If there's one thing I have noticed on the Internet, it is that there are many vocal opinions about childbirth. Nothing gets the blood heated (or nasty bullying) like an article on birth - the more extreme it is, the more comments it attracts. This is becoming particularly noticeable in the Australian media. Laureen Hudson, a social media expert, has talked about "war"...and that's what it feels like at times.
One recent example of these "online wars" is the post "Birthzillas: when it’s all about the birth, not the baby", written by Mia Freedman, a few days ago. In this post, Mia talks about birth plans and the danger of focusing on the experience of birth, to the detriment of the baby.
This post garnered over 1,150 comments (which is a huge number for a blog post) with a diverse range of opinions. What has struck me is two things. Firstly, the amount of unsubstantiated, mis-information that is spread about. For example, Rita says "Homebirth has a 3x greater risk of fetal demise…how can anyone say they’re thinking of the baby when they choose it?" This is a very scary statement with no reference, no context, and is certainly is not my understanding of the research around home birth.
The second thing that is apparent is the passion displayed by commentators, and in some cases, darn right rudeness and nastiness. One commentator, who identified herself as a senior student midwife wrote,
"This article is a prime example of pure stupidity and ignorance. I am nearly registered as a midwife, and I can tell you that just because you have had a couple of babies, does not make you an expert in the safety or the science of birth...... Read the evidence and get your opinions off such a public forum! People are too ignorant and unaware to be exposed to this kind of crap – it only adds to the problem!"
The problem with this sort of comment is that it can incite further nastiness, and does not contribute constructively to discussion. And I am concerned about how it reflects on the midwifery profession.
I think it is important for midwives to get involved with discussions such as this, to provide evidence-based research to counteract the erroneous information that is propagated in some areas. But there are a couple of tricks to engaging in these discussions.
1. Know your evidence
Make it your aim to provide evidence-based information in a way that can be understood by the average mum, and link to that information, so mothers can check it out for themselves.
2. Do not engage in an emotional way
You must remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion. And also be mindful some writers like to be deliberately provocative to increase readership and comments (don't we all!). The aim of the game is to educate people, not get into flame wars. Here is Tara Moss's response to the Birthzilla article: In defence of birth plans. Tara resists the temptation to be rude, derogatory or patronising, but rather writes a reasoned, balanced response - a lesson for us all to remember.
3. Remember you are representing your profession
I'll be the first to admit that I have got caught up in flame wars. And however much you disagree with a writer, you must remember that you represent the profession as a whole. If you're in doubt about the topic of the discussion and the evidence you can contribute, my advice would be not to engage at all. Or at the very least, wait 24 hours before you comment, or run it by someone else before you post.
Do you comment in online discussions? What tips would you pass on about how to do it safely and professionally? Have you ever got yourself into "trouble" online? What did you do about it?