The Today Show aired a provocative segment about home birth on September 11, 2009, called “The Perils of Midwifery.” The segment profiles a family who lost their newborn daughter during a home delivery attended by certified-nurse midwife Cara Muhlhahn who is featured in the “The Business of Being Born.”
The story inaccurately and irresponsibly represents home birth and the women who choose it. Here are a few reasons why:
- The family’s recent and tragic loss functions more as a device for scaring women away from rather than informing them about maternity care practices and outcomes across the spectrum of provider and location options for the childbearing cycle spanning pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
- Stories like this one imply the only legitimate choice a “responsible” woman can make is birth under the supervision of a doctor inside a hospital. This logic fails to recognize that evidence-based practice supporting out-of-hospital, midwife-attended birth.
- The use of anti-midwife rhetoric and scare tactics (starting with the segment’s title) to describe home birth as hedonistic “extreme birth” and characterizing women who make this choice as celebrity- and trend-crazed gawkers belittles the subject and women in general.
Because most of us have little to no experience with birth before preparing for our own baby’s arrival, we are vulnerable to one-sided depictions of valid out-of-hospital models for mother-baby care. Instead of encouraging parents-to-be to learn about and make informed decisions, stories like this one foment misinformation. A more responsible approach would:
- Have a practitioner and a policy expert speak about the midwifery model of care in an out-of-hospital setting as one supported by evidence-based research. Representatives from the American College of Nurse Midwives as well as someone from Childbirth Connection would be appropriate candidates among many others.
- Report and explore causes for the nation’s high intervention rates including a current cesarean section rate of nearly 32%. (The World Health Organization recommends a rate between 10 and 15%.)
- Present the choice by many women to avoid unnecessary intervention by selecting out-of-hospital birth as a serious (as opposed to immature or hedonistic) response to managed birth in a medical setting.
Fortunately, good information about maternity care is easily accessible. Anyone interested in home birth can start with Amy Romano’s recent post “A new era of home birth research” in which she focuses on a recent Canadian study. Of the study, she writes:
Consistent with many other studies comparing planned home with planned hospital birth, the results showed comparable perinatal mortality rates, less serious morbidity for both women and infants, and lower use of obstetric technology in planned home births.
This is a good place to learn about an overlooked and unjustly maligned birth option in our country.