Science journalist Tara Haelle throws a tantrum

Child Screaming and Throwing a Fit Isolated on White

After more than a decade blogging about natural childbirth, breastfeeding and anti-vaccine advocacy, I’ve become pretty inured to the vitriol directed my way.

I understand threatening the livelihoods of the birth industry and the breastfeeding industry isn’t going to win friends, and I appreciate that cognitive dissonance is hard for women who have staked their self-esteem on imagining that their adherence to the ideology of natural parenting marks them as superior mothers. I’m not blogging to make friends; I’m blogging to reassure women that mothering is about much more than the function of a woman’s reproductive organs.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Had I wanted to publicly make a fool of her, I couldn’t have done a better job than she just did herself.[/pullquote]

Every now and then, though, I am surprised by the vociferous response of a critic. That’s the case with Tara Haelle’s tantrum.

This is what Haelle posted on a Facebook page in response to my recent piece about MANA’s acknowledgement of their hideous death rates:


Oooh boy. Tuteur is not a credible source. She is a nasty woman whose tone actually DOES represent some aspect of her beliefs, even if it’s not as overstated as the tone comes across. Yes, she had a LOT of editing to get rid of the tone in her book, as she did in a NYT editorial. She’s a hateful, nasty woman with one of the worst cases of confirmation bias I’ve ever seen.

In short, she *is* against all home birth in the U.S., period. She looks askance at home birth in other countries, though she’ll deny that. She exploits women’s stories without permission and has illegally run an online medical advice service. The circumstances concerning her not having a license to practice anymore are uncertain and not necessarily nefarious, but she hasn’t had a license to practice in over 15 years and hasn’t practiced at all in over 25. She likely practiced for under 5 years and definitely under 10, and her belief in the evidence stalled when her practice did. She intentionally misreads certain studies and refuses to accept new data that comes out.

She believes that all doulas are suspect and that doula care does nothing to improve outcomes among women. She trusts very few midwives, regardless of where they work. She also believes that the C section rate is not too high (despite ALL evidence and expertise to contrary). She has personally attacked me and MANY MANY others, including my coauthor (in a particularly vicious way where she went after my coauthor’s kid) and Dr. Neel Shah, a Harvard OBGYN who teaches there and has been working assiduously to reduce C section rates safely.

Tuteur offers pretty much NOTHING to the discussion of home birth or birthing in general, she’s a nasty woman whose death I will not grieve, I have zero respect for her, and I have reduced respect for anyone who spreads her work after they learn who she really is and what she really does. And all of that is me with restraint.”

“And I’m almost certain all of that will get back to her because she has plenty of minions and flying monkey spies who look specifically for this kind of thing from me and others so they can screenshot it and send it to her, and I know this post is public. So this will be one more thing she gets to bitch about with me to her audience of sycophants. I don’t waste any more oxygen on her, which is why she’s blocked on all social media channels, as are several of her minions.

What precipitated this outburst of immaturity? As far as I can tell, it’s because I have publicly disagreed with Haelle on several issues and Haelle simply cannot abide that. She has a problem, and it’s one that afflicts all too many health journalists: she doesn’t have enough science knowledge to argue with me, so she’s reduced to ad hominem attacks.

Haelle is hardly alone in practicing health journalism by calling upon experts to interpret the scientific research for her. Most of the time that works quite well since often the science is settled. It doesn’t work at all for the subjects of childbirth and breastfeeding because there is a wide gulf between the science and the “conventional wisdom” espoused by the birth and breastfeeding industries.

Haelle offers the conventional wisdom in her writing and in the area of vaccines, for example, that is good enough. It’s basically useless, however, in addressing what I write about since the thrust of my writing is a paradigm shift: childbirth and breastfeeding, far from being perfect because they are natural, are inherently flawed precisely because they are natural.

Childbirth is inherently dangerous and any philosophical argument or public health campaign that doesn’t take that into account is likely to be deadly. Breastfeeding has a significant failure rate and any philosophical argument or public health campaign that doesn’t take that into account is likely to be deadly.

I also offer a philosophical argument of my own: most of what passes for natural childbirth and breastfeeding advocacy is deeply retrograde and fundamentally sexist. It’s a not so subtle way of reducing women to their reproductive organs and relegating them back to the home. It’s not a coincidence that natural parenting always represents more work for mothers.

Haelle is miffed because I have publicly disagreed with her and rebutted some of her empirical claims. She’s frustrated because she doesn’t know enough science to argue with me and is reduced to name dropping (e.g. Neel Shah who is apparently still smarting because he wrote an opinion piece about homebirth in the New England Journal of Medicine and I pointed out that he had no idea that there were two different types of midwives in the US).

It’s ironic that Haelle produced this wall of text in response to my piece about the latest MANA data. It makes her criticism look particularly foolish because it lacks substance of any kind. Haelle doesn’t bother to address the data in the my piece. I doubt she even read the piece before she commented.

In the few public arguments I’ve had with her, she hasn’t rebutted a single statistic that I’ve presented. Generally, she has stalked off when I rebutted her claims with empirical evidence.

She thoroughly misrepresents my positions such as my views on the C-section rate. I have repeatedly stated that the C-section rate is almost certainly too high, with the important caveat that while we know that many C-sections are unnecessary, we don’t know which specific C-sections are unnecessary in advance.

She wouldn’t grieve my death? That’s the statement of a petulant child, not an adult, and certainly not an adult who claims to be practicing journalism.

Grow up, Tara. Stop obsessing about your feelings and start addressing facts. If you can’t stand when it is pointed out that you are wrong, do more research and make sure you’re right. And thanks — had I wanted to publicly make a fool of you, I couldn’t have done a better job than you just did yourself.