Years ago, I lost a great deal of respect for the Weather Channel. It was about ten years ago, and I still take their predictions with a huge grain of salt. I live in the South, where we don’t get much snow — once or twice a season is about all we can expect, and that’s always gone within a day or two of when it falls. So, when I saw that TWC was predicting “Southern Snow”, I was excited. For days that’s all they talked about — snow up to a foot, maybe more, huge snowstorm, biggest snowstorm in years, etc., etc., etc. I was jazzed, ready to play in the snow with the boys I was babysitting — maybe even build a snowman (which I’ve only had the opportunity to do once or twice in my life — usually not enough snow, and rarely was it the kind of snow that would pack into balls). Anticipation was high. Stores emptied of milk and bread and other necessities. And…it either snowed not at all, a faint dusting, or maybe an inch. And it was gone within a day.
It was then that I realized that TWC was not just a channel devoted to predicting and announcing the weather, but it was, like other channels, a business enterprise that is ratings-driven, and they have a vested interest in getting as many viewers as possible. I think they exaggerated their predictions of snow for that purpose. From time to time in the intervening years, I’ve watched TWC from time to time, and I’ve seen many instances of this same kind of exaggeration.
Am I expecting perfection from those who predict the weather? No. But to predict a foot of snow when there was less than an inch? Yes, it’s possible that they were predicting to the best of their abilities — that the models and trends all showed the same thing; but I think that’s unlikely. I think they took the possibility and exaggerated it into a probability, and then into a certainty. It made them look foolish when they had someone on site somewhere in the area that was supposed to be blanketed with snow, and have him basically standing there saying that the accumulation was less than anticipated.
In my opinion, this is what happens all too often in birth. Dire predictions of horrendous outcomes if this or that protocol isn’t followed — the “dead baby” card if the woman wants to get up and walk around, not be strapped down to the monitors all the time, labor naturally instead of being given Pitocin, push her baby out instead of it being cut out of her, etc. Certainly sometimes these things are necessary or beneficial. But these claims are also exaggerated a lot too. Although I still get my weather online from the Weather Channel, I place no confidence in long-term predictions, especially those that say there will be very bad or unusual weather, far off in the future. I believe the simple things — predictions of rain, high and low temperatures — that sort of thing. I won’t hang up laundry outside to dry if there is a certain percentage likelihood of rain during the day — depending also on what the weather looks like from my back porch. If it has a 10% chance stated, but the sky is gray, I’ll delay my laundry, because I place more confidence in my own unschooled prognostications based on the gray and cloudy sky, than I do on their well-educated opinions when they haven’t seen those clouds in my back yard. Also, if it says there is a 50% chance of rain, but the sky is bright and clear, I’ll hang up the laundry — keeping a careful watch on the sky, to be ready to bring in the clothes if clouds begin to gather.
I’m sure weather predictions have gotten better in the past century. There are undoubtedly detailed computer programs that help to predict what will happen when. They are not perfect, and I don’t expect them to be, but I do expect them to be constantly trying to improve. The same with birth. Far too often, low-risk women are treated like high-risk women, and/or are made to feel as if they are at high risk for complications that could injure or kill themselves or their babies. That’s one reason why our C-section rate is so outrageously high.
Our country does not have the best rates of maternal, infant, nor neonatal mortality. Compared to other Western countries, we are among the worst. In fact, our rates of maternal mortality are rising, not falling. The rate of preterm birth is increasing — and researchers have laid the blame for that on elective C-sections and inductions, and not medical reasons. That’s appalling. All this while ACOG is silent on things like maternal smoking and unwed mothers, which are each associated with a 4/1000 higher death rate than babies born to either non-smoking or married women. Yet they have the gall to issue press releases against home birth, and to decry that celebrity Ricki Lake is promoting this choice (while being silent on the oh-so-numerous celebrity single mothers, who are even more prominent and prevalent), as being dangerous. When ACOG speaks out against real issues, and works to improve their own recommendations, I’ll start believing them more. But as long as they treat every woman as high-risk — as long as every day has a chance or rain so you’d better be wearing a raincoat, rain boots, and be carrying an umbrella at all times just in case (regardless of how much rain might fall and for how long), even when the sky is bright blue and not a cloud in the sky — I’m going to continue to view their recommendations with a jaundiced eye. Which is a little sad since, like the stopped clock that is right twice a day, there are times when their predictions are right and should have been followed. If they want to be believed more, they need to work on being more believable. Until then, forgive me if I treat them like the little boy who cried wolf.