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Womens Health

Don't Condemn Unassisted Births Because of 1 Tragedy

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A few years ago, I mentioned an article from the Ottawa Citizen called Barbarians in Blogistan, which discussed the new do-it-yourself movement spreading via blogs. Today, the newest repository of self-help medical knowledge--to be shunned if you have any common sense, the article implies--is YouTube. In DIY Medicine, Dakshana Bascaramurty of the Globe and Mail also argues that the new frontier is no longer online medical diagnosis--it's YouTube.

Before, doctors worried about patients who self-diagnosed after doing Internet research on questionable medical websites. But the social Web has given birth to a new beast: users who document their DIY medical procedures on camera and share the videos on YouTube.

Among the procedures mentioned in the article are toenail removals, cyst excisions, boil lancing, cast removal, suture or staple removals, abscess drainage and tattoo removals. And, of course, unassisted birth. Most of the article's examples contain some grisly language describing people pulling out their own toenails, or removing surgical staples in the backyard after a couple of beers. But unassisted birth has, by far, the strongest cautionary tale. The author mentions a 14-year-old girl who gave birth unassisted to a baby who died shortly after birth and threw the baby in a dumpster. Here's an excerpt:

Particularly troubling to Richard Musto, a public health physician with Alberta Health Services in Calgary, are the videos that depict unassisted home births, some of which have garnered millions of hits and several comments from expectant mothers eager to learn about the procedure.

Last month, a 14-year-old girl in Texas was charged in relation to the death of her newborn boy, whom she left in a dumpster. The baby died minutes after he was born and investigators suggest it may have been because the afterbirth blocked his airway. The girl and her younger sister learned how to deliver the baby at home after watching videos on YouTube.

“You can understand it’s a natural thing, but things go wrong in childbirth and that’s why you need to have someone that’s properly trained to manage that,” Dr. Musto says.

I get tired of childbirth being lumped together with medical procedures--from brain surgery to cyst removal to dental surgery. I also find the example of the teenager who throws her baby in a dumpster incredibly insulting to the vast majority of women who prepare extensively for an unassisted birth. Sure, I do worry about someone giving birth unassisted after watching a few videos and reading a some online articles. But that is not reflective of most UCers' level of preparation.

For example, before I gave birth the first time, I became certified in neonatal resuscitation and had first-hand experience resuscitating a newborn. (Short version of the story: precipitous birth, terrible Midwest blizzard, midwife driving as fast as she could. Baby came out limp and unresponsive to stimulation. Midwife was on the phone, advised mouth-to-mouth. The baby perked up after a few minutes of M2M. Midwife arrived a few minutes after the birth, by which time baby was stable and crying. I had vernix all over my face and glasses and clothes. It was quite the sight.)

I'm not saying unassisted birth is perfectly safe, just think happy thoughts and nothing will ever go wrong, la la la. But condemning all unassisted birth--childbirth, after all, is a normal, inevitable physiological event, not a medical procedure--because of one tragic "dumpster baby" is way off the mark.

I'm not calling this one Code Mec yet. But it definitely merits an emphatic eye roll.

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