Obstetrics controls the perception of “risk” in birth and defines the rights of childbearing women

I have held off commenting on the now notorious –and as of yet unpublished — Wax homebirth meta-analysis and the ensuing hullabaloo because I had wanted to keep negative birth politics to a minimum here on my blog.  Then, the viscerally disturbing Lancet editorial came out a few weeks ago and WHOA. We’re starting to see some of the anti-homebirth roots coming to the surface.  It’s time for each and every inspired individual to speak up.

Joseph Wax MD, lead author of the Wax meta-analysis

A number of smart science minds have already broken down the methodological flaws of the Wax meta-analysis into comprehensible nuts and bolts so I won’t expound upon its junk science here,  suffice it to say the authors’ conclusion of a tripled increase in neonatal mortality in homebirth is a gross misrepresentation of the actual data. Based on the ongoing anti-homebirth and anti-midwife smear campaign, one might reasonably surmise the misleading conclusion was crafted to incite more anti-homebirth rhetoric among the medical community.

Next up, the highly regarded and independent Lancet medical journal published an editorial “Home Birth – Proceed With Caution” in response the pre-release of the Wax paper. The overall tone of the editorial is dry and straightforward in its homebirth politics. There was some acknowledgment of the methodological flaws present in much of the “evidence” used to question the safety of midwife-attended homebirth:

“These data come from small observational studies that are subject to confounding. Data also frequently include misclassified cases, since studies usually look at newborn outcomes in relation to the actual rather than planned delivery location……”

Yet credit is still given to the Wax paper as “the strongest evidence so far that home birth can, after all, be harmful to newborn babies. The editorial concludes with a deeply inflammatory, disturbing attack on childbearing women, offering us a glimpse into the depths of the anti-woman, anti-homebirth sentiment that pervades the medical-industrial model of obstetrics:

“Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk….”

I will enumerate the ways in which the statement is revolting, misogynist and horribly oppressive to women. It encompasses: 1) validation of poorly conducted research and data analysis, aka junk science 2) the belief that childbearing women are not capable of critical thinking, and that they are not the most appropriate authority of the birth and care of their own offspring  3) the belief that mothers and babies are separate entities  4) threatening women with the dead-baby card and 5) the moral highground claimed by obstetrics over “bad” mothers who make the well-informed, responsible decision to birth at home precisely because they believe it is the safest place for themselves and their babies and  6)  political semantics of relative “risk” in childbirth as a fixed, uncontested, and physician-centered concept.

Should women be legally required to take folic acid supplements because failure to meet the daily requirement increase babies risk of spinal bifida? Should women be legally required to breastfeed their infants since failure to do so can leave newborns vulnerable to infections that breast milk provides immunity against?

What the above statement says to me is:  women don’t have “the right” to put their babies at risk — but physicians do. Only physicians have the right to determine and evaluate risk, and that women birthing in the hospital have the right to choose interventions that put the baby at risk so long as their choices are in agreement with the physician’s. Women choosing to birth outside the medical conglomerate (for whom it cannot control and profit from) do not have the right to opt out of physician control of birth and are putting their babies “at risk.” Now we’re getting somewhere. So, arguments on the safety of homebirth really boil down to physician control of birth, and physicians being the only people who can really understand risk in birth. The mother is, after all, just a vehicle. It follows that the assault on women’s rights in labor — what they can and cannot do with their bodies– is no surprise. When in human history have there not been coercive, threatening, aggressive attempts to control women’s bodies?

I will talk about the role of “evidence” in convincing the maternity care conglomerate to support homebirth and out-of-hospital midwifery care in my next post.

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2 thoughts on “Obstetrics controls the perception of “risk” in birth and defines the rights of childbearing women

  1. I like that you have a strong, clear point of view on this. I lean toward trying to forgive and understand EVERYBODY all the time, and that doesn’t always read well. Not to mention that whole “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good WOmen do nothing.” Thank you for doing something by putting your voice on-line.

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