Writer. Has worked as an editor at Ms. magazine and as senior editor at Plenty.
Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care (nonfiction), Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.
Coeditor of revised edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Contributor of articles to newspapers and magazines, including Village Voice, Ms., Nation, Salon.com, Mother Jones, Elle, and Plenty.
Journalist Jennifer Block has written extensively on women's health issues, which are at the core of her book Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care. She makes the case that medical procedures associated with childbirth in the United States are often unnecessary and even harmful to mothers and babies, and are justified more by doctors' and hospitals' convenience and fear of lawsuits than by the needs of patients. These procedures include cesarean sections, which account for about thirty percent of U.S. births; fetal monitoring, which limits women's mobility during labor; episiotomies; and drug-induced labor. Doctors do not always give women the option to turn down these interventions, and in any case, the patient's instinct is generally to trust the doctor, Block notes. She provides accounts of births involving these procedures, as well as births under different conditions—at home, attended by midwives. Many states, however, do not allow the practice of midwifery. Block would like to see midwives recognized as the primary caregivers during the birth process, with doctors as an emergency backup. Further, she would like to see the development of birthing centers as an alternative to hospitals, as not all women would want to give birth at home. Overall, she says, women's bodies should be trusted to do the job of childbirth without additional medical measures because she believes it produces better outcomes for mothers and children.
Some critics thought Block provided important insight into the uses and abuses of medicine, while others deemed her overly negative. She has focused "a much-needed spotlight on an important medical dilemma of using inappropriate and often harmful technology out of fear of lawsuits," related Irene Alleger, a contributor to Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine. Sarah Blustain, in a piece for the Wellesley Centers for Women Web site, remarked that Block's "strength is in getting doctors and nurses—some self-satisfied and some repentant—to confess that obstetric care is corrupt to its very core." The book, Blustain added, is "extraordinarily readable." Noah Berlatsky, writing in the Chicago Reader, commented that Block had done an "excellent" job of "reminding us that the United States is a terrible place to be born."
Errol R. Norwitz, a physician reviewing the book for Nature Medicine, criticized it for "lack of balance in the evidence provided and the selective use of case histories." He found "her one-dimensional and glossy portrayal of home births arguably dangerous," ignoring the fact that such births are sometimes fraught with complications. Still, he praised her for raising important concerns. While he saw no justification for "abandoning modern maternity care," he allowed: "Hospital-based providers would do well to incorporate some of Ms. Block's recommendations, such as focusing more intently on supporting women during labor."
Some reviewers did not see Block's account as one-sided. Tina Neville, writing in Library Journal, thought that while Block is "obviously in favor of fewer medical interventions," she gives a fair hearing to other opinions. A Kirkus Reviews critic summed up Pushed as "a gripping exposé of American obstetrics" and a "provocative and hotly controversial analysis."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chicago Reader, June 29, 2007, Noah Berlatsky, review of Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care.
Conscience, autumn, 2007, review of Pushed, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of Pushed.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Tina Neville, review of Pushed, p. 108.
Nature Medicine, Volume 13, number 8, Errol R. Norwitz, review of Pushed.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 27, 2007, Bob Condor, "‘Pushed’ Cries Out for Childbirth Options," p. D1.
Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine, October, 2007, Irene Alleger, "Birthing Made Modern: The Overuse of Medical Technology," p. 132; October, 2007, "A Talk with Jennifer Block, Author of Pushed," p. 133.
Bostonia,http://www.bu.edu/ (February 17, 2008), Cynthia K. Buccini, "Forced Labor."
Curled Up with a Good Kid's Book,http://www.curledupkids.com/ (January 31, 2008), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of Pushed.
Jennifer Block Home Page,http://www.jenniferblock.com (January 31, 2008).
Midwest Book Review,http://www.midwestbookreview.com/ (August, 2007), review of Pushed.
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (January 31, 2008), Jodie Janella Keith, review of Pushed.
RH Reality Check,http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/ (June 21, 2007), Amie Newman, interview with Jennifer Block.
Wellesley Centers for Women Web site,https://wcwonline.org/ (January 31, 2008), Sarah Blustain, "Modern Childbirth: Failure to Progress."