“The Business of Baby” – A Review

the business of baby a review

I promised Jennifer Margulis  (author of The Business of Baby-What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line) a book review quite some time ago.  I finally am finding time to write this and in my preparations I have been perusing her negative criticisms on Amazon.  

I don’t really love negative comments about anybody, even people I don’t like, but I did find these interesting.  Having just gone over the book, I was a little surprised to see what they said. It seemed to me that many of them saw things in the book that I missed.  

I should probably admit up front that I am a bit on the crunchy side. With that being said, I don’t think I am silly (although that is debatable) and I do realize that the natural birth community has its flaws and many of them are big. I get that.  I also realize I have my own biases and, like everybody else, I like to hear people agree with me.  

I did, however, like Jennifer’s book. I did not read to me like a full on attack of the American medical system. The title clearly states that the book is about money and the way money and business shape the way we birth and raise our babies.  I don’t think it is an outrageous assertion to say that money may indeed play a role in our decisions in the United States of America.  

We are proudly a capitalist country, founded on business and entrepreneurs and influenced by marketing and celebrity endorsements and the like. I didn’t feel like The Business of Baby was written to glorify natural birth or end routine vaccinations (although you could try to make that case) but to point out the influence that money has in the realm of baby, for better or worse. Is she saying that everybody should have a home birth and throw out vaccines?  I didn’t feel like that.  Rather, Dr Margulis takes a look at the things that go on in the background that drive some of the many things we hold sacred, take for granted as truth, and accept as part of our lives without question.  

So let’s talk turkey.

The Business of Baby is made up of 11 chapters.  The first one, “Gestation Matters” talks about pregnancy and what typically happens there, and the next few proceed through common procedures like ultrasound, childbirth and the issue of cesarean.  The book then moves on to postpartum, circumcision, formula feeding, diapers, well-baby care and even vaccinations.

Some critics of the book say that Dr. Margulis is inciting people to squat alone in birth and skip their doctor visits with their children’s pedi.  That wasn’t my take-away. Does she have some bias? Yes, I would think so. I think it is safe to say however that her critics, (many of whom talk about their own different experiences, their gratitude for cesarean or relatives maimed by vaccine preventable illnesses) have subjects of bias also, as we all do.

I don’t know Jennifer well.  I should probably admit that I have communicated with her on and off via email since her book published about a year ago.  I like her, but I don’t know her in real life. I am reviewing her book because I think it deserves a review and because I think it is worth reading. And while Jennifer has her own thoughts, I don’t think she is A) stupid or B) unethical or even C) crazy.

I think Jennifer Margulis is trying to show that there is much more below the surface when it comes to our children than we see and some of it has to do with money.  

Now, does the fact that a cesarean costs more to perform than a typical vaginal birth mean that all cesareans are done for money by money grubbing doctors in their money grubbing hospitals? Certainly not, and she doesn’t even come close to claiming that. However, the money involved in cesarean section (and the increasing rates we are experiencing) should not be ignored just because cesarean is sometimes necessary.

The same goes for disposable diapers or any of the other subjects covered in this book. Just because diaper companies make more money the longer kids stay in diapers doesn’t mean that all children should be potty trained by the age of one.  But, if you understand the marketing and the thought process behind a disposable product like diapers (or any other for that matter) it certainly is food for thought when doctors promote later potty training, as they get paid for product placement ads.

One common complaint or accusation made regarding this book is that Dr. Margulis is “anti-vaccine.”  There is a chapter on vaccines in The Business of Baby and I was kind of expecting it to be a pedal-to-the-metal indictment against all vaccines and those who push them.  

The chapter wasn’t like that. In fact, I want to share the first sentence from this chapter: “Vaccinations save lives.  They represent a tremendous step forward in medical history– a way to jump-start the immune system so it can recognize, build an immunological memory of, and better fight off disease.” Does she go on to ask some questions about the current CDC vaccination schedule, the selling of vaccines by salespeople (not scientists), the addition of vaccines to the schedule and the ability of the infant immune system to adequately respond to these vaccines in a useful way?

Yes, she does.  She also talks about seeing children afflicted by vaccine preventable illness in third world countries. We aren’t talking about a woman with rose-colored glasses who thinks that these nasty things don’t happen any more. She gets it.

But she didn’t personally strike me as an irate, “I love Jenny McCarthy and wish she was my nanny” fanatic. Rather, she strikes me as a journalist asking questions that are valid (but controversial).  And she doesn’t decry all vaccines, but does have some discussion about a few of them and mostly their efficacy on brand new babies, rather than waiting a short time for a better developed immune response so that those vaccines can be more effective. Basically, this chapter was much like many others in the book — it used a variety of sources (interviews with both experts and advocates, scientists and real parents, data, studies, experiences in other countries etc.) to talk about an issue that is important to parents.  But it didn’t make me want to vaccinate or not vaccinate.  It just made me think.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

Should you read the book that Jennifer Margulis wrote?  I think so.  I liked it.  I learned things from it.  It made me think outside the box a little.  It made me feel good, and bad, and everything in between.

Personally, I think the LAST thing an investigative journalist like Dr. Margulis (she has a PhD, not a medical degree, which she is very honest about) wants is to convince people to do just as she says or think just as she thinks or even just run out and hire a doula.  I think the point of the book is NOT to blindly follow anybody (even the natural types among us) but to just ask questions, think about things, and then make a decision (which doesn’t have to be like her decision.)

There are those who probably blindly follow Jenny McCarthy or other anti-vaccine advocates, just as there are those who blindly follow “Dr” A.  There are those who worship science and studies and those who worship intuition and nature.

Neither are right all the time.  Both are biased.  I don’t think that the point of The Business of Baby is to make us blindly follow Ina May or even Jennifer Margulis, the point is to question things. The point is to think about the driving forces behind ad campaigns and marketing. The fact that something makes money doesn’t make it evil, but it does add a layer that we would be foolish to ignore. Especially when it comes to our children.

Reading this book won’t tell you what to think, but it will make you think.  

That is what journalism is about, and while it isn’t always popular or easy, it is necessary and always eye opening. I am glad to see a book like this written by somebody who can straddle both worlds as both an insider and an outsider. Jennifer is a mother like you and me.  She thinks about the everyday decisions around her children’s care and health. She wants to make the right choice. She also wears the hat of an investigative journalist and so has access to interviews with literally dozens upon dozens of experts and can delve into questions that I never had the energy to even consider.

I like that The Business of Baby book is passionate, real, and questioning. I like that it combines studies with personal accounts and extremes on both sides of the issues. Is that uncomfortable? Yes. It is supposed to be. That is part of being a good parent, but it isn’t the easy part.

Read it. Think about it. Make your own decision. THAT is the point of The Business of Baby, and it is well accomplished.

About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a mother of four babies, a natural birth teacher, and an instructor trainer for Birth Boot Camp (www.birthbootcamp.com.)  She lives in Northern California.

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