Midwives and the internet

Dot writes: this is a post that may just be perpetuating an uncomfortable incident those involved would like to put behind them, but it has been making me uneasy and I feel the need to say my piece. Recently Sarah Stewart commented on a post by “Dr Crippen”. The post was about an incident in which an independent midwife based in Kent had written online about a homebirth which, in Dr Crippen’s view, had been seriously mismanaged. There has since been a bit of an online spat about Sarah’s intervention, which I found a bit upsetting because I like Sarah and I felt Dr Crippen pitched into her in an unnecessarily harsh and personal way (though Sarah now would like to take back part of what she wrote – that’s why I’m not directly linking to it).

What made me deeply uneasy was the way Dr Crippen’s post, intentionally or not, became a forum for people to gang up on homebirthers. The comments included numerous derogatory references to ‘madwives’ and seemed to see the incident described as typical of homebirth and midwife-led care, which I sincerely hope it’s not. One person commented that it was ridiculous to do ‘something as dangerous as giving birth outside a hospital’. What happens to women and babies caught in the middle of all this hostility and fear? If support for homebirth and faith in normal labour can’t come from within the mainstream health-system, then the sort of dodgy practice Dr Crippen criticises will be the only alternative to hospital birth; but I don’t accept that a woman who chooses homebirth is selfishly endangering her baby for the sake of ‘a hippyish sense of well-being’ (to quote another choice phrase from the comments). I refuse to believe, as this comment seems to imply, that the woman’s job is to grin and bear it while something happens in her genital region that isn’t about her at all. Nor do I think the benefits of homebirth are analogous to having a chocolate eclair and a glass of wine after your lentil stew. They’re not some kind of frivolous extra; the hope is that the physiological process itself will go more smoothly in a more familiar and calm environment.

The thing is, after reading about the case Dr Crippen criticized I did actually feel quite alarmed about what can go wrong at a homebirth and wonder if, when the time comes to produce Prawn’s little brother or sister, I will have the confidence to go through with one. Who knows whether the next labour will be as easy as this one was? Women need their caregivers to understand that birth is a personal, social and spiritual event as well as a physical one for both mother and child; they also need their caregivers to jolly well know what they’re doing from a medical point of view. A polarisation of ‘medwives’ and ‘madwives’ can only harm everyone involved.


5 thoughts on “Midwives and the internet

  1. Hi Dot, I share your concern about this incident because my fears are exactly what you are talking about – this one online incident affects how people see homebirth and midwives. The facts are that many women have wonderful, joyous and ‘safe’ homebirths with professional, ‘safe’ midwives.

    My advice to any woman thinking about the pros & cons of homebirth is to seek a midwife who she feels comfortable with and trusts in a professional way. Find out about how she practices; how she keeps updated; what she would do in an emergency; who her backup is; what are her arrangements for transfer to hospital if required.

    As a midwife, I ‘screen’ women. If there are ‘risk’ factors, then I work in conjunction with the woman to explore them in relation to whether a homebirth is appropriate or not. Gosh, this is going to develop into a serman, so must stop now – I might turn this into a blog post.

    Bottom line, homebirth is a very safe and desirable option for ‘low risk’ women – there’s heaps of research to back that up, whatever people say. Have faith in yourself and your family, and choose a midwife who you trust and can work in partnership with.

  2. Dot

    Thanks Sarah. You clarified what it was I was trying to say and I’ve slightly revised the post in line with your comment. The reason I called it ‘midwives and the internet’ rather than ‘Doubts about homebirth’ or similar was because of that sense of people happily joining in to have a rant, a rant that could do damage in an area that matters a lot. Dr Crippen’s original post wasn’t a rant, though it was combatively written. I also agree with him that medical professionals must be open to scrutiny (and goodness knows they are). But I was extremely disturbed and alarmed by the tone of the conversation that arose from the post.

  3. Those rants are on a par with people ranting about immigration, the breakdown of British society, paedophiles: uninformed, thoughtless, reactionary. Informed discussion is all well and good but maybe we should fight fire with fire…

    I want to know about home birth. You know what, I think I’ll ask a male doctor. He’s bound to know, seeing as he has never been pregnant or given birth himself and has never experienced a home birth, let alone hundreds of them. What do midwives know? Doctors drank champagne and called each other by their last names at Uni!

    Although perhaps even the doctor is too knowledgeable. Perhaps it’s better to ask an incoherent idiot from down the pub in Hertfordshire. He has this theory that the hippy home-birthers are actually Polish. Coming over here, taking our outrage!

    It’s amusing that the same people who ceaselessly lament the state of the NHS would force women to receive medical treatment when they don’t have a medical problem. I think if you hate home birth then you should have to be hospitalised despite being healthy, just for a bit of uncomfortable rectal/vaginal probing (depending on your sex), some panicky waver signing (internal bleeding and death), a load of needle stabbing (hope the nurse is a good phlebotomist) and maybe some elective surgery on your internal organs. All in a hectic, dirty and surprisingly unfriendly environment. Lovely.


  4. kenanddot

    Jeremy, I hope your comment doesn’t reflect bad experiences with Clem’s birth. Btw, we’ll be in Yorkshire for the Leeds conference quite soon – any chance of popping over and meeting the wee one? Drop us an e-mail and we’ll talk dates…

  5. No, our experience was more on the positive side. I just wanted to write some reactionary antagonism to counter the words of the anti-brigades. I seek only balance.

    Of course we’d like to meet up, although I must admit I find children older than Clem frightening. I’ll email you shortly.

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