Reclaiming My Birth Rights: A Mother’s Wisdom Triumphs Over the Harmful Practices of Her Medical Profession

Author: Adrienne Carmack, M.D.

Reclaiming My Birth Rights: A Mother’s Wisdom Triumphs Over the Harmful Practices of Her Medical Profession. By Adrienne Carmack, M.D. San Bernardino, California: Adrienne Carmack, 2014. 147 pages. $15.99. Review by J. Steven Svoboda.

Disclaimer: I greatly enjoyed listening to the presentation of Dr. Adrienne Carmack at the July 2014 Boulder symposium. She and I spoke briefly in Boulder and she is a deeply respected colleague of mine. My use of her first name in this review reflects her down to earth, personal approach to her book and to her activism.

Board-certified urologist and activist Adrienne Carmack, M.D. has published a concise, very engaging and user-friendly book on her experiences negotiating our country’s medical system as a consumer albeit one influenced by her profession. Naturally, her professional background influences her reaction to her discoveries about our medical system, initially leading her to defer to authority and to assume that any doubts she has about the wisdom of, say, male circumcision or of discouraging home births might not ultimately be justified. In the end, however, Adrienne’s story is a moving one of personal triumph and of what I found to be an awe-inspiring and emotionally powerful path of discovery that brought tears to my eyes in the closing pages.

Adrienne deftly summarizes the core issue right at the outset when she analogizes male circumcision to an imaginary practice where a fingernail is removed from an infant without any medical reason. The author notes that such a procedure would in fact completely remove any danger of infection from the removed nail; any problems that others had with their fingernail might come to be viewed as attributable to their failure to undergo this procedure.

This book brings to mind Jennifer Margulis’ similarly excellent The Business of Baby, previously reviewed in these pages, while taking a more personal approach to some of the same material regarding failures and disconnects in the American medical system. Adrienne points out that while hospitals routinely break the baby’s collarbone to facilitate deliveries when a baby’s shoulders are stuck in the mother’s birth canal, midwives “report great success with just having the moms get on all fours…” In fact, the author goes on to note, death rates and complication rates turn out to actually be higher for births assisted by physicians relative to midwife-attended home births. Similar, fetal heart rate monitoring, which certainly seems to save lives, may in fact instead be contributing to a higher rate of C-sections without in fact improving outcomes or resulting in healthier babies.

While not scientifically conclusive, I found it pretty compelling that after her successful, natural home birth, Adrienne had a chance encounter with a woman who had given birth using the same insensitive obstetrician with whom the author had initially consulted before rejecting him. “She ended up having a C-section for ‘failure to progress’ on the day my child was born, and had very similar timing of her cervical dilation as I’d had!”

The book’s section on intersex surgeries is good as far as it goes and a very welcome inclusion. However, the reader should keep in mind that the author is apparently unaware that significant controversy exists in the intersex community regarding the now defunct Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), the only intersex organization mentioned in her book.

Adrienne Carmack comes to see that “the entire medical system is completely flawed from the inside.” She learns, for example, that an apparent condition, overactive bladder, for which she as a urologist had been in the habit of prescribing the accepted medication, in fact appears to be a “disease” that was more or less fabricated to create a use for a drug that had no market.

As Adrienne’s excellent book draws to a close, she has separated her ties with the father of her first two children and gives birth to a third child in an experience that is described in deeply inspiring words:

During this pregnancy, I was totally aware and deeply in tune with my body and baby. I never had my blood pressure checked. I didn’t use any vitamins, and the only supplement I used was a high-protein and mineral nutritional supplement called spirulina. I never had the baby’s heart checked, except during my ultrasound. I didn’t purchase anything to prepare for the birth, and I didn’t cut the cord….

Not relying on an outside authority allowed me to listen to my body in a way I couldn’t before, and to use my own experience as my guide. Leila’s free birth was beautiful, completely safe, and perfect.

Adrienne has blessed us all with a heartfelt, powerful gem of a book. Don’t miss it!