ACOG’s Statement on Homebirths

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently issued a Statement on Homebirth which condemns homebirth and all those who are willing to attend homebirth (aka midwives), concluding that only “…the safest setting for labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period is in the hospital, or a birthing center within a hospital complex, that meets the standards jointly outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and ACOG, or in a freestanding birthing center that meets the standards of the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, The Joint Commission, or the American Association of Birth Centers.”

Many other websites have covered this topic in exhaustive detail, so I’ll refer you to them in just a moment, but first a few comments of my own. As Rixa rightly pointed out on her blog The True Face of Birth, ACOG’s sudden acceptance of out-of-hospital birth facilities (i.e. freestanding birth centers) flies directly in the face of their earlier November, 2006 Statement on the subject, where they were adamant that the hospital “is the safest setting for labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period,” and that “ACOG strongly opposes out-of-hospital births.” I wonder what caused the sudden change of heart? If you recall, during the time, ACOG and the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) were not on such buddy-buddy terms. In fact, the AACB wrote a scathing denouncement of ACOG’s statement. Opposing out of hospital birth included births that occurred in freestanding birth centers as well as in homes. I guess in deciding to attack homebirth directly, maybe ACOG decided that it would be better off having the AACB as an ally rather than an enemy, and included freestanding birth centers in its list of “acceptable birthing places” this time around. Who knows. There has got to be so much back-room wheeling and dealing and politics involved in all of this that one can only wonder at the motives. But crucially, why must support of freestanding birth centers be at the expense of homebirth?

It’s also interesting to note that the ACNM has yet to issue a response to this. Is that because they’re partly mollified by ACOG’s acceptance of certified nurse-midwives to the exclusion of all other midwives? From the ACOG statement: “For women who choose a midwife to help deliver their baby, it is critical that they choose only ACNM-certified or AMCB-certified midwives that collaborate with a physician to deliver their baby in a hospital, hospital-based birthing center, or properly accredited freestanding birth center.” Making distinctions like that among midwives in our country (CNMs v. CPMs) only hurts our profession as a whole and is going to get the overall profession of midwifery absolutely no where, but I’ve already written about this ad nauseum. And what about the hundreds of Certified-Nurse Midwives/ Certified Midwives who attend homebirths? Dear ACNM: Just because the majority fo CNMs/CMs work in hospitals doesn’t mean that those who work in homes don’t need a response statement from you. You’re still the professional organization for ALL Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Midwives—even those who perform homebirth. If you won’t stand up for a woman’s right to give birth in a home, at least stand up for the midwives you represent who deliver in homes….even if it means butting heads with your beloved ACOG.

As Rixa conjectured, maybe all of this is indeed in response to Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s documentary The Business of Being Born, which has done a terrific job of raising awareness regarding homebirth. The real question we need to continue to ask ourselves is this: Why is it that America, with all of it’s insistence on hospital birth and safety, still has one of the highest rates of neonatal and maternal mortality among developed countries? That question lies at the heart of The Business of Being Born, and clearly, the American way of doing birth, for all its emphasis on hospitals and safety, has not adequately addressed this. What we need is a statement from ACOG more along the lines of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which both jointly support homebirth, in sharp contrast to what ACOG has churned out (kudos to Rixa for finding and posting this in its entirety). Just read the first few lines of the document:

    The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) support home birth for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. There is no reason why home birth should not be offered to women at low risk of complications and it may confer considerable benefits for them and their families. There is ample evidence showing that labouring at home increases a woman’s likelihood of a birth that is both satisfying and safe, with implications for her health and that of her baby.1–3

What a refreshingly different point of view. Surely American women aren’t that different from British women? Surely our healthcare systems are not that different? Why can homebirth be safe on one side of the pond, and unsafe on the other? Yeah, you guessed it: one side is actually basing its policy on research and fact, while the other is pandering in fear, uncertainty and doubt. And don’t forget the economics at work here. ACOG is a professional organization supporting and marketing the services of its members: obstetricians. In other words, a lobby. Again as the Business of Being Born points out, the bottom line is always the bottom line. If we had a national healthcare system like the NHS, where homebirth actually translates to increased savings, rather than a competitive profit-driven healthcare system and a surplus of obstetricians, we’d probably be seeing a lot more governtment-funded support for homebirth.

This is the line that really sticks in my craw: “The main goal should be a healthy and safe outcome for both mother and baby. Choosing to deliver a baby at home, however, is to place the process of giving birth over the goal of having a healthy baby.” You selfish, selfish mothers, trying to enjoy your relaxing, all-natural births at the expense of your babies! The mother and the baby have become hopelessly estranged in the minds of American medicine, and the emphasis (and increasingly, the legal rights) of the baby are always seen as more important than those of the mother. Rather than motherbaby, where the two are linked and the health and wellbeing (physical, mental and emotional) of one is dependent on the other, we have fetal rights outstripping maternal rights, in courts as well as in hospitals. Why can’t modern medicine seem to get it through its skull: what’s good for the mother is ALSO GOOD FOR THE BABY. The two are not diametrically opposed. When a woman feels safe, supported and relaxed, she’s able to sink into her labor and allow her birth to unfold in the manner that’s best for the baby, without all of the stress hormones and cortisol, without all of the fear….and more often than not, with stunningly good outcomes.

In any case, you should go read the rest of Rixa’s post on The True Face of Birth ASAP: 10 Responses to ACOG’s statement on homebirth, as well as the other responses cropping up around the blogosphere.

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