British midwifery has degenerated into a cult


With the publication of the recent report of obstetric liability payouts, the transformation has been completed. British midwifery has become a cult.

How many babies have to die before British midwives recognize that their veneration of “normal birth” is a mistake? Apparently there is no number of dead babies high enough to force a change. That’s because British midwifery is a cult devoted to “normal birth,” and as in any cult, it is impossible for the leaders to admit that they are wrong.

The Kirkup Report published in the wake of the Morecambe Bay scandal where 11 babies and one mother died preventable deaths makes for chilling reading:

[M]idwifery care in the unit became strongly influenced by a small number of dominant individuals whose over-zealous pursuit of the natural childbirth approach led at times to inappropriate and unsafe care. One interviewee told us that “there were a group of midwives who thought that normal childbirth was the… be all and end all… at any cost…”

James Titcombe, a loss parent who has become a patient safety advocate, details the contemptuous response of the Royal College of Midwives in the recent issue of their magazine:

The scene is set straight away by the RCM CEO Cathy Warwick on page 5. Cathy refers to the issue of the ‘normality agenda’ and asks ‘are we pushing this too far?’, Cathy’s response is ‘no’.

This response really does amaze me, not least because Cathy doesn’t refer to any study or evidence to support her answer. In this piece, the RCM President Lesley Page even questions the Kirkup report’s clear conclusion that the over zealous pursuit of normal childbirth was a significant factor in what happened at Furness General.

“I searched carefully to find out what was the basis of this emphasis but couldn’t find much.”


When the Kirkup report was published, some midwifery supporters claimed that this was a one time failure on the part of rogue midwives. Kirkup himself publicly disabused them of this excuse and the Recent publication of last year’s liability payments illustrate the extraordinary dimensions to the problem.

From The Times of London, NHS errors leave 1,300 babies dead or maimed:

The NHS paid or set aside just under £1 billion [$1.5 billion] last year to settle 1,316 claims of negligence in maternity units, up from £488 million a decade ago, data from the NHS Litigation Authority show. The most costly claims involve babies brain-damaged during labour, who will require constant care for the rest of their lives.

One basic error accounts for a quarter of payouts, with campaigners saying it was a “scandal” that the health service was failing to learn from its mistakes. They blamed divisions between midwives and doctors, saying that the desire for “natural” births — without interventions — sometimes went too far…

How have midwives and their supporters responded to this scathing indictment?

Midwifery apologist Elizabeth Prochaska of Birthrights UK simply ignores the findings:

The latest incarnation of this trend towards midwife-blaming came in yesterday’s Times editorial (paywall). Commenting on a Leicester University study into stillbirth rates in the UK, it claimed that ‘the roots of the problem are inadequate monitoring before birth, inadequate Times editorial investigation after it and a faddish bias in favour of midwife-led “natural” maternity care.’

Ms. Prochaska simply ignores the more than 1300 dead babies because to do anything else would call the primary belief of the cult into question.

In a fascinating article in Mother Jones (The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science), the author offers the classic tale of psychologist Leon Festinger’s research on a doomsday cult after its prediction for the end of the world proved false:

… [T]he aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin’s followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States…

Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed…December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

… [R]ationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute… Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

… They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin’s space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there’s plenty to go around…

British midwives and their apologists exhibit the same behavior in order to preserve the cult of “normal birth.” It makes no difference to them whether 10 babies die or 1,000 babies die. They are incapable of acknowledging their deadly mistakes because British midwives are less healthcare providers than members of the cult of “normal birth” with all self-delusion that entails.