Celebrity midwife Cara Muhlhahn—made famous by Ricki Lake's documentary The Business Of Being Born—is suing New York magazine for $1 million for libel, we've learned. This comes as Muhlhahn fields her own malpractice lawsuit, after a stillborn birth.
Muhlhahn, who is based in New York, is alleging that Andrew Goldman's March 2009 New York piece, "Extreme Birth," "contained statements that were fabricated or based on unverified sources," stemming from "actual malice," and that it "set forth statements so inherently improbably that only a reckless person would have published them." Last week, New York filed a motion to dismiss the claim, saying that Muhlhahn "mistakes, as defamation, divergent opinion in medical controversy... She also disregards that she has admitted many of those alleged 'facts' in her own voice, recorded or written."
Muhlhahn, the author of Labor Of Love, is one of the most visible proponents of midwife-assisted home birth. The charismatic Muhlhahn became a star after she was featured in The Business Of Being Born in 2008, which mainstreamed the long-simmering debate over conventional medicine's practices around childbearing and made the case for midwives. After the movie, Muhlhahn told New York's Andrew Goldman, she saw herself as having a "Moses responsibility" to spread the word about home births.
But Goldman's piece raised serious questions about Muhlhahn's approach to the riskiest pregnancies and deliveries. Goldman noted that she "regularly does vaginal births after C-section at home and has even home-delivered the riskiest births, breeches, and twins," which is outside generally accepted practice for midwives performing home births. He pointed out that Muhlhahn chose not to have a practice agreement with a physician for emergency backup, but led her patients to believe that she had a relationship with St. Vincent's Hospital. He quoted unnamed medical professionals at that hospital (since closed) that said that Muhlhahn would "dump" her patients there and that they were often "train wrecks." The story also featured the experience of one patient, Sandra Garcia, whose 72-hour labor proceeded with misjudgments of her level of dilation and the fact that she had a "back labor," with the baby facing her belly. Garcia wound up in the hospital with a C-section, an apparent infection, and her baby in Neonatal Intensive Care for five days.
It's these parts of the piece in particular that Muhlhahn calls out in her case against New York, with a list of "facts" she calls false — quoted verbatim from the story, but without further indication of how or why they are allegedly false. In its response, New York asks for either a dismissal or a summary judgment against Muhlhahn, and provides transcripts showing that she herself said, either in her conversations with Goldman or elsewhere, all of the statements alleged to be false. (Full text of both filings is available below.)
As for that other lawsuit, the one filed against Muhlhahn: A week after Goldman's piece came out, Muhlhahn patients Catherine and Ricardo's baby was stillborn after three days of labor. In October, they charged Muhlhahn and two associates with being "grossly negligent" by not referring her to a doctor sooner and lacking a practice agreement with one in accordance with state law. (A few weeks ago, that law was repealed, and midwives can now practice independently in New York State, without practice agreements.) Goldman had written about a case Muhlhahn settled in 2003 involving a partially paralyzed baby the plaintiff said Muhlhahn should have known was too big to be delivered vaginally.
The MacKenzies' loss was the subject of this emotional Today show segment last year.
Goldman and New York declined comment. Muhlhahn's lawyer, whom we spoke to yesterday, said she was traveling and that he was trying to reach her.
Below, the relevant legal documents.
Cara Muhlhahn's Libel Suit Against New York Magazine
Click to view
New York Magazine's Motion To Dismiss Cara Muhlhan's Libel Suit
Click to view
Malpractice Suit: McKenzie vs. Muhlhahn
Click to view
Related: Is Midwife Cara Muhlhahn Too Fearless In Her Home Birth Advocacy? [NYM]
Cara Muhlhahn Midwifery [Official Site]
Midwife Who Starred In 'Business of Being Born' Sued By Parents Who Blame Her For Stillbirth [NYDN]
Earlier: Popular Extreme Midwife Tests The Limits Of Home Birthing