Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Thoughts on Research

The comments on Homebirth Research: Another Side of the Story have been interesting. Thank you to everyone who has shared your thoughts or other information you found about the study. I think the letter to the editor from De Jonge that one anonymous commenter shared was interesting, especially the point about how the methods of data collection in the study may have inflated the perinatal mortality rate in the low risk group. If she is correct in this assessment, I believe it does call the validity of the study into question.

That said, I think that the Evers study raises a lot of questions that require further research.
  • is midwifery care, with referral to obstetric care if complications arise, optimal care for low risk women?
  • are there specific aspects the midwifery system in the Netherlands that are suboptimal (such as, protocols for intervals to check the fetal heart rate, as mentioned in the paper, or as one response to the study pointed out, the use of midwives assistants to watch over women until close to time of birth)?
  • how might midwifery care be improved to result in better outcomes?
  • how might collaboration between midwives and physicians be improved to result in better outcomes?
I think that many questions such as "Is homebirth safe?" or "Are midwives or obstetricians better caregivers for low risk women?" are questions that may never be fully answered with research. There will always be people who find a flaw in a study's design or some other way to discredit it, because most people have basic beliefs about birth that are not easily changed. There will always be people who focus (some because it is their job) on the cases where things go wrong and work their hardest to save those lives. There will also always be people who want put their primary trust in either a divine design for the process of birth or its thousands of years of improvement through natural selection (whichever is their belief, mine is these former) and who prefer to use the technology of the past hundred years or so as mostly a back-up. Most people find ways to dismiss "evidence" that does not support their basic view while accepting that which is in line with it. It is human nature.

The answer to safety in maternity care is not to convince one side that the other is "right." The answer is respectful collaboration. This is not the first time I have talked about this. In October 2010, I committed to make my blog a doctor-friendly zone, and I hope that I have held true to that promise. I believe now, as I did then, that peaceful dialogue between doulas/activists/midwives and obstetricians and other hospital providers is essential for improving our maternity care system to protect the lives and and best meet the needs of mothers and babies. I believe that hospital and out-of-hospital providers could learn a lot from each other, which I think could help improve the safety of the practice of homebirth and care in transfers, as well as improve the environment and the options available to women in hospital birth. I have started to see dialogue opening up a little more in the past months, as more physicians are creating online presences and the internet is becoming a larger platform for conversation. I'm curious also, to see where the upcoming Home Birth Summit will lead.

1 comment:

  1. I think your point that the way to making sure maternity care safe is not to prove oneself as right but collaboration is SO important.

    Debate only retrenches each side in their own bias and beliefs, collaboration on the other side encourages learning, compromise and change.