Cause that worked so well for so many centuries.

We've talked about the Duggar-esque Quiverfull movement, in which Christian families have legions of kids to strengthen God's numbers. (Check out this great photo gallery of one Colorado family.) It seems these same folks are equally hipped on unassisted childbirth. (That's just mother, father, God, by the way: no midwife, no dula, no doctor.) Hmm. Lots of babies + no medical supervision equals...well, you guessed it, some correspondingly archaic medical problems. Most recently, Carri Chmielewski, mother of eight, ended up in intensive care and lost a baby due to an amniotic fluid embolism during an unassisted at-home birth.

While not all Quiverfulls scorn supervised birth, some hard-liners see the unassisted varietal as a natural extension of the submission to God's will that characterizes their lives. As Chmielewski herself wrote, "God never meant for man (Pregnant Women) to surrender himself (herself) to the total control of man (dr./technology, etc.) God considers that idolatry. We are to surrender ourselves to GOD." (In fact, her decision to seek out the advice of a midwife - which turned out to be bad - actually went against the strictest interpretetation of the creed.)


While some have called for actionable child neglect charges against parents like these, the Majikthise blog takes this view:

Criminalizing stupid birthing decisions is doing the Quiverfulls work for them. It's saying that women can't be trusted to make their own medical decisions. If you let people make their own decisions, a certain percentage of them will make spectacularly bad choices. Grown women have the right to refuse lifesaving treatment for stupid religious reasons, whether they are Jehovah's Witnesses foregoing blood transfusions, Christian scientists rejecting antibiotics, or Quiverfulls turning their backs on modern obstetrics. That's what it means to be an adult. Pregnant adults are still adults...Besides which, trying to prosecute unassisted birthers will just feed the persecution complex that makes the Quiverfull lifestyle seem alluring to its adherents. Worst of all, if unassisted birth is a crime, laboring women in trouble might refuse to seek lifesaving help.

That last point is particularly well-taken. And, especially with the New Jersey "C-section" case fresh in my mind, my instinct is to lean more towards free choice than paternalism. But at the same time, there's an element of the artificial to blithely letting people go their own way: these same people might home-school their kids, for instance (and do!) but the state still feels an obligation to see that the children meet certain basic government standards. However much certain sects may fight it, we do live in a nation governed by laws and rules. And while it becomes dicey - at the end of the day, it's great that a mother should have free choice over her body and her baby - I'd have no problem with a similar level of mandatory birthing education.

The other issue is the one that's harder for us to wrap our brains around. Quite simply, anyone voluntarily putting herself in this position is most likely better spiritually equipped to deal with the consequences than any pundit can understand. If you're living by the dictates of what the blogger calls "stupid religious reasons" then it stands to reason you believe in them pretty powerfully. What we call an avoidable tragedy, Cari's husband probably considers "God's will" (and indeed, he's thanked Him for only taking his son.) The bigger concern, for me, is that someone might be placed in this position against her will: a culture that demands total submission to the husband surely gives him jurisdiction in matters of birthing, too. And it's hard to know whether a woman on the brink of losing her life and her baby might not want, in that moment of clarity, at least the option of medical intervention.


My Womb for His Purposes: The Perils of Unassisted Childbirth in the Quiverfull Movement [Religion Dispatches]

God Is My OB-GYN: Unassisted Childbirth For Christ [Majikthise]
Life With A "Quiverfull" Family - The Story Behind The Story [Reuters]
Is God A Narcissist? [The Skptical OB]
Realted: Like Big Families? Meet The Quiverfulls
Not Wanting A Cesarean Qualifies As Mental Illness?