The Perils of (Bad Reporting on) Home Birth

perils-of-home-birthJust when you think we’ve gone beyond safety issues with regard to homebirth — what with the findings in this study and, more recently, this one, among others — the Today show goes and airs “The Perils of Home Birth,” a seven-minute segment so poorly reported, so one-sided and salacious, that instead of feeling defensive and outraged — I laughed. Out loud. Alone!

Here’s what I learned: women choose home birth because it’s “hedonistic,” and the equivalent of a spa treatment. Furthermore, reporter Peter Alexander suggests that women choose home birth because famous people like Meryl Streep and Demi Moore had some babies at home. Home birth, Alexander says, is “fashionable, trendy and the latest cause celebre.”

Spa treatments? Cause celebre? (Demi Moore?!)

Buried somewhere in the reportage is the established fact that home birth outcomes are no worse than outcomes for hospital births. Unfortunately, this information comes sandwiched inside the sad, sad story of a New York City coupleĀ  whose four-day ordeal with labor — attended by Cara Muhlhahn, midwife made famous in Ricki Lake’s film, the Business of Being Born — ended in the death of their baby. Tragic, absolutely. But also the least likely outcome of a home birth.

What’s the lesson? Alexander doesn’t come out and say “don’t plan a homebirth” but he shows press footage of a spokesperson and doctor who basically does. Does he interview anybody to counterpoint the doctor’s fears of home birth? No. For that matter, do we hear about hospital deaths? Also no.

As if to underscore the fact that reporter Alexander didn’t even speak to midwives on background and instead ticked off a checklist of talking points from the the American College of Obstretricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, a professional organization that has come out strongly against home births attended by midwives), here’s how he answers the softball thrown at the end by Today host Matt Lauer.

Lauer asks what women who are considering home birth should ask their potential midwife. Two questions, Alexander says: whether they carry malpractice insurance and whether they collaborate with a doctor.

Malpractice? Really? The first question?

Sure, ask aboutĀ  malpractice, but don’t be surprised if the answer is no. And collaboration? Lucky is the midwife who can find a willing doctor!

What women really should ask a potential midwife first and foremost are these two questions: what’s your training, experience and outcomes? What’s the back-up plan?

Here’s the video:

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