Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Perils of Misguided Media

Giving birth at home is an increasing practice in recent years for women with low-risk, normal pregnancies. The term is pretty instructive. These women give birth at home with the help of a midwife for any number of reasons, many including the desire for a natural, drug-free process in a familiar, peaceful place. For a really positive documentary about home birth, check out The Business of Being Born. The American Pregnancy Association also gives a pretty good overview of some basic information surrounding whether families should consider giving birth at home.

The focus of this entry is not about home birth specifically, but the influence and implications of a piece aired by The Today Show last month entitled “The Perils of Home Births.” The coverage is really disappointing and I think even though it aired a few weeks ago, the topic is timely as it is currently National Midwifery Week!

The segment details the McKenzie family’s tragic loss of their daughter in a home birth. While the family’s story is heartbreaking, the depiction of home birth is one-sided and misleading. In introducing the story, home birth is characterized as “extreme birth” and a “fad” promulgated by celebrities who opted to give birth at home.

Nowhere in the piece does Today acknowledge the widespread use of midwives throughout the world, or the fact that home births are often found to be as safe as hospital births. The show demonizes well-known midwife Cara Muhlhan because she is not a doctor, and focuses nearly exclusively on the risks and dangers of home birth. While there are dangers with any birth procedure, a similar statistics analysis is not presented regarding hospital births. Toward the end of the segment, they do interview a couple that had a positive home birth experience, but the overwhelming tone is one of patronizing discredit.

I would not go so far as to label myself an advocate for home birth, but I am an advocate for options and information, especially when it comes to women’s health. This story serves as a striking example of how current news media shapes our views regarding our own health and bodies. Home birth, while not an “extreme” concept, is not the majority birth plan in the United States. While maybe a healthy, safe (not to mention relatively inexpensive) alternative to hospital birth for many women, mis-characterizing stories like this completely distort that reality. The show quotes the "mainstream medical community", who say (apparently in unison) the best place to have a baby is in a hospital (and also financially beneficial for them when you do!).

What can we do, as women/activists/feminists/healthy persons, to obtain health care knowledge when so much information we receive is filtered through mainstream sources? Is there ever a way to get comprehensive, factual information in an unbiased way?

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