Michelle Goldberg has an important piece in the Daily Beast about home births, and how they’re rapidly gaining popularity without women knowing all the risks. I’m a fan of allowing women to make birthing choices for themselves — and one reason many women choose home births is because of frustration with the medicalization of childbirth and the lack of power that they have in the hospital — but choices should be informed, and there just isn’t a lot of great info out there on giving birth at home. What information does exist seems to point to the conclusion that home births may be more dangerous and pose a higher risk of the baby dying. Which seems logical enough. If you’re in a hospital and something goes wrong, you have many more tools at your disposal than if you’re at home. Of course, giving birth in a hospital means a higher probability that you’ll have a c-section or be given pain meds, even if that wasn’t in your birth plan.
But I have to admit that I’m skeptical of folks who are hostile to modern medicine. Yes, hospital culture is awful, and doctors can be incredibly patronizing, and I understand the appeal to giving birth at home and having full control. But the language around home birth raises some serious red flags for me. Yes, childbirth is natural and women have been doing it since the beginning of time without doctors or medical interventions; until very recently, women also died in enormous numbers because they were giving birth without medical intervention. Women still die in many parts of the world in enormous numbers because they don’t have medical help during childbirth. Childbirth is serious shit. Complaining about the medicalization of childbirth strikes me as akin to complaining about the medicalization of cancer. No, pregnancy isn’t a disease, but it’s a condition that has serious impacts on one’s health. And it can kill you. And given that, it’s not a terrible idea to at least accept the fact that medical intervention might be necessary or even good.
There also seems to be a not-small degree of overlap between homebirth evangelists and the anti-vaccination crowd. That generalized hostility toward modern medicine can be both off and dangerous. And as much as “The Business of Being Born” was a great documentary, I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to take medical advice from Ricki Lake or Jenni McCarthy. Many of the home birth advocates strike me as just as culty and ignorant as the anti-vaxxers.
Which doesn’t mean that there’s no room for hostility toward the corporate pharmaceutical industry and medical industry; both are far from perfect, and do not always put the needs of patience first. But patients, pregnant or not, should be able to make their informed decisions about their health care needs. And as it stands, there simply isn’t enough information out there for women to make informed choices. Pushes toward a more “natural” option coupled with distrust and hostility toward doctors and hospitals are having some very negative consequences for women and their children.