Debunking Natural Birth Nonsense

A Scientific Skeptic Watches “Born in the Wild” (Utah Episode)

During the first half of 2015, the TV channel Lifetime ran a grandiose salute to the narcissistic practice of risking the life of your newborn child by giving birth outside in the middle of nowhere just so the parents could fulfill their own birthing experience dream. It only ran for a single season and consisted of six episodes where different kinds of anti-science mothers were followed by a camera team when they planned and executed a birth in the wilderness of snow, desert or dense forest. In many cases, medical help was a long way from them and had something happened, it could have turned dangerous very, very fast.

Each episodes starts with text on the screen sharing some facts about modern birth at hospitals and why they wanted to make the show in the first place: “Over 98% of all U. S. births take place in hospitals. Some women are choosing to have a very different experience. This shows document their journey.” Because the show is quite graphic in some places, they felt the need to give viewers a notice: “Some scenes may be too intense for some viewers.” The opening introduction has the following voice over: “Modern parents giving birth in the wilderness like their ancestors. No hospitals. No surgical intervention. No drugs. Just a choice. To return to the primal roots of humanity.”

Previous installment covered a mother giving birth in the wilderness of Alaska.

Giving birth on the mountain plains of Utah

The second episode is called “Utah: The Best Laid Plans” and the family that takes the center stage in the second episode is Linda (28) and Lance (30) King from Salt Lake City, Utah. She has two daughters already and is a trained nurse. Surprisingly, an education in medicine is not a guarantee that you take the best medical decisions. The narrator explains that a 2012 paper (probably this one) in the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned against any kind of birth outside medical facilities. Her first birth was in a hospital, but without an epidural. Her second was in bathtub in a birth center.

What did they plan?

Linda claims to have her birth plan planed in detail: their birth location is near the Salt Lake and close to mountains. They are going to set up tents, lawn chairs and other items. Linda tells the camera that she even has a “quality midwife with great experience”. This is later revealed to be a Certified Midwife Professional (CMP). This is, as we saw in the previous installment, a kind of quack midwife who is not an actual nurse. Lance is a bit more skeptical than the father in the first episode, but goes along because that is what Linda wants. There is one issue though: her mother does not know. She thinks that it is just going to be a homebirth and not a birth in the remote wilderness.

After a last check with the CMP, they head out to the birth location and start setting stuff up. Since it is a very open area, they fear snakes, spiders and the wind. They erect tents, inflate beds and so on. Then, the wind starts picking up. The narrator claims that the average time for an emergency transfer to a hospital is over 20 minutes regardless of location. They are not able to set up the birth location to completeness before darkness falls so they decide to spend the night. They have trouble sleeping because of venomous spiders and howling coyotes. She is also in some pain, but Linda believes in hypnosis to “reprogram the mind” and “think positive”. If you change the name from “contraction” to “birth wave” the pain will go away. There is, of course, no evidence for any of this.

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What happened?

In the morning, she wants to go home, but has not changed her mind regarding the birth. She makes Lance go back with her sister and children to set up the rest. Her contractions are getting closer while she is home alone and when the rest get home they find her in the bathroom in pain with contractions coming closer and closer. The sun is going down and they decide to head out to the birth location since the active labor is currently in process.

The quack midwife knows the GPS coordinates for the birth location and is on her way, but it might take about 20 minutes before she gets there. Lance is worried that they might have to give birth at the side of the road, so he drives at a 100 km / h, while having one hand on Linda’s back and one on the steering wheel. Then the quack midwife calls and he answers with the hand that was just on the wheel, now driving at 100 km / h by holding the steering wheel steady with his thighs. This is a clear increased risk for car crashes that might kill all of the people in the car. Linda is in the back seat on her knees and not wearing a seat belt. Muffled screams are heard from Linda.

What were they thinking?

After a while, they finally reach the birth site in the middle of the night. The quack midwife makes it in time and delivers a baby girl. A few days after, Linda tells her mom who thinks it was reckless, but thankful it all went alright (apparently). The episode ends with the mom spewing the same homebirth propaganda that the daughter believes:

What she is doing here is what all of our ancestors have done through generations of time

According to the WHO, 300 000 women die every year from giving birth. Our ancestors have gone through maternal deaths through generations too.

In general, most of the rationalizations provided by Linda was that the birth location was very pretty and that it would be nice to share the story with her newborn daughter when she is old enough. But why should the mothers feelings about a pretty birth location have such a heavy weight that it outweighs any consideration of safety for her and her child? Can she and her child not visit pretty locations some time after the birth or when the child is growing up? Then both the mother and child might have memories of the events.

She also focuses a lot of her experience, feeding into the self-absorbed nature of some mothers who choose to give birth outdoors in the wilderness. It is a bit strange that some parents fetishistic “giving birth like our ancestors did”. After all, they do not fetishistic “starving like our ancestors did” or “falling of a cliff and not getting any medical help as our ancestors did”.

In the end, many of them think it is all about them and their experiences rather than the health of their child and the added risk a birth in the wilderness exposes them to.


Debunker of pseudoscience.

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