ActivismPregnancy & Childbirth

Not Buried Twice: Why the Fight for Birth Safety Matters

The backlash to the so-called “Mommy Wars” has been, in some ways, as misguided as the “wars” themselves. There’s a mentality that anything a parent (but usually a mother) does is just as valid, right, or safe as the alternative. While that holds true for some things, like breastfeeding vs. formula, or work vs. stay-at-home, it’s disingenuous to apply it to other topics, like vaccines and homebirth.

As vaccine-preventable diseases continue to make a comeback, the societal implications of vaccine denialism and refusal are clear. The consequences of out-of-hospital birth are a little less straightforward. Why would anyone want to stand in the way of a mother’s decision to give birth at home? Well, they don’t, really. They want expectant parents to be informed, and they want properly trained, accountable midwives.

From Safer Midwifery for Michigan:

We are a group of families and professionals in the Lansing, MI area advocating for improved midwifery standards and safer midwifery practices. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, midwives, doulas, midwife apprentices, nurses, and physicians whose lives have been touched by unsafe midwifery practices in some way.  We hope that through advocacy and education we can improve birth options in our state and enable families to find the safest care possible.

From What Ifs and Fears are Welcome:

I believe education and standards and insurance and transparency are so incredibly important for home birth midwifery. My advocacy comes from a place of not trying to limit options — it’s from a place of believing that women deserve the best options.

From 10 Centimeters:

My agenda is not to make homebirth illegal.  I have no naive illusions that if all I hope for comes to pass, the Gloria LeMay’s of the world will suddenly stop taking on risky clients and hiding in the closet when the sh*t hits the fan. […] I do not support prosecuting parents for making risky choices that end in disaster. I do, however, support the prosecution of those who call themselves midwives and do the same. My desire is that women have the information they need to make the appropriate decisions for themselves and their babies, and that midwives are held accountable for their actions.

As you can see, this isn’t about moms who give birth in the hospital being mommier-than-thou. It isn’t about doctors trying to get rich by suppressing “alternative” practitioners. It’s about fixing  the broken homebirth system in the United States.

While our medical system has its fair share of flaws, its practitioners are held accountable. There is recourse for those who have been harmed. Not so for those whose babies have died or been permanently disabled due to a homebirth midwife’s substandard care. Regulation of midwives varies, so many of them practice without any kind of meaningful education or training.

In 2009, only 0.72% of all births in the United States happened somewhere other than a hospital, so it may not seem like much of a concern. However, that figure represents a 29% increase from 2004. With celebrity homebirthers taking it upon themselves to promote the cause, making it seem like a reasonable, or even superior, alternative to hospital birth, this number may rise further.

As a woman and a feminist, I see how women’s health issues are cast aside in this country. While homebirth midwives sell themselves as more respectful of women, more empowering than doctors, they’re quick to ignore a mother who begs to go to the hospital. They’re quick to dismiss a grieving mother. Politicians, meanwhile, take no interest in it because it has to do with women’s health– and some even support the homebirth agenda, if only because they think it will make Medicaid patients’ births cheaper. About that…

Let’s say a homebirth costs around $3,000, and a hospital birth around $10,000. For a person with insurance, the homebirth will likely not be covered, whereas the hospital birth would be, making hospital birth considerably cheaper. For someone without insurance, homebirth is cheaper… if everything goes right. If not, factor in the cost of an ambulance, a NICU stay, and possibly funeral expenses. And the frugal politicians would probably not relish the SSI payments for babies who are permanently disabled during a homebirth.

That doesn’t take into account the people behind the homebirth statistics. These families were let down by the people they trusted to safely deliver their babies. In some cases, the midwives were ignorant; others, dishonest. None of them did their jobs, and so far, none have been held fully responsible for their actions (or inaction). That’s where the Not Buried Twice campaign comes in.

From the campaign:

The purpose of the video and the #notburiedtwice campaign is to raise awareness. Planned home birth for LOW RISK women in the USA increases the risk of intrapartum and neonatal death at least 3-5 times compared to low risk women giving birth in a hospital. These are preventable deaths.

We are here to let those families know they are not alone. We support them. Their stories matter. Their babies matter. Home birth advocates are trying to silence them and pretend that their babies never existed. They try to bury these babies twice: once in tiny coffins in the ground, and a second time by erasing them from the public consciousness. We aren’t going to let that happen. They won’t be buried twice.

Homebirth vs. hospital birth is not the same as strollers vs. slings or purees vs. finger food. It’s much more than the words of one controversial blogger. It’s about remembering loved ones and preventing further tragedies. Homebirth advocates should not be threatened by the push for higher standards. Implementing safe, ethical practices is critical in order for homebirth to remain an option. Lives are at stake.

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Chelsea

Chelsea

Young mom raising a bilingual child (N) with her boyfriend (B) and trying desperately to avoid all the Woo down in Wooville.

8 Comments

  1. June 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm —

    Really fantastic commentary. I think you’re spot on about the anti-feminism of the homebirth movement, too. The video is powerful.

    • June 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm —

      One thing I had meant to mention on that front but couldn’t quite fit in was how much the homebirth/”natural” childbirth movement reduces women to a few body parts. That objectification isn’t cool when it comes from men and it’s not acceptable in this situation, either.

      I agree, the video really got to me. I really admire the strength of the loss moms (and dads) to keep fighting after all they’ve been through.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. June 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm —

    It makes me so sad when I see babies and moms harmed by untrained “midwives” and the like. There are some SCARY people out there claiming to be midwives. It’s insanity. There needs to be licensing, accountability and a good way for families to compare real outcomes and risk.
    I’m always interested in why people choose homebirth. I know the stereotype is that they are stupid or are all about the “experience.” But that’s not what I hear from people in my community often times. I know a lot of “crunchy” people. Many who have chosen homebirth. And what is also sad is why some of them did. Many of them feel very coerced by their limited options. With VBAC bans in place all over the country even for moms who are great candidates according to the best evidence we have, many women are not give a lot of choices. Come to the hospital and have major surgery they might not need. Or chance it with a homebirth. No middle ground. No discussion. That isn’t respecting a woman’s autonomy. That’s not feminism or skepticism. I’ve seen at least four people make the choice to have an unassisted birth or midwife attended homebirth instead of going for unnecessary surgery. A few more traveled hours to a hospital that would “allow” them to labor. I wouldn’t do it…..but at the same time it’s not a lack of risk assessment or education that drove their choices. They WANTED to be in a local hospital for a trial of labor, but were denied even when ACOG says it’s a good option.
    I feel very fortunate to have been able to birth with certified nurse-midwives in a midwifery center located next to hospital/surgical facilities for my 2nd, 3rd and 4th babies. They also happen to deliver 80% of the babies at that hospital (which has the lowest c/s and intervention rates in our metropolis). I feel great knowing I’m making an informed, safe, rational, evidence based choice based on their stats. I really wish more moms had access to these highly trained medical professionals and more options.

    • June 12, 2014 at 11:29 pm —

      “I’m always interested in why people choose homebirth. I know the stereotype is that they are stupid or are all about the ‘experience.’ But that’s not what I hear from people in my community often times.”

      Oh, I know. Several of the moms I know who have had or attempted homebirths were truly led to believe that it was the best option for them and for the baby. Sometimes it was the midwives themselves selling these moms on it, sometimes it was the larger birth culture that convinces people that hospital = c-section, and c-section = failure and probably means the baby will be an obese future serial killer or something. I might be slightly paraphrasing The Business of Being Born, but the sentiment is the same. But anyway, yeah, while there definitely are moms who are concerned about their own perfect goddess birth, many, even most, really do think they’re doing the right thing, and that’s why it’s so important to get the information about homebirth risks and predatory midwives out there.

      • June 13, 2014 at 10:34 am —

        Yes, some of those midwives and other NCB advocates do “sell” the mothers on a certain type of birth and make the hospitals seem very scary while completely dismissing that there are any risks to birth in general and homebirth in specific. And they DO gaslight the families who have had negative HB experiences. We had a HB midwife around here for a while who was known for taking on any situation. Including ones the other more reasonable HB midwives said no to. She was super scary. She had moms terrified to go to the hospital or talk to a doctor.
        On the other hand, I went to a local birth circle when I was pregnant with my second – and heard some disturbing things that mirrored my own experience in a hospital L&D and made me feel less alone and crazy for being afraid and wanting to avoid the hospital (vaginal checks without my consent, lying to me, etc.) ….. I had panic attacks just walking into that hospital for 18 mos. I feel like the some of the less scrupulous midwives can prey off of that real fear based on the women’s actual experiences as well as perceived fear based on bad information. Sometimes I feel like some of the medical community also gaslight women when they try to express why they are reluctant to put themselves back into situations in which they feel they have been treated in an abusive manner. Making it about needed education or not caring about their babies — when in fact they are sometimes suffering from reasonable concerns based on experience and sometimes PTSD even.

  3. June 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm —

    Back when I was pregnant, I made the mistake of joining a mommy forum. Home birth was a big thing. I was too afraid to go through with it and decided to try for a natural birth. But I couldn’t take the pain and asked for the epidural. No one pressured me for it, I asked. Though I felt horribly guilty after. I felt that I had hurt my child. Going on forums and watching other moms congratulating each other for their medicated birth was painful to see. There was also the sentiment that anyone who took pain relief was a failure and not a real mother. Someone also said that American moms are wimps because they take pain relief. I ended up developing severe post postpartum depression and felt like a total failure. I’ve since gotten better but still feel some guilt.

    I don’t see the home birth movement as feminist at all. If anything, if feels like more policing of women’s bodies. “Take pain relief? Need a C-section? Ha you are a weak woman!” At the time, I could also not find any counterpoints to home birth. I was very happy for this blog post. I know that there is Dr. Amy, but she seems universally hated in parenting circles.

    There seems to be motherhood cult out there. Like the women are obsessed with their children and every decision that they make for them. Some of these women seem to believe that they are here to serve their children. One woman bragged that she had never been separated from her daughter, and that she does everything for her kids and her husband. What is this teaching girls about their role in the world and boys about the roles of women? I’ve also seen a disturbing amount of glamorization of moms in the third world.

    I would love to see more blog posts critiquing the “natural” parenting movement. Like what is legit and what is woo and what is absolutely dangerous. Alt med is a big thing is those circles as is avoiding “chemicals”.

    • June 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm —

      I really hate that pressure put on moms, and I hate the way ordinary moms get sucked into it. I fell for the anti-epidural crap early in my pregnancy and was a bit of a douche to other moms on my due date board (which I very much regret). I didn’t have one because my fear of needles and numbness was considerably greater than my pain, but by that time I knew that what was best *for me* wasn’t necessarily best in general

      I think the homebirth/mommy martyr movement co-opts feminism to a large degree. Mostly based on “empowerment.” Meanwhile, many of them don’t seem to have an identity outside of parenthood. Their screen names and e-mail addresses, even off of the “mom” sites, are all [Child’s name]’sMama. They call each other Mama and praise every “alternative” decision the others make. It really is like a cult, and they see their kids as an extension of themselves to a bizarre extent, not as people they’re trying to raise right, but almost as actual appendages. It’s one thing to love being a mom, it’s another to put your entire life into every tiny parenting decision.

      I agree that they glamorize, even fetishize, moms from developing countries, and fail to put things into context, like why mothers might breastfeed longer in places without access to clean water. Yet so many of these mothers in distant countries are thrilled to have access to vaccines, which members of the mommy martyr movement are often not so quick to emulate. Interesting.

      I’m sure you’ll see plenty more critiques of this kind of parenting in the future. I know we’ve had others addressing related topics, so if you’re new to Grounded Parents, take a look in the archives. The pseudoscience of contemporary parenting culture is absolutely depressing, which does make for plenty of blog post material.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. June 13, 2014 at 8:04 pm —

    ACK! The natural birth message boards and groups. I really didn’t have any contact with them during my first pregnancy. I was an educated, modern mother. I knew I probably wanted medication. I trusted science and my doctors. The only “crunchy” thing I had was a doula through a military program for women with deployed spouses because my husband was going to be gone. She wasn’t into woo crap at all, so that was good.
    I sought the hippie dippies *after* my first traumatic birth (stupidly) seeking some understanding and perhaps some different options if we chose to have another child. I didn’t feel guilty at all until I went there. I was PISSED and anxious all the time, but not guilty feeling.
    They basically blamed me for having been mistreated — after all what did I expect from doctors/BigPharma/hospitals? (Um, not to be touched without my consent? Not to be lied to!) That was a really low point. They were very cult like and kind a creepy.
    And pretty much EVERY other person I spoke to about my feelings (including my feminist friends) just said stuff like “what really matters is a healthy baby.” Yeah, NO. I matter too! *I* was not healthy. I found that to very anti-woman and patronizing as well.
    For a long time, no one said to me, “hey, what happened to you wasn’t ok. And it wasn’t your fault.” It took a while of finding a place where I could really express and process my experience. Now, I really listen when any woman tells me about her feelings towards her pregnancy/labor/delivery.

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