UK Paper Calls Home Birth "Selfish and Reckless"


Every so often I come across an article that's so over-the-top that I can't not blog about it. This just in from Britain's Daily Mail: Planning a home birth? Sorry, but you're just selfish and reckless. It's a mother's argument about why women shouldn't give birth at home, based on her personal experiences giving birth. Nothing entirely new or even unreasonable in itself, but the author Liz Fraser takes a huge leap from explaining why home birth isn't the right choice for her to condemning and judging all women who choose home birth as reckless and selfish. And lots of other things.

What really irks me about this woman's piece isn't her personal choice to birth in a hospital setting, and not even her conclusion that home birth, to her, seems too risky. It's the blatant lack of research and the self-righteous tone that make her piece particularly insufferable.

Let's turn to the short piece of research she cites to back her claim that there is a tiny but increased risk to the baby at a home birth: the Wax meta analysis on home birth that's been making my Google alert on "home birth" go haywire for the past month. On the surface, this meta analysis seems fairly impressing: over 500,000 births in their data set and the news-grabbing conclusion that home birth "associated with a tripling of the neonatal mortality rate." The author obviously read no further than the news headlines, because a closer look at the Wax meta analysis reveals something else entirely. To come to the conclusion that home birth results in a 3x higher neonatal mortality rate, the study's authors eliminated around 95% of their data set, looking at only 9,811 home births--not hundreds of thousands. In addition, the 2002 Pang study contributed significantly to those numbers on neonatal mortality ("12 of the 18 neonatal deaths in normally formed newborns," according to Amy Romano of Science & Sensibility). The Pang study was based on birth certificate data and included unplanned home births in its data.

Now let's take a look at Fraser's tone. I understand why some women really prefer being in a hospital setting and truly feel safer there. And I don't try to talk them out of it, or convince them they're misguided, even though I might make very different choices. But Fraser's article isn't really about her--it's about you and me. About everyone who makes different choices from her. And it isn't at all understanding or supportive or even somewhat self-reflexive. Read a few of her sentences and you'll see what I mean:

Home is the perfect environment for many things, but there's one thing it's definitely not right for - and that's giving birth. For that, there are things called 'hospitals' and they are full of lovely people called 'doctors'....

We're talking about the life of two people here - and, by association, the lives of everyone they know - and I value that ever so slightly above the need for comforting personal effects and my favourite CD on the stereo. And to me, anyone who doesn't is being not only very foolhardy, but also incredibly selfish. As well as having written three books on parenting, I have given birth three times, and never considered having my baby on the Ikea rug in my living room....

[I]t's vital for mothers to maintain a sense of self, to keep meeting their needs and to teach their children that they are not the most important things in the universe. I wish more overindulging parents would try this. But where childbirth is concerned, I firmly believe we need to put our self-centred wishes aside, and be in the safest possible place just in case things go unexpectedly wrong....

Those in favour of home birth speak of it as being a ' positive' choice. Of the journey into hospital being 'unpleasant'. Of hospitals being 'uncomfortable' And for whom? For the mother - not for the baby. Now, I dislike strip lighting, the clinical smell and not being able to drink a cup of tea out of my favourite mug as much as the next woman trying to get a human out of her body. But these discomforts seem shamefully insignificant compared with the importance of having a safe, healthy delivery - even if the risk is tiny. And at least if I get myself to the hospital from the start, I know there's no chance I'll end up rushing there in an emergency, thus putting my baby's life at risk....

And one of the best ever--having a baby at home is selfish because the midwife gives you one-on-one attention for the duration of your labor!

And I only have to look to all the doctors I know who have chosen to give birth in hospital to know it's the safest place to be. The other selfish aspect of a home birth is that it requires a fully-trained midwife to leave the hospital and give one woman her undivided attention for the duration of her labour, which can be 24 hours or even much longer....There is no mention of all the other women in hospital who might need the midwife's care during that time. Thought is given only to the right of the woman to choose to give birth wherever she likes.

Never mind that one-on-one, uninterrupted care during labor is probably the safest kind available. And thus, in Fraser's reasoning, this should earn a mother gold stars for her concern about the baby's safety.

That smacks of both shoddy journalism and a constricted worldview.


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