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At Least As Safe

checkupnewbornThe young, eager couple sat across from me in my living room. The woman, her straight blond hair parted in the middle, was noticeably pregnant. Excited, a little nervous, they asked questions about me: Where had I gone to school? How many births had I attended? What kinds of medical equipment did I have, and what kinds of birth experiences could I support?

I answered them reassuringly, in the practiced style of a seasoned salesperson. My father had sold many products in his time: fancy windows, expensive decks, elaborate log homes. I inherited my power of persuasion from him. I told the couple about my schooling, my experience, and my philosophy of care. Yes, I was well-trained in water birth; yes, they could refuse any shots for their newborn. I knew the answers they wanted to hear, and I was happy to deliver all the right ones. There seemed little doubt that they would agree: I would be their midwife and manage their birth at the out-of-hospital birth center I co-owned.

One question, tacked on at the end, caught me only a little off-guard. The woman hesitated a little and asked, “And… this is, um, safe… right?”

I breathed deep, and replied with the most honest answer I knew to give: “It’s as safe as life gets. Nothing is risk-free. Driving down the highway to get here was not risk-free. Many studies have shown that birth outside of the hospital is at least as safe as birth in the hospital for low-risk women like you. And I’m very conservative. I won’t hesitate to take you to the hospital if I get concerned about anyone’s safety.” Yes, I was prepared to handle any and every eventuality.

I was hired. It was 2009, and I was on the cusp of a very successful stint as a birth center owner and licensed midwife, credentialed by the state of South Carolina. It would be years before I would truly confront the underlying deception of the answer I gave that day.

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At Least As Safe (Introduction / Part 1)

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