Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend Movie: The mixed bag that is the Duggars' home birth

My feelings about the Duggars are mixed, admittedly. There's much to appreciate along with the things I might view more critically, but in the best, most thought-provoking way.

I won't digress into the pros and cons of the Duggar phenomenon here, but, like the Duggars as a whole, the episode of "19 and Counting" which features Anna Duggar's home birth leaves me a little befuddled as to where I stand. I finally got to watch the big event on YouTube (we haz no cable, or any other direct source, so have to download, use DVDs or watch things online; it keeps life simpler while still allowing for marathon Buffy festivals when needed).

Here we get to see Josh (the eldest Duggar child) and his wife, Anna, attending Bradley classes; having a baby shower, at which I was pleased to see they did the melted-candy-in-the-diaper game that I insisted my friends include at mine, which pretty much says it all about me; and eventually giving birth to Mackynzie Renee (breaking out of the J's) at home with a doula. More on that in a moment.

Check this out. I'm embedding the last of the 6 that comprise this episode - you can get to the other links in the "related videos" sidebar when you pop out the video into its own YouTube window or tab. The first ones includes some backstory about their budding relationship and then young married life, which should fulfill anyone's quota for wholesome viewing for at least a year or so. (The birth nitty gritty starts in part 6, if you prefer to skip the shower footage, and I would hardly blame you.)

So what's your problem, Dou-la-la? Isn't it so nice to see something other than the standard medically-overmanaged affairs of "A Baby Story"/"Maternity Ward" et. al. on TLC? Well, yes, it is. And yet . . . I still have some mixed feelings. Purely from what we are told in the show, the birth was, as I mentioned above, attended by a doula. Note, not a midwife and a doula, but a doula. In the video, Josh clearly says to Jim Bob on the phone the morning Anna went into labor that they were "considering a home birth" , and that they asked their doula if she would be cool with attending them if they stayed at home.

Now, this very well may be poor editing on TLC's part. The woman who attends them may in fact be a trained midwife who had previously been engaged to act as a doula if they were in the hospital, and the fact that she is seen wearing gloves, weighing the baby with the standard midwives' hanging scale, and has cord-clamping tools on hand SEEMS to imply this, but we just don't know. If she is only a doula (and I don't mean "only" in the pejorative, of course), then she is going WAAAAAY beyond the scope of practice. Josh mentions that Anna was "completely dilated" when she started to push. Doesn't that sound to you like somebody was doing internal exams?

AHEM! Note to possibly alarmed readers: this is not part of DONA's training! Even ALACE/toLabor's workshop, which includes the option of both giving and receiving a pelvic exam as a learning experience, in no way endorses ever performing them on clients, and has nothing to do with assessing dilation.

So. One of two things is possible: perhaps the doula actually IS a midwife, and TLC just bungled the information, which should really surprise no one. Or, they essentially had an unassisted birth. I have yet to address "freebirthing" here, and have been stalling on doing so for a while. I won't get into that now, but I do feel the presentation of this birth was confusing, for all its positive aspects (and there are plenty of those too - I love that they showed Josh catching his daughter, I loved her laboring in the tub, I loved the Bradley classes, and just generally loved the emphasis from everyone, including new grandma Michelle, on how peaceful and beautiful the birth was).

Anyway, true to form, another Duggar moment leaves me dazed and confused and unsure of where I stand, seeing both sides, not bearing them any ill will, yet having serious reservations about what is being represented and how.


  1. This was really great. It's nice seeing them as a normal married couple and not terrified teenagers. :) I like how calm she and everyone else was during the birth.

    The doula thing is driving me nuts though. I think maybe they just didn't want to broadcast to the world that they were planning a homebirth, which is why they might have said "considering" on the moring of labor, but still? A doula who carries a scale, gloves, and instruments? That's not a doula. What's going on with that? I don't know what to think.

  2. Yes, I agree. That is very poor journalism, for lack of a better word. TLC takes a very healthy birth scenario and turns it into something viewers might then take seriously as truth, only to be told by a professional somewhere along the line that that's not safe or responsible and that doulas don't do that. Then the viewer ends up doubting herself and anything she may future hear from the natural birthing community. Thanks TLC for the shoddy work! As usual. Geez. I used to love TLC shows. Now they pretty much all make me sick.

  3. There's that whole part about the doctor being out of town . . . and Jim Bob asks if they're at the hospital yet . . . so it sounds like the idea of an unfamiliar doctor freaked 'em out enough to keep them home. Interesting.

  4. Hmmm. All those supplies? She has to be a midwife, too. It is a real shame that TLC didn't clarify.

    What a champ mama was, though. And as a Bradley teacher, my heart swelled with pride at what a good coach dad was:-)

  5. I think it was just a first time father saying the wrong word, KWIM? She had all the equipment, so it seems like she may be a midwife and doula. Maybe they hired her as the doula, and when the unfamiliar Dr. situation came up they were more comfortable with someone they knew, and luckily they were a midwife. I like that Jim Bob didn't freak out like so many people's families would. Granted he's got a lot of birth experience, but that was nice to see. LOL at "Josh-Baby's Daddy"!

  6. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about unassisted births! I have a strong opinion on that one and look forward to seeing what you have to write on it!

  7. I am right there with you about the Duggars. I have such mixed views... I do think that they used the wrong word though. No doula carries that kind of stuff with her, and I know a lot of doula's!

    Maybe there is some controversy about the legality of midwife assisted home births?

  8. In Arkansas you have certified midwives which are Masters level nurses with midwife training and certification. Then you have lay midwives who have about 75 hours of training and have attended at least 30 women antepartum, through labor and delivery and postpartum. They are also certified but are working under the license of a physician or midwife. The "doula" who attended Anna was the same lady who taught the Bradley classes. I don't know but wouldn't be surprised to find she is also a certified lay midwife.

  9. I think she was a trained midwife. Don't forget about the oxygen tank. I don't know why they couldn't just come out and say it though.

    Interested to see your post on free birthing.

  10. Heh, I feel the same way about the Duggars; I don't have trouble with large families at all, but I do frequently wonder what kinds of dreams a girl could have in that atmosphere if she didn't want to get married, have babies, (or as many) and wanted a career. You can't call it abusive to raise girls to see themselves only in such a narrow way, but it makes me cringe all the same.

    Of course, I spend a lot of time over at No Longer Quivering, so that has definitely shaped my perspective!

  11. I also dont want to get started on the Duggars themselves-but this video actually brought me to tears. A lovely birth. I was trained as a nurse-midwife and am more than a little jealous about the faith this couple had in the birth process. Lovely.

  12. Okay, after thinking about it, here is what I think might have happened. Josh and Anna were clearly planning a natural birth. They had a doctor they liked, and they hired a doula, who was probably also a midwife (my midwife does doula work as well). Along the way, they probably learned that it might be hard to achieve a natural birth in the hospital. They probably learned about homebirth via their doula or other resources, but since they liked their doctor, they still wanted him at the birth and decided hospital birth would be okay. But when he was out of town, another doctor that they might have found out is NOT natural birth friendly would have been the one delivering them, so they asked their doula if she could be their midwife and just do a homebirth so they could get the natural birth they wanted. I think everyone probably just got their terms confused and continuing calling her their doula, since that was what they originally hired her for.

  13. When I first read about the Anna and Josh's daughter being born, it was in a press release, and it stated that they gave birth at home with a midwife. I think TLC did poor editing, as I too was very confused watching the episode and knowing that a midwife had been there, but not hearing it mentioned.

  14. I think you're right, Heather and others who agree that it was just poor editing. Jill's scenario seems very likely.

    I'll go ahead and chalk this up as a positive, for the overall effect, though I worry just a little about some viewers getting the wrong idea about doulas, which could lead to other misunderstandings.