cover image The American Way of Birth

The American Way of Birth

Jessica Mitford. Dutton Books, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93523-0

Mitford ( The American Way of Death ) interviewed obstetricians, midwives and antenatal and postnatal mothers for this journalistic probe of how Americans are born. In graceful prose she relates our appalling infant mortality rate to the obstacles poor women face in finding prenatal care and decent hospital treatment. After reviewing the potential hazards of obstetrical forceps, electronic fetal monitoring and diagnostic ultrasound, Mitford discusses the complications mothers often face after having a cesarean section and examines the financial and legal motives behind doctors' widespread performance of these largely unnecessary procedures. She takes readers on a grand tour of the midwifery scene, from a Bronx center for low-risk women to a Californian context in which the medical establishment harasses home-birth midwives with police break-ins. In an epilogue Mitford documents hospital routines and deceptive overbilling, criticizes the American Medical Association's powerful lobby, which squelches healthcare reform, and reviews efforts to pass a Canadian-style national health insurance bill that would eliminate the profiteering of U.S. hospitals and doctors. First serial to Good Housekeeping. (Nov.)