When I ask my medical students to describe their image of a woman who elects to birth with a midwife rather than with an obstetrician, they generally describe a woman who wears long cotton skirts, braids her hair, eats only organic vegan food, does yoga, and maybe drives a VW microbus. What they don't envision is the omnivorous, pants-wearing science geek standing before them.
Indeed, they become downright confused when I go on to explain that there was really only one reason why my mate -- an academic internist -- and I decided to ditch our obstetrician and move to a midwife: Our midwife could be trusted to be scientific, whereas our obstetrician could not.
Many medical students, like most American patients, confuse science and technology. They think that what it means to be a scientific doctor is to bring to bear the maximum amount of technology on any given patient. And this makes them dangerous. In fact, if you look at scientific studies of birth, you find over and over again that many technological interventions increase risk to the mother and child rather than decreasing it.
But most birthing women don't seem to know this, even if their obstetricians do. Paradoxically, these women seem to want the same thing I wanted: a safe outcome for mother and child. But no one seems to tell them what the data indicate is the best way to get there. The friend who dares to offer half a glass of wine is seen as guilty of reckless endangerment, whereas the obstetrician offering unnecessary and risky procedures is considered heroic.