Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Freebirthing" to air on the Discovery Health Channel

The unassisted childbirth documentary originally titled "Outlaw Births" and now renamed "Freebirthing" will be airing on the Discovery Health Channel on Oct. 21st. As far as I know, the only things that have changed are the title and perhaps the narration. I enjoyed the British version, but as expected, there were numerous unsubstantiated comments from medical professionals about the supposed safety of hospital birth and the dangers of homebirth (specifically unassisted homebirth). In my interview with the producers last summer I addressed many of their concerns but most of my comments ended up on the cutting room floor.

I've posted clips from the British version of the program on a web page I put up called To see the Discovery Health Channel's page about the program click here.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes will be made to the US version. A producer from Discovery Health contacted me a few weeks ago to see if some of the "facts" presented in the program were indeed facts. I wrote him a long letter telling him more than he probably wanted to know! I've included some of my comments below. I'd actually be suprised if any changes were made to the program, but we'll find out soon!

Dear Emil,
I’m glad to hear it will be airing in the US. Overall I thought it was good, although I felt they were wrong to say that 50,000 UK women hemorrhage each year, without adding that much of this is due to medical intervention – epidurals, pitocin, aggressive management of the third stage of labor, c-sections, etc. Without bringing in this fact, it makes it appear that large numbers of women will naturally hemorrhage if a birth isn’t medically assisted.

Nine pregnant women were actually interviewed for the documentary (although most weren’t featured), and all nine went on to successfully give birth unassisted. None of the women hemorrhaged, and only two sought medical care after the birth – Heather, for a placenta that was slow to come out (but came out without assistance in the hospital), and another woman who tore and decided to get stitches. Heather is now sorry she went into the hospital, as many women that give birth at home deliver the placenta hours (and occasionally, days) after the birth with no problems. There really was no reason for concern. And so I would dispute the narration that accompanied this segment, as they implied (if not outright stated) that Heather was in serious danger.

Regarding the statement that “80% of women say that childbirth is more painful than they ever imagined," I googled “childbirth more painful than imagined” and found several references to a UK study from 2002. However, the article states that of the women in the study, “Almost a quarter had had a Caesarean and 96 per cent gave birth in hospital with a variety of technical assistance including forceps, suction and epidurals. Only 6 per cent reported having a 'completely natural birth.'”

As far as the accuracy of the comment in the end of the program that "For Laura Shanley the responsibility rests on the medical community to offer a different kind of support to women," this actually bothered me, as I would never make a statement like this. I believe the responsibility rests on women. If women truly want to have a better birth experience, they need to educate themselves as to why birth can sometimes be problematic. From the research I have done, I believe it can be traced to three main causes: poverty, unnecessary medical intervention, and fear (which triggers the fight/flight response and shuts down labor). We cannot depend on the medical profession to “save” us from birth, as we really don’t need to be saved – and their idea of saving (inductions, c-sections, etc.) brings with it a new set of problems that are actually causing an increase in both maternal and infant mortality. And so I encourage women to overcome their fears, believe in their own abilities and allow their bodies to work the way they were designed.

The producers of the documentary did ask me what doctors, midwives and doulas can do, and I told them they can help women to believe in themselves (and this is the clip they showed after making that statement). But I would never put the responsibility on the medical community, as I do not believe birth is a medical event. Contrary to what many reporters are saying, the unassisted childbirth (UC) movement isn’t simply a reaction to over-medicalized birth (although that’s certainly a factor). I think interest in UC is growing because women are wanting to take responsibility for themselves in all aspects of their lives. They no longer feel comfortable turning themselves over to the “authorities.” The idea that “doctor knows best” doesn’t sit right with many people anymore. Yes, doctors are necessary and sometimes their services are needed. But when it comes to birth these days, I believe they are creating more problems than they’re fixing.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do. Dare I say, there were several other statements made in the documentary that I didn’t agree with – and actually addressed in the hours of interviews I did with the UK crew. Unfortunately, most of that ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, I’m thankful that I was able to say as much as I did (I did a 4-hour interview with the Seoul Broadcasting System a few years ago, and when the documentary aired a year later my part was 15 seconds long). I also felt the British did a nice job presenting the women’s stories. I don’t object to them including negative comments from doctors, but many of the comments made simply weren’t true.

Best wishes,
Laura Shanley


x said...

I look forward to watching this. As a mom of 2 I have a lot of friends who have talked about freebirthing. My bff was considering this but decided not to in the end. She also divorced her hubby and sold her ring to after a bad divorce and felt that having her friends with her at the hostpital for the birth of her child meant a lot.

Heather B. said...

You know what bothered me the most? That they sensationalized my placenta "issues" so much. Really, risk of infection doesn't start until at least 24 hours after birth. My placenta was retained only a few hours. They also acted like I had placenta previa and UC'ed anyway, failing to mention that the placental sounds were higher up by the time. I gave birth--as well as the fact that low placental sounds do not necessarily indicate PP.

They did leave out a lot of the commentary. It lacks the depth required to really enlighten people as to WHY people choose UC. It also doesn't do justice to the preparation that goes into UCing; it doesn't discuss how UC mothers handle 'complications' or anything like that.

They left out most of the cute footage after the birth, where friends were able to come meet the baby within a few hours, where Corbin met his newborn bro right away and got to lay in bed with his, pat his head, brush his hair.

They left out us boiling the scissors to sterilize them and instead showed only us rinsing them in cold water, so it came off as though we just grabbed unclean house scissors and gave them a rinse to cut the cord.

I also wish it would have mentioned that my birth with Corbin, with an epidural, was just as painful for me as Orin's birth. My labor with Corbin was longer and harder.

Overall I think it's a good film...but there was a lot left out that makes a huge difference in the potrayal of freebirth and of our stories.

Laura Shanley said...

I'm so glad you commented, Heather! In the months to come, I'm sure there are going to be more opportunities for you to set the record straight! Media interest in UC isn't going away. In any case, I commend you - not only for having the courage to give birth unassisted, but for sharing your experience with a world that isn't always kind or accepting of those of us who choose to go against the herd.

Sheridan said...

I can't wait to see it! I am so glad that their are women who were willing to share their experiences so we could learn from them! Thanks!

WiseWoman said...

Thanks Laura, I will forward this info on. I’m excited that we are getting coverage of this subject into the “tapestry” of N. American life. Same thing is happening with ending male genital mutilation. It’s getting under people’s skin. What always precedes a breakthrough is a backlash so the drs yammering on and on is to be expected. The dinosaur dies hard. Gloria Lemay, Vancouver BC, Canada

Sifreynir said...

It frustrated me too heather the way you were portrayed.
I spent a good couple of weeks pointing out the inaccuracies of your portrayal in the film on British Forums.
As well as the other bad narration. Hope they do a good clean up job on the discovery channel

Emily said...

I was SO dissatisfied by this special!!! I was counting down the days until it was on and ended up very disappointed by it! I couldn't believe (well, I COULD believe it since that's how doctors are) when Heather went to the ER for her placenta. What a jerk!! I'm glad that they aired it to put a bug in some women looking for another option's ears though. Maybe it will lead them down a path to a homebirth??

Also, I want to thank you for reading, and commenting my blog. I really thought my neighbor across the hall was the only one reading them. Thank you, honestly. I was floored when I saw it was you (and of course I knew exactly who you were!!). Thank so much. You made my night.

Have a GREAT Halloween and I hope to talk to you soon!

With love,

Laura Shanley said...

I share your frustration, Emily. But this one was actually better than some I've seen. At least the women got to share *some* of their thoughts about why they were doing this. It was far from perfect, but I do think it planted some seeds!

I love your blog! And I'm sure you have a bigger audience than you realize. I'll certainly direct more people your way!

Emily said...

I agree that it wasn't as bad as it could have been!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
I just want to thank you so much for all the work that you do. It has given me a lot of hope. I had began to think that women were crazy because they would say: "I don't care what they do to me or how much it hurts as long as I get my baby". I'm really glad there are women that do care. Please keep up the good work!

Laura Shanley said...

Thanks, Linia!!

Carrie said...

Thank you for agreeing to do this documentary. My husband and I were flipping channels tonight and we stumbled on the beginning of the program on Discovery Health (Nov 18th). I am one of four children and our mother gave birth to all of us naturally. I was born 3 weeks late, 100% healthy. Mom taught us that it's what our bodies were built to do! We hope to get pregnant in January or February, and I hope that when the time comes, I can give birth naturally without any unnatural interference from the medical field. My sister's OB/GYN stripped her membranes without asking her first (at a routine check up). Her body wasn't ready to go into labor, so when results were slow at the hospital where she hadn't planned to begin laboring, they gave her Pitocin to "speed up the process" ... trying to speed up a labor her body and baby would've started naturally in time. After hours of pushing and the baby not turning on its own, they told her she had to have a c-section. This documentary (and the British version) makes me want to seek additional information for natural childbirth in my area.

Thank you again,


Laura Shanley said...

I'm glad you were able to catch the show, Carrie! Your sister's experience is very typical. I addressed these issues in my interview but most of my comments were cut. The producers could have asked the medical professionals they interviewed about the dangers of routine hospital procedures like these but they chose not to. Instead, hospital birth was presented as a safe option, which in far too many cases, it isn't. But at least some truth got through. Thanks for your comment and best of luck with your future births!

Gumbastn said...

As an objective viewer with no personal feelings about the issue, I will say that the show came across as very sympathetic to the women. It clarified their motivations for their choices.
It also made portrayed the medical professionals as cold and only worried about risks instead of the emotions that are connected to a birth. The doctor who treated Heather was downright hostile which reinforced her negative experiences. I’m not saying there are not wonderful, caring health care professionals out there, but it even those are often pressured and swayed by the fear of malpractice into intervening when mothers would prefer they not.
With all the talk of a pain free delivery, only the woman in the birthing tub seemed to be relaxed and pain free. Heather and the other woman seemed scared to death in the moment; too scared to really enjoy the birthing part of it. I’m not saying that diminishes their happiness in the outcome or overall ability to control the experience.
One thing I don’t understand is the term “midwife”in the UK. Is this different than in the US? Historically midwives have been seen as a champion for women and natural childbirth. I don’t get why they are being lumped in with all other medical providers in this documentary.
I also felt the show didn’t explain why these women choose not to have a Douala or midwife in their home in case of emergency.

Laura Shanley said...

Yes, most midwives encourage natural birth and even homebirth. But many women in the UK are unhappy with NHS (National Health Service) midwives. Often they can be just as controlling and interventive as doctors. As far as the documentary not explaining why these women didn't want to have a doula or midwife at their births, you're right. But this isn't because the women didn't make this quite clear in their interviews. The hundred plus hours of footage were edited down to 45 minutes. Many wonderful comments ended up on the cutting room floor. If you'd like to learn why women choose unassisted birth, please visit my website. Thanks for your comment!