Increase trust in obstetricians: confront the natural childbirth industry working tirelessly to undermine it


Oh, the irony!

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that the Childbirth Connection is angered that estimated fetal weights are … gasp! … merely estimates. I cited a recent piece in the NYTimes, When a Big Baby Isn’t So Big. In the comment section, multiple people bewail the loss of trust in obstetricians, apparently without recognizing that it is articles such as the one they are commenting upon that are directly responsible for that loss of trust.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#540002″ class=”” size=””]Childbirth lobbying organizations like the Childbirth Connection are front and center in the effort to destroy trust between women and obstetricians.[/pullquote]

They fail to see that the premier marketing strategy of the natural childbirth industry (encompassing midwives, doulas, and lobbying organizations like the Childbirth Connection) is the tireless effort to undermine trust in obstetricians. Why? Because the natural childbirth industry is desperate to increase their market share and touting the “experience” of birth only gets them so far. The primary “product” of obstetricians is birth safety and most women want that more than anything else. It is absolutely essential to the natural childbirth industry to inculcate fear and distrust of obstetricians, especially around the issue of safety.

Craig Thompson, professor of marketing at University of Wisconsin wrote about this tactic in Consumer Risk Perceptions in a Community of Reflexive Doubt in the September 2005 Journal of Consumer Research. Thompson marveled at the ability of homebirth advocates to market a “product” by directly defying common sense:

Advocates of natural childbirth seek to inculcate reflexive doubt by countering two commonsense objections to their unorthodox construction of risk: (1) medicalized births would have never gained a cultural foothold if they were so risk laden and (2) the medical profession would not support obstetric practices that place laboring women at risk.

In other words, it is absolutely critical to the natural childbirth industry to convince women that doctors don’t know what they are doing, and willfully and cheerfully risk the lives of women and babies to promote a secret agenda.

It’s difficult to think of a single prominent natural childbirth advocate or organization that does not work assiduously to undermine trust in obstetricians.

Individual tactics may differ of course:

Ina May Gaskin resorts to new-agey nonsense, and animal birth, which she believes, in her absolute cluelessness, to be perfect. Whereas Henci Goer favors cherry picking data, selective interpretation of scientific papers and pandering to privileged Western, white women’s desire to see themselves as “educated.”

Feminist anti-rationalists like Robbie Davis-Floyd deride rationality and insist that women have “other ways of knowing.” Clowns like Jennifer Margulis point to diseases they don’t understand and pretend they are caused by “technology.”

Every homebirth and NCB book, blog and website is predicated on the belief that obstetricians are “surgeons” “untrained in normal birth” who make millions performing unnecessary C-sections in the few moments they have each day between endless rounds of golf. The tremendous successes of modern obstetrics and the fact that nearly 99% of women give birth in hospitals is dismissed as the result of an economic war perpetrated by obstetricians on midwives.

Childbirth lobbying organizations like the Childbirth Connection are front and center in the effort to destroy trust between women and obstetricians. How else to explain the endless iterations of the “Listening to Mothers Survey,” a giant push polling project that desperately seeks evidence that obstetricians are not “listening to mothers” and repeatedly finds that the vast majority of American mothers are very pleased with obstetric care?

The natural childbirth industry eagerly grabs on to new methods for demonizing obstetric care, such as the unproven claims that modern obstetrics causes “traumatic birth,” and the hope that C-section cause long term health problems which have heretofore escaped detection despite the fact that there are tens of millions of adults walking around who were born by C-section and appear no different than those born by vaginal delivery.

NCB and homebirth bloggers pile on with inane accusations like “every day 12 babies are given to the wrong mother.” That makes it sound like there’s an epidemic of women leaving the hospital with the wrong baby, when what it really means (if it is true at all), is that an attendant (and that includes midwives) may bring a baby into the room of the wrong mother and discover her mistake when she checks the ID tags on mother and baby.

What about the spectacular advances in modern obstetrics, dropping the neonatal mortality rate by 90% and the maternal mortality rate by nearly 99% in just 100 years?

That is simply dismissed out of hand, with claims that hospitals actually kill babies, or deliberately cause the medical disasters from which obstetricians thereby appear to rescue babies.

The natural childbirth industry has an “answer” for just about every objection you can name and those “answers” often involve misinformation, and always involve undermining women’s trust in obstetricians.

Of course, the irony of the natural childbirth industry bewailing the very loss of trust between women and obstetricians that they themselves promoted is exceeded by another irony. That irony is the reflexive and unstated reliance of the natural childbirth industry on obstetricians to save the lives of babies and mothers after they’ve taken the advice of the natural childbirth industry and made dangerous decisions.

The backup plan always involves the hospital with the expectation of immediate access to the care of …. you guessed it … obstetricians. Apparently those evil doctors, who should never be trusted, can always be trusted in an emergency.

The next time you read an article based on a press release from the natural childbirth industry, treat it with the same wariness that you would treat an article about solar power based on a press release from Big Oil. Just like it’s always possible that Big Oil is accurately relating derogatory claims about solar power because of a deep and abiding commitment to scientific accuracy, it’s always possible that the natural childbirth industry is accurately relating derogatory claims about obstetricians because of a similar commitment to scientific accuracy.

On the other hand, it could simply be a brazen effort to blacken the reputation of the competition in order to increase market share.


Adapted from a piece that first appeared in June 2013.