Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Roots of Dogma: Ina May's Religion & the Midwives Who Follow

dog·ma  n. 
1. A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by a church.
2. An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.

dog·mat·ic  adj.
1. Relating to, characteristic of, or resulting from dogma.
2. Characterized by an authoritative, arrogant assertion of unproved or unprovable principles

After reading the recent article in the New York Times about Ina May Gaskin and her battle for home birth, it all makes sense.  Now I know exactly where the dogma started.  

As I read the article, I learned more about who Ina May Gaskin is on a human level.  It seems to me that her perception of birth is much like a religion.  Her followers even reference her as a "saint" and feverishly distribute copies of "Spiritual Midwifery" to expectant mothers.  Apparently, being a saint these days means that you were involved in a four-person marriage, are proud of doing LSD and attending workshops to process your acid trip, and that you preach to the masses about just how safe birth really is without having any real education, medical training, or reported data to back it up.  The roots of Gaskin's movement are most clearly articulated with this sentence: "The participants in the caravan settled in Summertown, Tenn., in 1971. They took a vow of poverty and veganism and lived communally. Birth was a revered 'sacrament.'"  

Do women have a right to choose any religion they please?  Sure they do.  Do they also have a right to know whom they are following?  Absolutely. But (and this is a big "but") when a mom hires a CPM or a lay midwife to attend her birth, does she fully understand the dogma at the root of that woman's practice?  I don't think so. And this is the big problem that I see.

When a woman seeks the care of a midwife, someone who is posing as a professional caregiver, the expectation is that they operate under certain professional parameters, religion aside.  I have to believe that most women do not understand the dynamics of who it is they are hiring or how the the extremist nature of the "root" philosophy will impact the care she receives.  I know I didn't.  I was looking for a more personal model of care and thought birth to be an intimate experience.  I liked knowing exactly who would attend our birth and that our midwife would be present for the duration.  I thought midwives to be a safe, reliable, professional option...part of our health care system (as some are).  Surely it must be safe if they are running freestanding birth centers in the middle of reputable suburbs.

So what went wrong?  How did we end up in the hands of midwives who were so far from the professionals, the people we thought them to be?  What I didn't understand is the vast spectrum in philosophy that resides within the practice called "midwifery."  I wasn't looking for religion and I didn't knowingly volunteer my baby for sacrifice at the altar to advance anyone's cause, yet somehow that's exactly what happened.  Blind religious faith masked as natural childbirth and sold on a communal platter.  Some might call it a cult as in this post from 10 cm, The Cult of Natural Childbirth.  I must admit, in retrospect, much of this parallel seems eerily familiar.  Especially after reading about where the dogma started and after personally experiencing the backlash from the NCB community after speaking out about our experiences.           

What bothers me most is that the "Big Push" for midwives is aimed at the general population. Women are brought into the care of extremist midwives with specific selling points and marketing tactics that make birth sound alluring and empowering. There is no honest discussion of the real risks involved.  Ina May is a good saleswoman - she has already successfully marketed her cause across the country, with 27 states now licensing CPMs (who are directly trained and credentialed from Ina May's organizations, MANA and NARM).

How is this happening when most don't fully realize just how extreme the founder's roots really are?  How can someone earn a license to attend life and potentially deadly events without an education?   How are these women earning the privilege of attending our births with no oversight or accountability whatsoever?  Dogma cannot be allowed to influence maternity care.  Best practices must be defined, standards of care established, reporting outcomes required.  I hope we can reach women in MI and help them understand the complexity of this issue before Michigan makes the same detrimental mistake. Please visit:  Top 10 Reasons Why HB5070 Would do More Harm Than Good.

Every woman has the right to know exactly where this movement is coming from and what it's all about. They also have the right to know how many families it has adversely affected through infant loss and injury, BUT unfortunately, without regulation to require reporting outcomes, we don't have that data. We just have small voices fighting to be heard.  To read more about some of those small voices, visit: Hurt by Homebirth

Click here for Another reader's review of the NYT article .

To read more about dogma in midwifery visit: 

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