I came across a blog post today, which begs the question: “Can you be a pro-choice feminist and anti-home birth?” Of course, I had to take a look. She posits that to be anti-home birth is to be anti-feminist and anti-choice. I disagree.
I have been involved in the reproductive rights and women’s health movement for nearly twenty years. I worked for an abortion provider for six of those years. I know firsthand the level of regulation and oversight required of abortion care providers. This analogy is terrible, because being anti-homebirth or being pro-regulation for homebirth midwives does not equal being against women making choices about their bodies or medical care.
My objection to homebirth, as it is often practiced in the United States, has nothing to do with bodily autonomy. It has to do with providers’ abilities to provide high-quality, safe health care and informed consent, something that is required of abortion providers. If women can safely birth at home with licensed providers, who have standardized advanced training in birth and medicine, receive oversight from a regulatory body/medical doctor, hold malpractice insurance in the case of an injury, are held accountable if they cause harm and provide the woman with accurate information regarding her health care, I have no issues. But unfortunately, that is often not the case in the US, where in some states homebirth midwives can be untrained, unsafe and unwilling to work with the health care system to help women when something goes wrong. In some states like mine where homebirth midwifery is illegal, midwives travel from other states and practice illegally, a practice which in addition to being illegal, creates even more risk for the woman and unborn child.
For the record, I love midwifery. I had two beautiful births attended by Certified Nurse Midwives in outstanding hospitals. I had the best of both worlds – awesome, personalized, empowering care AND providers who had received advanced medical training and were backed by medical directors. If I have another baby, I will probably choose a CNM. I have even toyed with going back to school to become one. CNMs are awesome.
Fact: homebirth is not as safe as hospital birth in the US. The study she cited does not prove that at all, as you can read on my colleague’s blog on the subject. The study design and data collection procedures were flawed and it lacks an adequate control group. What’s more is that the homebirth movement provides misinformation to women about risks and tries to cover up mistakes. There’s nothing feminist about providing misinformation and promoting unsafe birth through scare tactics. Withholding accurate medical information from women or shaming them into birthing at home when they need more advanced medical care is decidedly anti-choice.
Let’s talk about shame. It’s pretty common in the homebirth movement. Shaming women. For begging to go to the hospital. For considering interventions when complications arise. For daring to go public or file a lawsuit after a loss resulting from midwifery malpractice. It’s wrong and anti-feminist to prize the movement over the women the movement is supposed to be serving and to try to bury cases of medical malpractice.
My primary objections to the home birth movement are the lack of regulation and required training/education, the promotion of misinformation and unlicensed people practicing medicine poorly, which has too often resulted in women and babies dying. Her analogy is like saying – it’s anti-choice to require women to obtain an abortion from a licensed physician at a licensed facility. If homebirth were required to involve licensed, consistently trained providers in our country and was regulated as heavily as abortion care, I might view it differently, but until then, nope – bad analogy and shame on her for trying to shame women.
One might even provide the better analogy that homebirth midwives are like back alley abortionists. That doesn’t mean they aren’t well-meaning, good people. However, when you take regulation, medical knowledge and training out of the picture, more women (and in this case, babies) will be hurt. The problem with being hurt by a lay provider is that you are often blamed for seeking that illegal or unsafe service, so you are less likely to report what happened. That lay provider is not required to hold insurance, provide you with accurate medical information or provide high quality care. That lay provider may not have appropriate relationships with actual medical providers in case of an emergency. You may be encouraged to avoid the hospital or be avoided by your midwife if something goes wrong. Doesn’t sound safe or like something that a proponent of women’s health would support.
I would be willing to leave it at that if she hadn’t brought up slut shaming.
This is a straw man argument. I don’t blame or shame women for being duped or being provided with misinformation. I was a part of the natural parenting movement. I was shamed, duped and convinced to make choices that negatively impacted my health and wellbeing and my baby’s health, particularly around breastfeeding. I digress – my point is – been there, done that. I saw parents being shamed, misled and convinced to do stupid things every day on those boards. I don’t blame women. I blame home birth midwives and a movement that shames women into making unwise or ill-informed choices, based on inaccurate information and assigning value to unsafe practices like unassisted homebirth VBACs and high risk home births, putting women and babies at risk and then blaming them if something goes wrong.
So, Ms. Crosley-Corcoran, the pro-choice and feminist movements are calling. We’d like you to stop using “feminist” to describe anti-choice, anti-women and anti-feminist activities. You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Screenshots from: The Feminist Breeder
Images: Steph, all rights reserved.