The Cult of Natural Childbirth

birth cultAre you in a cult??

What do you picture when you think of a cult?? Do you think of a group such as Westboro Baptist?? Do you think of Christian religious sects? Do you think of a dirty old man who brings in women he marries, has children with, then perpetuates the cycle with the children? What characteristics make something worthy of being called a cult?

According to the Cult Information Center, these are the characteristics of a cult:

1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members

2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society.

3. Its founder leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma.

4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds recruit people.

5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society

Let’s look at the first description here- The use of psychological coercion.  In psychological coercion, the threatened injury regards the victim’s relationships with other people. The most obvious example is blackmail, where the threat consists of the dissemination of damaging information. However, many other types are possible e.g. so-called “emotional blackmail“, which typically involves threats of rejection from or disapproval by a peer-group, or creating feelings of guilt/obligation via a display of anger or hurt by someone whom the victim loves or respects.

Next- The elitist totalitarian society.  A totalitarian society believes their way is the only way to live. The group members have their thoughts and beliefs manipulated. The regime controls what members see and hear. Propaganda is widely used because it illicits an emotional response that pushes people to conform and prevent opposition from stepping into the forefront.

Having a self-appointed leader who is good with their words allows them to manipulate more easily. Dogmatic is basically where all your beliefs are facts and nobody can argue with you. Messianic is where someone is worshiped. The leader is wonderful and can do no wrong.

Normally money is raised and the leader doesn’t speak of it. They only collect the money for themselves under the guise of doing it for the group. This is not always a financial thing, though. In the end, everything the leader has will be for the betterment of the group.

It’s wealth not benefiting society or it’s members is obvious. This means the group will have absolutely nothing good to show for itself. It will have leaders and followers and nothing else.

Some of the other things with cults is that the members feel it is “Us VS Them” in all they do. There is also manipulation under the guise of love or friendship. If you step away, you lose that love and friendship. Your friends keep a watch out over you and report everything you say or do.

Let’s look at this in the natural birth world.

  1. Within the movement, the leaders can do no wrong. Everything they say is right and worth gold. This goes for people such as Ina May Gaskin, Rikki Lake, Henci Goer, etc. Criticize them or what they have to say and see what happens (you only have to look as far as negative reviews of their books on Amazon!). These leaders are accountable to no one. Their writings are not subject to peer review and anyone who does criticize (or even politely disagree) is attacked and silenced.
  2. Midwives and natural birth promoters earn money due to the following they have, even when it is to the detriment of their clients.  Women will pay anything in order to have an experience. But the money issue goes farther than that. NCBers raise money to protect bad midwives or midwives who are caught breaking the law in an effort to hide the poor outcomes of lay-midwifery.
  3. The natural birth community will NOT allow those of a more scientific mindset an opportunity to speak. No matter what studies or proof are offered, it is wrong and dismissed out-of-hand. Only things promoted by the leaders are accepted. If you do speak out, or even politely disagree, you are banned from their pages and they call you a troll, or worse. Guess which two of these three posters were banned from the page after the comments you see here:
  1. NCBers have set up an us vs. them mentality in the birth world. They tell women that the medical establishment is out to get them and their babies, alongside the pharmaceutical companies. They claim there is tons of money to be had by making sure all women have intervention laden hospital births. They create fear while at the same time claiming to dispel fear.
  2. Your natural friends will build you up and stand beside you as long as you stay in the movement. If you step away or speak out, they are done with you and will trash you publicly.
  3. This movement is doing nothing good for women or babies. A greater proportion of babies are dying at home than in hospitals. More mothers are feeling like failures and suffering from postpartum depression if things do not go according to their natural plans, and because their NCB “friends” are telling them they SHOULD feel bad.
  4. In order to draw you in, they have to use your mommy guilt against you. Did you have a c-section? Well, obviously it was caused by something a dr did and the c-section is why your breastfeeding relationship didn’t work out. So, here mommy is feeling bad and in swoops this woman who can tell you why everything happened how it did and how it can be prevented next time around.
  5. If you speak up about a midwife being negligent or causing a problem, word will get back to her if it is said to or around a mutual friend or really anywhere. Anything said that does not coincide with the natural beliefs is shared and the natural crowd will try to teach you a lesson.
  6. Manipulation is a regular occurrence. This is why these women get so close to you. They can use their relationship with you as a means of controlling you: “We are such good friends and I love you so much”.

If you watch the vitriol spewed by natural birth advocates, you will see how they have been deceived by those in the movement. Nobody can say anything negative about the tenants of Natural Birth. They have lost all compassion for other women and the ordeals they endure. The mindset has pervaded the internet and message boards amongst the more outspoken women. They have their groups that support and feed them information. Sadly, even intelligent and educated women end up as a followers in this cult. It isn’t until something bad happens and you ask questions that you see the true colors shown.


Who is Mama Tao?

Taking the internet by storm sometime in March 2011 (though in one Facebook debacle, a hater claimed to have been reading her for years…), Mama Tao has been accused of stalking, hacking, trolling, lying, having a mental illness, and being fantastically hilarious. We here at 10centimeters wanted to know more about the woman (?) everyone is talking about, so we sat down for a little interview.


10centimeters: Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Mama Tao: I am a 29-year-old, married mother of two. Working on number three. I have an AA degree and am one semester away from a BA in history with a concentration in Revolutionary War. I would like to go to law school when I am done. I am pretty crunchy– I cloth diaper, make my own baby food , baby wear, breastfeed and the like. I’m not a crazy bitch!


10centimeters: Was there something in particular that made you decide to say what so many people like us were thinking? Like an article or statement that offended you?

Mama Tao: There are two reasons I made the site. The first is a serious reaction of anger considering all that surrounds the natural parenting movement. The second is that I needed an outlet to release all that anger without becoming physically violent with people. I guess it was Liz Paperella’s story that made me angry to begin with. It might shock many people to know that I actually used to be a Natural Birth Advocate™ .  When I was reading Aquila’s story there were so many parallels to my own life. My daughter was born a few weeks before Aquila was. I could see myself and Liz on a similar path up until a certian point. We were both pregnant and expecting little girls. We had natural ideas about what birth was and how a woman was “made” to do it. And then the path diverged and we went in seperate directions; mine was a path of joy and hers was of loss. I look at my daughter now and see a playmate she will never meet–A baby that died for no real reason and cannot seem to find justice. Then there were the stories that followed, Mary Beth’s, Wren’s…the list goes on and on. And where was the anger? These babies were dead and all people could say was “babies die in hospitals too”?  So that’s where the anger comes from. The site was brought together when a few friends and I were discussing the abomination that is lotus birth. I began to wonder if certain people whould believe anything they read on the internet. For example, would someone consider eating a newborns first poop, just because someone on the internet suggested it? We wrote that article but we needed more to go with it, to make the site seem legit. Everyone started sending articles and it just took off from there. We have actually gotten some people with the mec post too. Ick!


10centimeters: Do you hate natural birth?

Mama Tao: No, not at all. I had two natural births. What I hate is people telling others that medicated birth is dangerous and that there are no risks to natural birth. There are risks– and there is nothing wrong with seeking pain relief. We live in a time where pain relief is very safe and effective. I don’t think I’d ever actually have an unmedicated birth again. There is no real reason to.


10centimeters: Please explain Tao’s …Law.

Mama Tao: Ah ha! Tao’s Law was invented in the comments section of The Skeptical OB. The idea is that there is no parody one can write that cannot be outdone in wackiness by the World Wide Web. Nothing is too gross or insane for some people to try.


10centimeters: What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read online?

Mama Tao: Oy! I think the article that said you could change your blood type with raspberry leaf tea was pretty good. That is the same web site that proclamed you should ask your 34 week old baby if they are ready to be born instead of seeing a doctor…Eek! Always good times.


10centimeters: Why “Mama Tao”? Does it have any special meaning?

Mama Tao: When my son was learning to talk he used to call a “cow” a “Tao”. I always thought it was funny and seeing as how I was nursing when I started the blog I often called myself a Mama Cow–Thus, the Mama Tao roughly translates the the Mama Cow in baby talk


10centimeters: How many people read your site?

Mama Tao: I get anywhere from 400-1200 hits a day. It usually rounds off around 600 unless I piss someone off.


10centimeters: Do you get real hate mail? (if so…Are you willing to share it with us?)

Mama Tao: I don’t get as much as you would think. But I usually do share on my Facebook wall. I have been called everything from an idiot who should shut up to being told that my kids would have been better off aborted. All those comments are posted on the blog so have a gander if you like. I post all comments, unlike most crunchy forums. The way opposition disappears in their self-created worlds is astounding.


10centimeters: What do you have against placenta teddy bears?

Mama Tao: I don’t really have anything against placenta teddy bears, more so the idea that body parts are magical. I often wonder what people would have said if I had made a top for my kids out of my appendix or an earring out of my old mole. Seriously, WTF?

New Feature: Kudos and Complaints

Tell us about your experience with your health care providers in your pregnancy and birth on our new Kudos and Complaints page.  It’s an opportunity to give either the praise or the new you-know-what your doctor, labor nurse, or midwife deserves! You can fill in the form below with details (it will be posted in the appropriate location) or you can share your story in the comments below. Feel free to recommend (or warn about) a hospital as well.

You know what I don’t understand?

Hardcore natural childbirth advocates are all about “mama intuition,” and “you know your body best,” but the second someone questions the safety of home birth for themselves, they instead say, “trust birth.”

I am so frustrated today because one of the women on my doula list wrote about how she is feeling anxiety about her choice to have a homebirth and thinking maybe it wasn’t the right decision. Are any of the other doulas telling her to listen to her intuition? NO. We have, “The more you learn about the inherent safety of a healthy pregnancy and birth, the calmer you will feel,”  and “Trust your body and yourself.”

So I sent a message out to my doula list today…

And here is what it said:

I find it interesting that as doulas, we advocate and insist that doctors use evidence-based practice and not practice based on the fact that, say, they once witnessed a VBAC that ended in uterine rupture and are therefore worried about all future VBACS (when in fact, the evidence shows that the risk is small and VBAC is actually safer for most women). However, I rarely see evidence-based advice passed back and forth on this list; it’s mostly anecdotal.  I would love to see more evidence-based discussion and transfer of information here. When anyone asks me a question about pregnancy or labor, I try to present the evidence to them so that they can make the decision for themselves and not tell them what I think the best decision is. Just a thought.

I am eagerly waiting the response. We’ll see what happens.

A Plea to Other Doulas

(Cross Posted from Nurtured Moms)

What is the role of a doula? Lately I’ve been considering it carefully. There are a couple of things precipitated this reflection. First was the lukewarm (at best) reaction of a friend of mine — a labor and delivery nurse —  to the news that I was becoming a doula. I also recently witnessed and participated in email/online discussions on the matter. Finally, as I attended a “professionalism” training course for the doula volunteer program I’m joining, it all started to crystallize for me.

Why would a labor and delivery nurse dislike the idea of a doula? I know she is committed to helping moms have both a healthy baby and an excellent birth experience. She became an L&D nurse because she loves L&D! I think part of the problem is that many doulas see themselves as some kind of soldier. An advocate of natural birth, but to the extreme. Any intervention is considered some sort of a failure and a “bad birth.” Something to go back to the email list and deconstruct: “How could this have happened? Where did I go wrong?” I know doulas who will reject a client who who wants an epidural or an induction. Some doulas even feel it is appropriate to physically block medical personnel from their clients, unhook monitors, or take out IV’s in the name of letting nature take its course.

I don’t believe a doula is a “Birth Warrior,” in the sense that we are fighting to change the way birth is done around the world as we work with each individual client. As a doula, it is not my responsibility to make medical decisions for my client or to interfere with medical procedures she has consented to, no matter what I feel about that particular procedure. I can make sure she understands what a decision means and how it might affect her. I can educate her, and I can remind her of her goals. However, it is her responsibility to make her own decisions and interact with her doctor, midwife and nurse about those decisions. Once the decision is made, it is my job to support my client. I am not her voice, I am her support. It is just as paternalistic for me to tell my client that I know what the best decision is for her as it is for any doctor to do the same.

I would encourage any doula to read this article in the New York Times.  Here is the meat of the story:

At first, Ms. Myers, now a 36-year-old mother of two in Glencoe, Ill., was thrilled with her doula, who doubled as a prenatal massage therapist. “She was earthy yet grounded, and really knowledgeable,” she said.
Then labor began — and went on and on — and Ms. Myers’s opinion took a nose dive. Though the doctor recommended that Ms. Myers receive intravenous fluids to hydrate her, the doula, eager to avoid medical intervention, insisted that Ms. Myers ignore the suggestion, causing her contractions to spike.
Then “she urged my husband and me to take a shower to ease the pain,” Ms. Myers said. “I told her I didn’t want to, but she was adamant.”
Dripping wet, freezing and in bone-shattering pain, Ms. Myers said she seethed in silence. When she ultimately chose an epidural, her doula walked out. “She was so set on my having a natural birth, she offended me, she offended the nursing staff, she offended my O.B.,” Ms. Myers said.

Do you think Ms. Myers wants to work with a doula again? How about her OB or her nurse? How do you think they treated the next client with a doula who came to them? What about the myriad of people who have read this article in the New York Times? The professional reputation of all of us has been damaged by this one overzealous woman, and it will probably take thousands of positive interactions to make up for the damage done. Not only that, but there are more doulas out there just like the one described here. I know them.

Activism has it’s place. I think that as doulas, we should be involved in birth activism — we need to focus on changing the laws in our areas to favor women and their access to birth choices. We need to build relationships with doctors so that they can see that we offer a valuable service and enable more women have access to doulas.  If we witness our client being assaulted, we should call 911 at that moment and report it, or at the very least encourage our client to do so. These are the kinds of things that effect actual change. However, when it comes to medical decisions and care in one specific case, it is not our responsibility or within our scope of practice to make them for our clients. I believe if we focus on empowerment and education, we will be more successful in our attempts to expand access to the myriad of birth choices we want our clients to have, then when we speak with vitriol and act with superiority.

Epidural Anesthesia: Wading Through the Insanity

(cross post from Nurtured Moms)

“I loved my epidural. It gave me the opportunity to sleep for awhile until I had to push. I was well rested and it made the whole experience great, IMO.”

“If you have an epidural, you’re WAY more likely to have a c-section. NO THANKS!”

“It was the best decision I made, no pain!!”

“I decided from the moment I became pregnant, that I would have an epi! I did it … and it was FANTASTIC!!!”

“It’s worth factoring into birth plans that at least 25% of epidurals have negative side effects, many of them very serious. It’s really only designed to be used in an emergency situation when the benefits outwiegh [sic] the many risks. Physiological childbirth isn’t an emergency, it’s what we’re designed for.”

“Millions of women have had epidurals without a problem. Obviously it’s pretty safe!”

If you check out any online birth and labor forum, the subject of pain relief and birth will eventually come up.  All of the above are actual comments I cut and pasted directly from online discussions about epidurals. Women love to compare stories and ask for advice when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Unfortunately, online — and offline, for that matter — discussions are fraught with misinformation and “anecdata.”  Not only that, but while I was researching for this article, I found a lot of online info that was out-of-date, dismissive of the risks, and scare tactics using studies from the seventies and eighties or half-truths. So what’s the real story on epidurals? There is plenty of recent evidence-based information if you know where to find it. I’ve tried to compile the most relevant numbers, statistics, and links to scientific information with as little commentary and snide remarks as possible, so that you can decide for yourself what you think about epidurals. For the record, I have a mild bias towards natural birth, but I also believe that it is wonderful that modern medicine has provided labor pain relief for those women who want or need it.

What IS an epidural, anyway?

What is the evidence related to epidural use in labor and delivery?

What are the risks of an epidural?

What are the benefits of an epidural?

The choice to have intervention like an epidural is entirely up to the woman who is giving birth (and it’s wonderful that women have these choices).  With choice, however, comes the importance of ensuring she is fully informed, and the knowledge that she takes full responsibility for any outcomes of her choices. As such, comprehensive research is essential, and allows a fully apprised decision. I hope this article is a good resource for anyone seeking to be informed!

Major sources (all sources are linked in text)


My original intent for this blog was that it would be a place where the crunchies and medical-model adherents could come together and politely discuss birthy things. I was going to invite a bunch of people from all over the spectrum to contribute, and it was going to be this exciting and happy place where new and wonderful ideas were born. Women would love their birth experiences and babies would be safe. Rainbows and butterflies would burst out of our assesscreens and into our homes. The world would be changed.

And then I got smacked upside the head with a fat dose of reality. That sort of thing doesn’t happen!  No, we all stay in our respective corners and surround ourselves with people who think just like we do. We can pat each other on the back and talk about how horrid or ignorant those on the other side of the issue are. Then one of them shows up and the whole thing devolves into a name-calling clusterf@*k.  And it’s not just the birth world that’s like this. It’s the WHOLE world. Parenting, politics, driving (I witnessed that one on Facebook yesterday)…the subject doesn’t matter. What is it about human beings that causes this? Does our need to feel superior or to belong to a ~*unique*~ group somehow trump our obligation to respect others? I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it.

So I’ve decided to make this (mostly) my personal blog. A place where I can write my middle-of-the-road rants to myself and anyone who stumbles across this lowly page. I may also cross-post some things from my business blog. If you’d care to contribute, by all means contact me and I’ll set you up with an account. I’d like to think that my original vision (minus the rainbows, maybe) is still possible.