Henci Goer arrives to rescue the homebirth sheeple!

sheep in spring

You could practically hear the collective sigh of relief from the homebirth world.

The NYTimes solicited the medical opinions of 4 obstetricians to explain the increased risk of death at homebirth. But look, up in the sky, it’s Superbirther; faster than a snake in the grass, more powerful than an actual education, able to ignore mountains of scientific evidence in a single bound.

Henci Goer has arrived to give homebirth advocates permission to ignore actual scientific experts in favor of … herself!

The message of the obstetricians was clear and consistent:

Drs. Grunebaum and Chervenak: “In the United States, those who support home birth as safe are propagating junk science.”

Dr. Caughey: “Even in Europe, the fetal and neonatal risks are higher with home birth.”

Dr. Jennings: “The ability of a physician to rapidly provide care can be the difference between life or death for both mother and baby.”

Now Henci Goer “fact checks” the New York Times homebirth debate, and the sheeple in the homebirth community rush to embrace it. There is no independent thinking in the homebirth community; there are only celebrity homebirth advocates who spew nonsense and credulous homebirth advocates who lap it up.

Who is Henci Goer and what are her qualifications to critique Drs. Grunebaum, Chervenak, Caughey, and Jennings?

Actually she has no expert qualifications. As she herself has written:

You may be wondering about my credentials … since I am not a doctor — either M.D. or Ph.D — a midwife, or a nurse. I am a certified childbirth educator with a degree in biology from Brandeis University. Beyond that, I am self-taught.

So Henci Goer is not a medical professional and has no experience in the field of obstetrics. That, in itself is not a complete bar to understanding the obstetric literature if it is replaced by a PhD in a hard science or statistics. But, Goer doesn’t have those qualifications, either. In other words, Goer is a teacher of childbirth classes who reads the scientific papers that she likes, but has no independent way of assessing the full depth and breadth of the obstetric literature.

In response to a someone questioning the basis for her self-described expertise, Goer offered this cringe worthy response:

… I have a library of books and a collection of several thousand papers, including books and papers on how to analyze and interpret medical research; and I have been writing and speaking about what the consensus of maternity care research establishes as best promoting safe, healthy birth for over 20 years. That being said, my preeminent credential is illustrated by this anecdote: Penny Simkin was once called on the carpet by an anesthesiologist, irate that she had written a handout listing the potential trade-offs of epidural anesthesia when she was not a doctor (although he did not dispute her accuracy). “What are your credentials?” he demanded. “I can read,” she mildly replied. So can I.

Curiously, though Goer presents herself as an “expert” on the obstetric literature, no real experts agree with her grandiose self-description. She is not called for expert testimony in court cases that turn on the obstetric literature. The government does not invite her to join expert panels on obstetric topics. In fact, the only people who consider Goer an “expert” on the obstetric literature are lay people who have no way to evaluate her self-proclaimed expertise.

Ms. Goer never appears in any venue where she can actually be questioned on her supposed expertise. She knows that her claims would be eviscerated in short order. She just continues to spread misinformation by flattering homebirth sheeple into believing that accepting her nonsense means that they are “thinking.”

I am surprised by this piece, however. In the past, Goer has carefully avoided basing her claims on indefensible propaganda, but this time she goes all in, quoting a comment by the American College of Nurse Midwives and the MANA “study” on their own dismal homebirth death rate that she surely knows is an amalgamation of mistruths, half truths and outright lies. I view this as a sign of her increasing desperation. She knows that the evidence on the increased perinatal/neonatal death rate at homebirth is remarkably robust, has been repeatedly reproduced (including by Judith Rooks, CNM MPH in Oregon showing that PLANNED homebirth with a LICENSED homebirth midwife has a death rate 800% higher than comparable risk hospital birth), and is reflected by a growing number of homebirth deaths in the news. There was a time when her critiques were plausible, even if they were wrong. Now she’s been reduced to relying on drivel produced by her allies, most of whom are poorly educated laypeople such as herself.

But, of course, this has never been about the truth; this is about obscuring the truth.

Goer is painfully honest about her intentions:

Hopefully, I’ve helped to provide a defense for those who may find themselves under attack as a result of the NY Times article.

Because that’s what’s at stake for her and her colleagues, defending themselves and their profits from scientific evidence and expert opinion. Henci Goer makes her livelihood by promoting homebirth; she literally cannot afford to acknowledge the truth of the scientific evidence. The babies who die as a result of homebirth are apparently acceptable casualties of homebirth advocates’ strenuous efforts to protect their incomes.