Of midwives and Mennonites: It pays for journalists to dig deeper when faith is involved

Of midwives and Mennonites:  It pays for journalists to dig deeper when faith is involved

When I lived in Maryland in a Catholic community that took seriously their church’s prohibition against artificial birth control, I knew a lot of women who had babies. Frequent babies. And a number of them were fervent advocates of home births.

They all had their favorite midwives as most had been to a hospital for their first delivery, then swore to never again step foot in an obstetrics ward.

The New York Times and other media have been covering an embattled midwife for a large Mennonite community in New York state’s Finger Lakes region. It’s pretty clear that lots of issues are involved in this story — including religion, clearly including the faith of the woman doing the delivering.

But that topic is strangely absent in the Times story, which starts here:

PENN YAN, N.Y. — For a generation of Mennonite women, Elizabeth Catlin was integral to the most joyous occasions of their lives: the births of their children.

Ms. Catlin was a second mother, they said, a birthing attendant who helped them with prenatal care and then caught their babies during hundreds of natural childbirth deliveries at their homes.

So it was incomprehensible to them that on a recent winter day they were in a courtroom to support Ms. Catlin, who in December had been arrested and charged with four felonies for practicing midwifery in a county about an hour southeast of Rochester.

It was Ms. Catlin’s second arrest: She had been charged the month before in a neighboring county, where the State Police wereinvestigating her possible role in a newborn’s death.

Police said she misrepresented herself as a licensed midwife — a status that requires a master’s degree and completion of an accredited midwifery program. She does, however, have a credential from the Northern American Registry of Midwives, which New York state doesn’t accept.

Ms. Catlin maintains that she served only as a birth attendant because New York does not recognize her midwifery certification. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“My life is ground to a halt,” Ms. Catlin said. “My passion has been taken away.”

Her clients also reject the charge that she distorted her training, and they are making rare public overtures of support, like the courtroom appearance.

“Normally the Mennonites do not speak out — and especially the women don’t — because we’re kind of taught the men are the leaders,” said Kathleen Zimmerman, a 37-year-old mother of eight children, four of whom Ms. Catlin helped to deliver.

Next comes the article’s one nod to religion.

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What sort of faith compels a mom to sacrifice her life for her child? Various media never tell us

What sort of faith compels a mom to sacrifice her life for her child? Various media never tell us

Years ago, I had a friend in California who was about four months pregnant when she learned that she had a fast-moving cancer that would kill her in a matter of weeks unless she started chemotherapy immediately. But it was a type of chemo that would kill her child.

Fiercely pro-life, considering abortion was the last thing on her mind. However, the cancer was so fast-moving that even if she decided to forego the chemo, she would not live long enough to bring the baby to the viability stage before delivering it. It was one of these life-of-the-mother situations that you hear about but rarely learn the gritty details.

Partly because she had several other children who needed her, she did abort this fourth child and had the chemo. Sadly, she only lived one more year before the cancer returned and she died.

Now to the news. I was interested to hear of a similar story that ran in the Washington Post about a woman who rejected chemo so her unborn child could live. Of course, you should watch for the faith element in this story.

The headaches began sometime in March. They didn’t think much of them, other than that they were possible migraines -- until she started vomiting.
An initial scan showed a mass in Carrie DeKlyen’s brain. More tests showed that it was a form of cancer, possibly lymphoma, but treatable. But a pathology exam revealed a more grim diagnosis. The 37-year-old mother of five from Wyoming, Mich., had glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. If lucky, she could live for five more years.
The tumor was taken out during a surgery in April, her husband, Nick DeKlyen, said. Not even a month later, the couple received two pieces of shocking news. Carrie’s tumor was back -- and she was eight weeks pregnant.

Here’s the agonizing choice part, with a hint at faith:

They had two options. They could try to prolong Carrie’s life through chemotherapy, but that meant ending her pregnancy. Or they could keep the baby, but Carrie would not live long enough to see the child.

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Concerning Megyn Kelly in Vanity Fair: Raising 'spiritual' question about her Fox News work

Concerning Megyn Kelly in Vanity Fair: Raising 'spiritual' question about her Fox News work

GetReligion readers, I have a question for you. Which news network has consistently shown a greater commitment to original reporting on religion events and trends, Fox News or Al Jazeera?

When answering this question, it might help to visit the Al Jazeera landing page for "Religion, Spirituality & Ethics" and then do the same for the "religion" search category at Fox News. What you are looking for is actual hands-on reporting work done by the personnel in these newsrooms, as opposed to pieces built totally on wire-service reports.

I raise this question because, year after year, people ask me why Fox News -- in light of its massive audience share among culturally conservative news consumers -- doesn't do more reporting on religion topics (as opposed to the usual commentary pieces and talk-show work). This also comes up in my classroom work, as I have mentioned before:

One of the most interesting discussions that I have with journalism students every semester is the moment when I ask them to identify the specific cultural and political philosophy that drives the editorial policies of Fox News and other giants associated with the world of Rupert Murdoch.
They always say, "Conservative" or "right wing."
Then I ask them this question: "What kind of conservatism?"

The answer, of course, is a kind of secular Libertarian stance that isn't comfortable with a conservatism rooted in moral and cultural values.

This brings me to that new Vanity Fair piece on Fox superstar Megyn Kelly, which -- right at the very end -- contains a major, major fumble when it comes to digging into a crucial statement linked to religious faith and moral issues.

But first, who is Megyn Kelly?

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Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

According to most news reports about the U.S. Supreme action involving Peggy Young and her case against the United Parcel Service -- such as the CBS News clip atop this post -- this was a pretty standard battle focusing on "women's reproductive rights." 

Most of these stories seemed to have been produced with a template. This was all business as usual, in other words. But was that the case at the court?

Listeners who tuned in the NPR report on the case heard the same oh-so-familiar storyline -- but with one brief reference to a twist in the plot. 

The online version of the NPR story began like this. Can you spot the religion ghost in this lede?

Women's reproductive rights are once again before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Only this time, pregnancy discrimination is the issue and pro-life and pro-choice groups are on the same side, opposed by business groups.

In other words, the big news here is that very unusual coalition created by this case. What's that all about? Who is involved on the pro-life side of that equation and why? 

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Babies and holy ghosts in Texas surrogate pregnancies story

Give the Austin American-Statesman credit for a couple of things. First, the Texas newspaper has the start of a potentially fantastic, enlightening trend piece:

AUSTIN — A nurse spread gel on Nicole Benham’s pregnant belly and slowly moved a sonogram wand over it, describing the images on nearby monitors. This scene, in which parents get an early glimpse of baby, is played out many times a day in medical offices across America, but this plot has a twist.

Benham is carrying twins, but they are not her babies. They belong to Sheila and Kevin McWilliams, a New Jersey couple who lost their firstborn and can’t have another child together. They provided the eggs and sperm, and they will bear all costs, which average $75,000 to $100,000 and include fees to the surrogate, the matchmaking surrogacy company and lawyers for both parties, experts said.

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