedam. She’s responsible for the grossly irresponsible Homebirth: An Annotated Guide to the Literature ©, which includes 66 separate citations that purport to show the safety of homebirth. But if you read each and every citation, as I did, you will find that only 3 of the 66 “citations” support the claim that homebirth is as safe as hospital birth.

Of the 66 citations:

Fully 25, more than 1/3, are not scientific studies at all
1 was never published
1 was published in a non-peer reviewed publication
1 was publicly retracted
17 do not even address the issue of homebirth safety
2 are underpowered
4 compared homebirth to a hospital group containing high risk women
12 showed that homebirth had an INCREASED risk of perinatal or neonatal death

What does Vedam have for us now?

Tell a man that he could possibly have a heart attack when making love. Then tell him that it would be safer for him to come to the hospital and make love while being monitored by a physician. Do you think a doctor coming in to take his blood pressure and monitor his heart every 10 minutes would affect his performance?

Ha, ha, ha; hospital birth is stupid. It’s no different from insisting that men have sex only in hospital. Ha, ha, ha. There’s just one teensy, weensy problem with this analogy. It is grossly misleading. The risk of a heart attack during sex is approximately 2-3/1,000,000 episodes and the natural risk of maternal death from childbirth is 10,000/1,000,000 births and the risk of neonatal death is 70,000/1,000,000. In other words, the risk of DEATH in childbirth is almost 50,000 times greater than the risk of having a heart attack during sex, and almost certainly more than a 100,000* times greater than the risk of dying of a heart attack during sex.

Apparently the point is supposed to be that if we don’t hospitalize men during sex, we shouldn’t hospitalize women during childbirth because the risk of death is only ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES HIGHER . Well, that sure convinced me (NOT)!

I found Vedam’s analogy instructive in yet another way. She, like most homebirth advocates, seems to think that childbirth is a “performance” and that any performance is necessarily ruined by scrutiny. In the first place, childbirth is not a performance and it is deeply misogynistic to suggest that it is. In the second place, most performers (actors, musicians, athletes) have no trouble performing at the highest levels when under scrutiny.

So it’s an awesome analogy except for the fact that birth is a 100,000 more likely to result in death than sex, childbirth is not a performance, and there is no evidence that scrutiny ruins performances.

4. Here’s a bit of this week’s lactivist idiocy for your entertainment pleasure. It comes from (who else?) Allison Dixley, the self-proclaimed Alpha Parent:

Question sent to me today:

“I feel awkward around formula feeders. I don’t know where to look. Is it okay to look at their baby? Is it okay to ask them why they don’t breastfeed, or when they stopped? What’s the etiquette? Any chance you could help with these questions? I’m not being weird, I’m genuinely curious.”

I’ll leave you to analyze this gem for yourselves.


*Edited to correct a math error.