The Today Show aired a segment about home birth on September 11, 2009, called “The Perils of Midwifery.” Journalist Peter Alexander leads into the segment by asking, “Is avoiding the clinical nature of a hospital birth worth the risk when complications arise?” Halfway through the clip, Erin Tracy, the delegate from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists who who authored the anti-midwifery AMA resolutions last June, provided her answer to Alexander’s question.
Unfortunately, when it comes to a delivery setting, some of the emergencies arise that can’t be predicted, they happen in low-risk women with no prior medical issues during their pregnancy and if you can’t intervene within minutes, the life of the mother and the life of the baby can be endangered.
Andrew Goldman, a contributing editor at New York magazine and author of the March 22, 2009, article titled Extreme Birth, was also interviewed in the Today Show segment. The comments that Goldman attributed to an unnamed doctor have been met in the blogosphere with both laughter and disgust.
One of the doctors I spoke to said that he thought home births had become almost the equivalent of a spa treatment for women, that it was sort of this hedonistic concept of birthing.
The snippet of Goldman’s interview used by the Today Show might not be representative of the entire interview with Goldman, nor was the anti-home birth title of his New York Magazine article, “Extreme Birth,” of his own doing. Goldman wrote in a comment to Jennifer Block on her Huffington Post response to his article, “I’m sure you’re well aware that a writer almost never pens her own headline or display text, so I can’t take credit for the dek, or the headline, Extreme Birth. Blame New York Magazine.”
The childbirth-as-spa-treatment concept is actively promoted by hospitals as a way of attracting pregnant customers. The Star Tribune posted a list online in July entitled “What a Mom Wants,” which lists amenities available at local hospitals, including the following (via Stand and Deliver):
Wireless internet, flat-screen TVs, CD and DVD players, spa services by “Go Home Gorgeous,” studio-quality portrait photography.
Birthing tubs with whirlpool, surround sound stereo, massage services.
Wireless internet, doulas, water-birth tub.
Water birth, massage, “healing touch” therapy including Reiki, music therapy (including the hospital’s own harp), acupuncture.
Two obstetricians on duty around the clock, studio-quality portrait services; spa service starts in August. [Emphasis mine to highlight this luxury]
Television’s most vitriolic critic of out-of-hospital birth, Lisa Masterson of The Doctors, brags about how nice hospital labor and delivery rooms are, stating most of the hospitals now are changing everything. “They look better than my bedroom at home,” said Masterson on a January 1, 2009 episode of the television show.
According to her web site, Masterson takes spa treatments to a new level combines gynecology and spa services at her Santa Monica, California “medical spa.”
Dr. Masterson’s unique practice includes a myriad of services not found in today’s traditional gynecological medicine, paving the way for advancement in her field. She offers a medical spa within her office and is available for house calls to those of her patients unable to make the nine to five business hours.
For 75 dollars, women can “keep things clean and fresh down there” with a shave or waxing at Masterson’s medical spa. Masterson calls this “one of the best pieces of advice you will get before delivery” and adds a manicure and pedicure so that “you are a diva during delivery.”
Also on the menu at the medical spa is an alternative, non-pharmaceutical induction massage that will target specific areas of the body to encourage labor.
Interestingly, Masterson provided a pre-emptive reality check to Dr. Tracy on the May 11, 2009 episode of The Doctors, which featured Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein of The Business of Being Born and Your Best Birth. While arguing with Epstein about why home birth is unsafe because of the distance it puts between the woman and the hospital, Masterson admitted the following:
You cannot necessarily get there because even in a hospital sometimes you can’t transfer quickly.
It is a fact that emergencies occur in a hospital and the appropriate staff is sometimes unavailable to perform a cesarean. The luxury item listed above of “[t]wo obstetricians on duty around the clock” is sometimes not enough or not available.
The concept of hedonism is often coupled with psychological egoism, the theory that humans are motivated by their self-interest. ACOG shared the results of a survey on September 11, 2009 that its members are knowingly causing harm to their patients by placing their self-interest before the health of the women in their care. OB-GYN student Hilary of Mom’s Tinfoil Hat has written a few times about a professor that turns up the heat on his patients to schedule their cesarean beginning in the first trimester of their pregnancies.
He told us that he preferred it because “twenty minutes, the baby is at the mom’s breast, and I get to go home, instead of waiting for twenty hours of labor.” He disparagingly said, “I am not a labor sitter. I am not a glorified midwife” and went on to assert that, in his capable hands, a cesarean was as safe as a vaginal delivery.
While The Today Show did not reveal the source of Goldman’s home birth disparaging doctor on the air, the topic of hedonism and the search for the most pleasurable, least lawsuit-triggering (in theory) work schedule possible is relevant in today’s maternity care climate. Producers, writers and editors at The Today Show and New York Magazine might feel that they have accurately identified the perils of midwifery, but educators, activists and consumer advocates are actively promoting awareness of the perils of hedonistic, self-serving obstetrics and helping women provide care providers who will best meet their health care needs during pregnancy and beyond.
And telling pregnant women to wax their crotches is not on their priority list.