Thursday, October 25, 2007

Transcript of "To The Contrary"

I have a lot of comments swirling around in my head about this discussion, but they will have to wait for another post...Anyway, here's the transcript.

The Freebirth Movement:
To The Contrary
October 19, 2007

Host Bonnie Erbe: The latest trend in birthing is women delivering babies unassisted and at home. That means no hospitals, no drugs, no doctors. Instead, women and their spouses control the delivery process. Freebirther and author Lynn Griesemer says freebirths reinforce what it means to be a woman.

Lynn Griesemer: Hospital birth is just one-dimensional, where the doctors are looking to have a live birth, a safe baby, while making a profit and avoiding lawsuits. And to me, as a woman, to access your feminine power is much more than that in giving birth. It is spiritual. It is a very private event, and I did not like the fact that in the delivery room it was not a private event. When you can try to have it as natural as possible, a woman can really enjoy the experience actually.

Host: And it’s not just women who benefit, says Griesemer.

Griesemer: Men are an important part of birth, and in an unassisted home birth the man is front and center. He’s not just some passive person sitting on the side watching the whole procedure. He has shouldered a big responsibility if something were to go wrong. He’s right in there.

Host: After having their first four children the conventional way, Griesemer and her husband decided to have their last two children at home with not even a midwife present. Griesemer says while feminism has done a lot for abortion rights, she believes the movement has neglected childbirth.

Lynn Griesemer: We have a monopoly in this country of hospital birth. 95-99% of babies are born in the hospital. It’s a big money-making business, and women are not happy with that situation. And the medical community wants to totally annihilate the option of a home birth. The feminists could just maybe acknowledge the importance of birth—that it is one of the most key rites of passage a woman will go through and to not ignore it.

Host: But the unassisted home birth movement is a contentious topic in the medical community. While studies comparing the safety of do-it-yourself births versus hospital births are limited and not scientifically rigorous, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has denounced home births for the risks to both mother and child.

Griesemer: The problem is that there can be complications. Granted, it’s very uncommon. The vast majority of deliveries are perfectly safe and perfectly fine. But the problem with obstetrics is that there can be an emergency or problem that occurs without any forewarning whatsoever. So this is not something that we take lightly. We unassisted birthers do put safety as a number one concern. We don’t want to die; we don’t want our babies to die. We just have more courage, I suppose.

Host: Do they have more courage, Dr. Healy?

Dr. Bernadine Healy: I think this is foolhardy, not courage. And I think that I very, very strongly respect any patient who wants to walk away from medical care, whether it’s the latest medical care or hospitals, whatever. But I think that when you’re making that decision for a child, it’s a very different situation. And I think the biggest risk here is to the child. And even though it is infrequent, as it is anywhere, the mother is really being kind to her child to make that decision in the interest of it being a spiritual, feminist experience.

Host: Okay, but let me ask you this: Do babies die in hospitals when they’re born? Is there a percentage of loss of children born in hospitals?

Dr. Healy: Well, but very, very rarely. Usually those are problem children who have malformations or who are born very prematurely. I will say, in defense of the freebirthers’ movement, most of the time these are women who have already had many, many children. And quite honestly, they usually drop those babies fast. I mean, these are easy deliveries and they are the ones that don’t usually have complications. But you don’t know the health of that baby until that baby arrives. And I’m concerned about a little baby coming out who’s blue, who needs some sort of sophisticated care and it is not there and will be delayed getting it.

Eleanor Holmes Norton: The point of being a mother is to think first of the baby and not of yourself. This is the most self-centered decision a woman could make. And the whole notion that childbirth, under any circumstance, could be, quote, “enjoyable” is not what, quote, “labor” is all about! However, however, it is true that since the beginning of time women have given birth unassisted. And then as time went on we found a way—not to say that no child will be born dead or deformed—but to say that we can mitigate that today. It’s that they are throwing away because it’s romanticism at its worst.

Host: But what about in the 1800s before we had routine hospital births, it was often the mother who died in childbirth, not the children. I don’t know what the data are--you might be more familiar with it than I am—but isn’t the mother more likely putting herself at risk? That women are more likely to die in childbirth? I mean, women now outlive men. Why? Not because they’re really living percentage-wise that much longer, but so many fewer women die than 100 years ago in childbirth.

Dr. Healy: But, well, maternal mortality and child mortality tend to track together. So you can’t separate the two. But I think that the issue with mothers is these are mothers who have already been experienced. You don’t hear anybody who’s having their first baby who’s going to say, "we’re going to do it at home." Those tend to be the longer labors and those tend to be the more difficult deliveries. So I think that to compare it to what went on in the 1800s...If we want to take medicine and move it back to the 1800s, we’ll solve the whole issue of healthcare! We don’t have to worry; we won’t spend a penny on it. I mean, this is foolishness.

Panelist: Well I can tell you that I think as the lone person in this panel that hasn’t had children, I am not looking forward to the experience with no drugs, no doctors, unassisted at home! Please put me in the hospital where I can have that. Wake me up when it’s over! This is something that is similar to the Christian Science trend. These are people who have a very specific way of thinking that is, like Eleanor said, a very selfish one. And the health of the baby and their own health—the baby doesn’t have the choice.

Host: All right. We gotta go. That’s it for this edition of “To the Contrary.”


  1. What a horrible interview! Sigh...
    Looking forward to your thoughts. Gonna have to mull this over myself...

  2. Yes, it was not really a conversation about UC, so much as a diatribe about how it's scary and dangerous and selfish. That is just so OLD. If we really want to talk about things "to the contrary," then let's let people talk without coming to the topic with your mind already made up.

  3. This is sad, really. I can't believe how the doc brushed off the fact that our country comes in almost last, 13th out of 14 countries, for neonatal and maternal mortality rates. And those rates are getting worse every year, not better. I had more to say, but it's slipped my brain for now...


  4. There are so many places we can go here...but come on!! Puh-leeze. The woman with no kids actually says she can't wait for the drugs and doctors...*sigh*

  5. It's the easiest to just blame it selfish and be done with it. Yes, I am selfish: I want to birth at the safest place I know. And this is home.

  6. I think part of the problem was that Lynn did take a "romanticized" tack when entering this "debate." Doctors don't want to hear about the spiritual and sexual nature of birth, they never have. Instead if she had focused on safety, rather than adding it as a footnote the debate might have gone differently. She certainly, could have (and should have imo), interjected when they were talking about moms and babies dying in droves about doctors not even washing their hands and being the cause of most of those deaths.

    All of that said, I'd really suck in a debate. It is easier to sit back and criticize, so I really do appreciate Lynn having the ovaries to get out there and do it.

  7. I hear that the show was heavily edited, and that Lynn said a lot more than we got to hear. In fact, it makes her come across as very feminist when in fact I don't think she'd personally use that label for herself! For a bit more info about the show's editing, visit this thread at MDC:

  8. As Rixa said, it was heavily edited. Lynn was interviewed by someone who never appeared on camera. Her nearly 30 minute interview was cut to under 3 minutes. She never met the panelists. Lynn was interviewed first and they commented on her interview (I believe) several weeks later. So it wasn't a debate by any means. She had no chance to respond to their comments. This doesn't seem fair to me at all, but I'm still pleased to see anyone on American TV dealing with UC.

  9. You don’t hear anybody who’s having their first baby who’s going to say, "we’re going to do it at home."

    I find this statement interesting in that it is so uninformed. There are many first-time moms I know who knew for their first baby that they didn't want to experience birth in the hospital. It seems to me that the medical community is so against homebirth that they would rather ignor the facts than become informed and help their patients be informed, too.

    Actually, the healthcare system in our country would be a VERY different animal if both doctors and consumers were fully informed, and if people really considered themselves consumers rather than letting themselves be told what is and is not good for themselves and their bodies.

  10. Yes, Kelley, I noticed that statement too. I guess I've heard a lot of people say something that no one ever says!

    It reminds me of another false claim I've seen several times -- a doctor stating that no doctor would ever consider homebirth as safe/smart/a good choice. Of course there ARE doctors who are in favour of homebirth -- my own GP is one of them.

    Lots of people need to look outside their own mind/office/hospital/house/town/culture and learn that their position on an issue is not the only position.

  11. Wow, just went to MDC and read the thread. So can Lynn follow up on this? Should we let a news program that claims to be so good twist the picture someone is trying to give? Well, I am going to write them, I think.

  12. Yuck. Such an uninfornmed, pointless exploitive chopped up interview, aimed at shock value and not fact-sharing.

    Why was that woman allowed to say that "noone" has their first baby at home? Why was she allowed to gloss over maternal mortality, both in refernce to the past and today? Why was it considered relevant or cute to say "knock me out and tell me when its over"?

    More than outraged, I guess I am just bewildered at the pointlessness of this interview. They were clearly trying to expose the culty wierdos by tattling on their freaky danger-wraught terrible thing that do-- give birth in peace and safety. but they didnt even do that, they just tossed about a few shaky facts, a few lies, a few ugly opinions, a couple of untrue stereotypes and then ended it. Stupid. Dissapointing.

  13. Joy, isn't that really how all this is looked at anyway by those who don't know or choose not to know?

  14. Well my biggest beef is conflating UC and homebirth. Two different issues! And the idea that taking an edited version of someone's taped comments and then being able to critique that...that's not any kind of debate or even a true discussion. It's entirely one-sided. Even if I was anti UC, I would find that outrageous. Bring Lynn on and let her answer her critics...oh, and make the debate more even so she wouldn't be one advocate against a gang. Jeez.matthew

  15. sorry, that "matthew" wasn't supposed to be in there...:)

  16. As Housefairy said. How utterly stupid and pointless.

  17. And the whole notion that childbirth, under any circumstance, could be, quote, “enjoyable” is not what, quote, “labor” is all about!

    Well, herein lies a huge problem. Why can't birth be enjoyable? Well, if you go to the hospital and get pitocin, chances are it won't be enjoyable at all. But I have had an enjoyable birth, un-medicated, when my baby decided to be born.

    Truly enjoyable, because I wasn't scared of birth, which most of the women in this country are! I think it is one reason why women aren't taking more control of birth, it scares them.

  18. Oh, I feel nauseous just reading that. What a horrible piece of mindless anti-woman propoganda.

    "Knock me out and wake me when it's over!" "Birth isn't supposed to be enjoyable!" "Women who have UCs usually have so many kids already that they practically drop out of there." Disgusting.

    They did themselves no favors by spouting such pointless rhetoric.

  19. you know Rixa, sometimes I feel like I have just does not really matter how we get our babies, because it is the baby that is the prize. I used to subscribe so strongly to freebirthing, to homebirthing....but now I am on the other side.

    My choices may very well be what led to the death of my baby, who I chose to birth at home. We will never know for certain what caused her death. But now I know, because I have seen the horror, the trauma of when things are going right, and then suddenly go so wrong.

    I feel angry sometimes at you, for the preaching I hear sometimes. I never used to. Can there be some kind of middle ground here? Isn't the safety, the true safety of the babies that we birth what is most important? Not how we birth them, i.e. freebirth or homebirth?

    Sometimes I wish you would use your following, your great knowledge to start a new movement for Mums and hospitals, and yes maybe docs to begin to trust each allow for a safe, Mum made choice to birth naturally in hospital.

    Yes, I will birth in hospital the next time, yes I have a VBAC supportive group of caregivers. But you know what, if there is even the slightest hint/sign of trouble I will ask them to do all they can to make sure my baby is born alive.

    Its the baby that is the prize. it is the LIVE baby that is the prize.

  20. "Isn't the safety, the true safety of the babies that we birth what is most important?"

    I'd say yes--most definitely. This is such a difficult issue, because a statistical probability can never guarantee what will play out in an individual woman's case. I believe fiercely that we are not compromising safety for "an experience" by giving birth as we feel is best, but that they go hand in hand. I am not convinced that, statistically, hospital care will result in a higher likelihood of a living baby. Especially for a healthy mother. Marjorie Tew's statistical analysis of births in Britain found an excess of infant deaths in hospital births in every category of risk (except the very highest, for which there was not enough data to be statistically significant). This held true when she factored for various risk factors and for whether the births were recorded by actual place of birth, or planned place of birth (ie, counting hospital transfers as home births).

    The problem is that no study, no statistic can console a mother when something goes wrong and she loses a child. There will always be questions of blame, wondering "if only I had done this, or not done that, would my baby be here today?" No matter the setting.

    This is not a commentary at all on your choices, past or future, about where to give birth. My heart goes out to you and I cannot offer any answers.

  21. rixa,

    as an advocate for safe someone who has studied the statistcs on both sides you could be the one with your knowledge, your educational background....and your interests to instrument changes, to bring about the cooperation between Mums, Docs, Midwives & hospitals......

    either way, any way we birth there is risk. its that risk that i have seen with my own eyes that terrifies me. A part of me hates that I will never attempt to birth at home, but the statistics on either side dont mean a damn anymore. I am lived through a baby did not.

  22. Yes, it's so true that statistics don't matter when you're living and experiencing the "exception." I really feel for you.

    I agree that hospital birth needs so much improvement, and at times it's a daunting task. Michel Odent's clinic in Pithiviers gave us a glimpse of what birth could be like in a hospital...but unfortunately it has never been reproduced anywhere else. Why not?

    It's too scary, too (legally & politically) risky to implement in an institution. I was thinking about this a lot as I was running today: how could we ever possible bring about the REAL changes that would make hospital births facilitate physiologic birth? What would they look like? Who would get to write policy?

    For example, you'd have to have things like no routine EFM, no routine IVs, no policy of lying down for labor or birth, no routine episiotomies, no routine pain medications (instead, non-pharmacological things would be offered and encouraged), no routine inductions or augmentations...and so on. No hospital birth beds--instead, low comfortable (and large!) mattresses. No restrictions on eating, drinking, laboring or birthing in the tub or shower.

    Pretty soon, it's starting to look a lot like a birth center or a home birth, only with surgical capabilities.

    Part of the difficulty in changing hospitals for the better is that you're limited by the doctors, nurses, and midwives who work there, and by their experiences and training. How to change that? How can we show hospital-based providers what normal birth REALLY looks like when it hardly ever happens in hospitals?

    Unfortunately I only see things getting worse with hospitals, because as surgical/induced/medicated births become the "normal" that most people are USED to seeing, normal birth will become more and more a relic.

    So I feel torn: do I try to spend my energy fixing a system I see as almost un-redeemably broken but still in need of fixing, as 98% of women do still use it? Or do I spend my energy working towards what I really believe in, even though only a small percent of women pursue that path?

    Just thinking out loud here...

  23. Kudos! Very informative article, keep up the good work!
    This blog will be one of the many that I visit everyday.

    Best of luck,


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