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Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that terrifies you with the miracle of birth!
I'm your host this week, Aaron, and with me are Shea, Jenn, and Steve!
I'm Shea, and this week I learned that if our ass was split horizontally, it would clap when you ran down the stairs.
And I'm Steve, and instead of reading the script, I'm going to yank on Shea's crumb-catcher.
I'm Jenn, did you know that Freddie Mercury was raised in the Zoroastrian faith? Also, go see Bohemian Rhapsody.
The dangerously stupid: it just gets worse and it’s BREEDING.
I’m beginning to find the GOOP quaint and almost helpful the more I learn about alternatives to alternative medicines. You know, fine, put some potentially harmful shit in your vagina, spend $800 on holistically harvested micro-ingredients to make a smoothie with no flavor, irritate everyone you encounter with your smug self-righteousness and BMI of 17. Just do you. I’m now currently here for it.
So why the slight change of heart? Why have I softened a bit on the GP? Let me explain this latest manure pile of fucking terrible I stumbled into and I think you’ll understand: I’m here to introduce you to the Freebirther movement, and the Free Birth Society specifically.
What exactly is freebirth? Freebirth, or ‘home birth without assistance’, is a still-rare but increasingly popular practice in the U.S. Thanks in large part to social media, the phenomenon has gone from a back-of-the-cab accident to a conscious “lifestyle choice”. In blog posts and viral videos, its adherents extoll the benefits of birthing at home or even ...ahem...in the wild. There are entire podcasts dedicated to freebirthing, with women discussing the “ecstatic” experience of giving birth in a snowed-in yurt or on a remote Hawaiian island.
One quick note: this is NOT about medically supervised home births. Those events can be a safe and positive experience if you're into the kind of thing that involves making another person. Per Bruce Young, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU School of Medicine, roughly 80% of home births “go smoothly”, and for the remaining 20% midwives and doulas are on hand, and outside emergency care is sought when needed.
Back to the Free Birth Society: What is it? It’s an online group of adherents of this frightening nonsense that was started by Emilee Saldaya (a former home-birth midwife’s assistant turned “radical birth keeping” coach; more on her later). Per her lack-of-historical-health-context and understanding-of-irony website:
Free Birth Society is a movement of women reclaiming their autonomy during pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. You’re here because you’re an independent thinker and you know there is more to pregnancy and birth than what has been offered to you by the obstetrics and midwifery systems. You’re here because there’s a whisper (or a scream) inside you; a deep knowing that that(sic) there’s more to childbirth than the formulaic, generic, and regulated “care” that has become normalized in contemporary culture...
The question that leads our mission is, ‘What would the world look like, if mothers and babies were born powerfully, into a circle of peace, love and respect?’ ( I’ll tell you what it’ll look like--less populated.) We have seen the results of ecstatic birth first-hand: primally attached, healthy and happy babies, joyful mothers, and connected kids.
The website offers ‘The Complete Guide to Free Birth’ online course...for the bargain price of $600. Or for $899 you can have the ‘Ultimate Freebirth Support Package’, which promises “a complete immersion in everything you need to know about in order to optimize your freebirth.” There’re coaching packages, a link to podcasts they create or endorse, plus a section of testimonials I didn’t have the strength to read through.
From a 2017 interview on mothering.com, when asked to define Freebirth, Saldaya responded:
Free Birth is really just birth; birth as it’s been for forever until quite recently. But since we are currently living in a society in which childbirth has been co-opted by the patriarchy and birth has become monopolized by the medical model, we have to call natural birth “Free Birth.” It’s like having to call food organic because the default food available is actually not natural at all.
Free Birth means choosing not to opt into the medical model of obstetrics and to instead be your own authority, allowing labor to spontaneously unfold at home. It also means that the woman is choosing to not hire a medical professional to manage her pregnancy and birth, and instead takes full responsibility for her experience. She does her own prenatal care and assembles a team of her choosing to support her in her birth at home.”
The online community of the Free Birthers had been keeping in contact through a private Facebook group (6,200 members strong), that appears to have been deleted. (I was able to access public posts from it a few days before recording, but as of Nov. 10th it apparently has been shut down.) When members went into labor they spent much of the time online with ‘their sisters’, receiving encouragement (yay, no medical expertise!) and assurance that the women were doing the right thing.
Obviously, it’s no great logical leap that tragedies can occur from this sort of willfully reckless disregard of medical care for what has been historically one of the most dangerous physical feats a woman could endure and until quite recently a leading cause of death. Sad to say, yep, a terrible and 100% avoidable event took place last month that has brought the group under intense and needed scrutiny.
A so far unnamed 29 yr old mother (going by the pseudonym Lisa) stumbled upon an Instagram post by the Free Birth Society and decided that having a baby outside of a hospital with no medical intervention or know-how sounded like a great idea! The Californian describes herself as “free-spirited, natural, minimalistic, and health-conscious,”, (leading me to the conclusion she is greatly misinformed on what being health-conscious actually means). She knew this was how she had to give birth—just her and her husband, alone in their desert home, away from “harsh hospital lighting and strangers’ gloved hands.” They felt excited and powerful, she said.
Lisa became a member and began sharing with the group in the middle of her pregnancy.
One of her enthusiastic messages was screenshot:
It gives some insight into her naivete and the wretched state of our educational system.
Lisa went into labor at about 42 weeks, approx 2 weeks late, on October 2nd. She began to share with the group her experiences with horrific back pain, vomiting, and debilitating contractions. Unknown to her (bc, oh yeah, she avoided all prenatal exams and not using doctors can cause you to miss valuable information), she was in the throes of ‘back labor’ where the baby is either facing up toward the abdomen, or they are laying sideways in the birthing canal.
Throughout the first few days of labor, Lisa took to the Free Birth Society FB page to write about her pain, as well as her doubts. Fellow group members cheered her on, “calling her a ‘warrior woman’ and urging her to ‘trust the process.’ But, most crucially, the group “subscribed to a strict code of conduct: Comments encouraging other members to seek treatment, or questioning a women’s autonomy in any way, would quickly be deleted.”
Three days into labor, Lisa wrote, “Thought I was in transition”—the final labor phase—“at 11:30 pm but nows its 3am and it’s intensely painful...like I just want to lie down and for the pain to stop for just a second.” In response, a group member wrote, “My little one was born 4 days ago and she took over 3 days of nonstop contractions. You’re a legend. It will happen.” Instead of the group telling her to seek help, they provided her tips on how to position the baby. People shared links on how to spin the baby. Others said back labor was a regular part of childbirth.
Finally, on day six!!, per The Daily Beast:
She got out of bed that morning to find smelly, odd-colored liquid streaming down her legs. Her stomach was aching and her bladder distended from being unable to urinate for days. At that point, despite her deepest wishes, she decided it was time to seek medical help.
A little disgusting but interesting biological tidbit: what she was leaking was meconium fluid. Now, what may that be? It’s the earliest stool of a mammalian infant. It’s not the same as feces that develop later as it’s mainly composed of amniotic fluid, sloughed cells, and bile, but still can present a serious health concern if aspirated or swallowed. Also, crucially, it’s indicative that the fetus’ delivery is imminent and basically needs to get the fuck out immediately before things get really bad. This is NOT ‘water-breaking’, which is amniotic fluid and is colorless and odorless.
Tragically, when she got to the hospital, there was no heartbeat. Again from the Daily Beast:
Then she remembers pain. The doctors told her to start pushing right away, and she did—for three hours, with no progress. The doctor came back with a vacuum and ordered her to push, then called for an anesthesiologist to knock her out.
The memories become fuzzier from there, but she can still recall hearing herself screaming and not being able to stop. She remembers her husband saying the baby’s head was coming out, and then more pain. Then she blacked out.
When I woke up I was covered in blood and so was everyone else,” she said. “And it was so quiet in there.
The baby, named...sigh...Journey Moon, was stillborn. The mother blamed the death on “a massive urinary tract infection I had”, which is infuriating. She kept the baby by her side for two days until posting on the Society’s page “Life is made up of meetings and partings; that is the way of it. I am sure we shall never forget Journey Moon, or this first parting that there was among us.”
What the doctors actually discovered was a massive infection in her uterus, probably caused by the meconium fluid left inside for days. Additionally, the baby was positioned with her shoulders sideways. She could not clear the vaginal opening because she was stuck on the pubic bone. While wedged, she died from an infection in the uterus.
So yeah, that’s all terrible and, even worse, apparently, nothing was learned. However, there is a somewhat positive note to end on at least. The Free Birth Society’s founder, Emilee Saldaya has found herself under fire and serious scrutiny, which has the potential to have legal repercussions. Yes, please.
Almost immediately afterword of the stillbirth Saldaya began to try to distance herself from the situation, claiming she knew little about it and had only exchanged a few texts with the mother. She took to their FB page to offer a lengthy rebuttal of accusations, but thankfully the internet never forgets. It did end with an unapologetic, almost rallying cry:
This is not the time to run, hide or be silenced. It is a time to become more steadfast, more powerful and more protected in this radical work of healing the deepest wounds on this earth, I stand and will always stand for women’s reproductive autonomy, our bodily authority, and our freedom to make our own decisions surrounding our health, pregnancies and births.”
So fuck her. The most egregious statement, in my opinion, was “I did not tell this woman not to go to the hospital. I did not offer her directives of any kind. I was not involved in her birth, nor in any choices she made around her birth.” Per a Patheos article, a now-former member has come forward to share screenshots of her conversations with Saldaya, who she approached when she became concerned with the difficult labor. They include:
The good news is this has caused some of the women in the group to leave and speak out against Saldaya, and hopefully, a measure of accountability can be taken. It’s also bringing some necessary publicity to a dangerous preggo cult. It’s an ongoing story that I plan to keep following.
As of recording, Emilee Saldaya has created a new online home for the society that is strictly private and requires an application, multiple references, an essay, as well as a non-refundable $108 application fee. Once that is submitted, the final step is a formal phone interview.
To finish this up on all of our favorite things, cold hard facts, I bring a few statistics.
From the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine:
In the early 1900s, maternal death rates were nearly 1,000 per 100,000 births, when “free birth” was still commonplace.
Those numbers dipped under 700 per 100,000 around the 1930s when prenatal care began to become standard.
Between 1935 and 1940, between 85% to 90% of births were now conducted in hospitals taking the death rate down to around 400:100,000.
In the late ’40s, blood transfusions were available for birthing women, and the death rate continued to drop. Currently, maternal deaths are less than 200:100,000.
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Flat Earth Is So Last Year...
Step aside flat Earthers, there’s a new planet-shape in town!
It’s planetary and jelly time!
The flat-Earthers have gained ground in recent years. From the UK Flat Earther conference Skeptics with a K covered, to one planned for near-studio Denver, everyone with a non-globe-shaped theory of Earth seems to need to share their “findings.”
And what’s worse, they seem to be finding an audience.
Luckily it’s a divided group - and I don’t just mean between the good and right people on the top of the disk vs. the kangaroo-crazed Morlocks on the dark, dangerous, and venomous side.
No, it’s time to say good’day to a theory that finally explains how the world we live on can be both mostly flat but also has no edges to fall off of. I present the final frontier in non-globe reasoning: the Donut Earth!
And it’s not even the fun kind you get to save from the Flood!
The theory was posted on a Flat Earth Society discussion board by a pioneering member, Varaug, who said:
“I have a theory that the Earth is in fact shaped like a torus (a doughnut shape). However, light is curved so we cannot tell.”
Now, to be fair this was posted as a hypothetical meant to suss out how theories like the obviously incorrect globe model get started. Of course, when trying to conduct a study on the mimetic qualities of epistemological development, it helps to have a focus group that isn’t fuck-nut insane.
The thread quickly devolved into the merits of such a shape complete with justifications of how the gravity-jelly filling works and why we’ve not seen Mother Earths donut hole - and here I was thinking we were just being polite and not trying to look up her equator…
Yes, Steve, I did say “gravity-jelly” and since I know you’re not gonna let that one go, I’m writing in this transition now to address this sweet, strawberry, foundational element of snack-reality works.
Now, as well all know there are four foundational principles of reality to which all natural actors must adhere: Candy, slime, ice, and fire. The first of which binds our universe together with its sticky-relativity as outlined by some German probably. See, inside the pale blue donut “gravity acts as it does in an R.E. model (round earth model... or real earth model), and people are attracted to large masses. Imagine a doughnut. Imagine a jam doughnut. Gravity acts towards the jam,” says Varaug. So… checkmate physicists.
And if one wants to prove this theory, all you need is a flashlight, confusingly known in Britain as a “torch”, a word usually reserved for describing torches, and a world-donut, then one needs only to “lay a torch horizontal on a table and turn it on. Now, get a doughnut and place it on its side, with the hole perpendicular to the torch. The side that is illuminated by the torch is in the day,” explains Varaug The Visionary.
This also conveniently explains the non-hole because the jelly-like nature of gravitational forces also explains light. You see (hehe), we’ve never seen the donut hole - presumably otherwise known as the moon - because “light bends and follows the curvature of the torus (doughnut), making the hole ‘unseeable’”, obviously.
So there ya go. The Crispy, creamy, truth that NASA and their pastry-fanatics don’t want you to know. Also, the flat earth societies website is a seemingly never-ending wellspring of insane nonsense that I will surely be revisiting.
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-host.
Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms.
All rights reserved, Interesting If True 2020.
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