I took a doula training course from Kristi Ridd-Young, the president of the Midwives College of Utah. Part of the course was about bereavement and unexpected perinatal death. She told a story that I assumed was totally true at the time, but since reading this piece about electronic fetal monitoring I am starting to think it wasn’t as she said it was. The story went something like this (I am paraphrasing, though I should note I have an impeccable memory when it comes to remembering what people said, and I do have notes from the class to jog my memory):
I was with a mother when she lost her baby at a home birth. I was acting as a doula, not a midwife. I might stop being a midwife someday, but I will never stop being a doula. It is too important to mothers.
The mother was a nurse at a labor and delivery floor at a hospital. Her husband was a big, stoic, navajo man. I was helping her through contractions and she decided to get into the tub. Everything was fine, until the next time the midwife checked the baby’s heart rate. She couldn’t find a heart beat. We all, very calmly, drove to the hospital to confirm what had happened. The doctors gave her the bad news that there was no chance of a live birth at this point. I remember her husband standing in the corner, expressionless, but tears were coming from his eyes. I hugged him, and then held the mother while she cried, too. There was nothing to say. It is important not to try to fix what happened. I remember us all admiring the baby after the birth and the way the nurses dressed her. Just because the baby died didn’t mean it wasn’t still their baby, it is important to always treat them with the care you would give a live infant.
They never tried to have another baby. But the mother losing her baby at home made problems for her at work. The other nurses blamed her for the death because she tried to birth naturally at home. They went as far as having a meeting with a pathologist to tell the other nurses that these kinds of deaths can’t be prevented, they can’t even pin down the cause a lot of the time, and that it most likely would have happened if she birthed in the hospital.
I remember a red-headed woman leaving because she was way too upset to hear the entire story. I remember everyone buying this story, and I did too. It was my worst fear about natural birth- a sudden loss of heart beat. My heart ached for women who went through this, and I read more than one story about it. Every midwife made it seem like a sudden, unforeseen tragedy. Now I know that there is ample warning for fetal heart problems during labor, and that it probably could have been spotted if midwives were actually trained in recognizing trouble. If there really was an abnormal sudden drop, the baby could have been born quickly, via c-section (and possibly revived) in a hospital setting. I am doubtful that the meeting with a pathologist took place at all in light of this fact- how could L&D nurses be unaware of these facts?
Midwives only seem to be able to spot trouble if the heart rate has dipped lower than is normal, but cannot discern other information that could save lives via electronic fetal monitoring. They can never know how many minutes it has been since the drop unless they just happen to be listening when the problem starts. If the president of the midwives college, a midwife who has decades of experience, does not know this, how can patients be expected to see through the lies? How many women have gone through losing their baby only to believe their midwife, support her, thank her for doing a good job? We can never really know. The ‘it was an unavoidable tragedy’ line is very important for midwives to learn, so that when babies die they can avoid being accountable to the mother or the community (and keep her fee of course).
The fact that a woman who is the most powerful person in Utah midwifery believes this nonsense should be cause for grave concern for citizens and legislators- what other harmful myths does she teach midwives? How many lives will be lost as a result? I should have seen the red flags in my doula training- like when I noticed that Kristi Ridd-Young being more concerned about pimping her supplements and essential oils than reviewing HIV transmission prevention for doulas. There were a few pages on it in our binders, but it was never brought up during class.