For many parents, home birth is a transcendent experience, and they’re profoundly grateful to have been able to have their babies on their own terms. Yet as the number of such births grows, so does the number of tragedies—and those stories tend to be left out of soft-focus lifestyle features. Now a small but growing number of people whose home deliveries have gone horribly awry have started speaking out, some of them on a blog, Hurt by Homebirth, set up by former Harvard Medical School instructor Amy Tuteur. “These people are beating themselves up over this,” says Tuteur, perhaps the country’s fiercest critic of the home-birth subculture. “They did it because they thought it was safe, and it wasn’t safe.”
Out of 39 paragraphs, Dr. Amy Tuteur (the Skeptical OB) is quoted in four and mentioned in a fifth, yet the afterquakes have, almost exclusively, have centered around including Tuteur as a source for Goldberg’s article.
In fact, in The Slate, Jennifer Block’s piece entitled, “How to Scare Women: Did a Daily Beast story on the dangers of home birth rely too heavily on the views of one activist?” contains 16 paragraphs and Tuteur is highlighted in ten of those, not including the obvious reference to her in the title.
Goldberg's reliance on Tuteur is an interesting choice. Also known as “Dr. Amy,” Tuteur let her medical license lapse in 2003 and created the blog Home Birth Debate in 2006, which she used to advocate for her position, which is basically: Home birth kills babies. “Even the studies that claim to show that home birth is as safe as hospital birth actually show the opposite,” she'd frequently post in response to a challenge, smearing the researchers of those studies in dedicated blog posts and igniting flame wars in the comments section. On other sites, including Nature and RH Reality Check, her comments have been flagged and removed for being defamatory or basically spam.
The back and forth continues with Goldberg defending her original piece with “Michelle Goldberg Answers a Critic’s Distortions of Her Home-Birth Argument”, naming Tuteur in nine of the 21 paragraphs.
Let’s start with her primary criticism—my use of Dr. Amy Tuteur, a figure anathema to the home-birth community, as a source. Now, I think Block overstates my reliance on Tuteur; there’s a difference between agreeing with her after doing my own research and repeating a “Tuteur talking point,” as Block accuses me of doing. But leave that aside, and let me explain why I’m not convinced by Block’s attempts to impeach Tuteur’s expertise.
So, why am I up at 2am counting paragraphs in tit-for-tat articles? First, because I cannot believe the energy spent on Dr. Amy… so many people arguing for or against her as a source. It’d be amusing if it weren’t such a serious topic. It’s really important for people to know that Dr. Amy isn’t going anywhere and that she will continue to be used as a source protesting Certified Professional Midwives and much of home birth. I know women who begin reading an article or post and if Tuteur is mentioned, abruptly end their reading session. Dr. Amy has been a source in over a dozen articles, from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and Time.com; it’s unlikely she’s going anywhere.
Something else you’re unlikely to see again is the debate about using Tuteur as a credible source. I just don’t see Newsweek debating the Times of London about whether she should be believed or not. I have the distinct feeling this back and forth of the last few days will be a rarity and limited to smallish, women-oriented ezines. Large magazines don’t have time for such nit-picking and have editors to determine whether a source is adequate or not before they ever make it to print. Apparently, Tuteur has passed muster more than once.
I wonder if the detractors think if they make enough noise, Dr. Amy won’t be used as a source anymore. I believe the louder they become, the more often she will be quoted, clearly annoying the home birth contingent; the press loves conflict.
As much as Dr. Amy Tuteur makes some people crazy, she has proven she is not a force to ignore. While I have issues with her delivery and am unsure about all she professes as fact, the woman has things to say that need to be heard and she’s going to be heard, whether we like it or not. Instead of trying to make her go away, how about we find people who can argue with/speak out against what she says in the same articles. And for crying in a bucket, debating statistics is not the way to do it! If you haven’t figured it out yet, the stats’ results are in the eye of the beholder, so finding alternative discussions is crucial. One of my favorite topics is why women want an out-of-hospital birth in the first place. And then it needs to move quickly to choosing safe home birth midwives. I believe until we have clear, fantastic midwifery education and a way for them/us to learn the advanced skills necessary for out-of-hospital births, we’re fighting a losing battle. Dr. Amy has the information about CPMs down to a sound bite; we better have an answer about them/us when asked.
I see people trying to shut Amy Tuteur up like trying to put out brushfires when the wildfire is just down the street. She isn’t going away. Deal with it.
NOW what are we going to do?
Jennifer Block adds another layer to the Tuteur discussion here: "Separating Evidence from Ideology in the Home Birth 'Debate'."