I don’t remember being told as a child that babies were brought by storks but, along with many other midwives, I really like both the idea and the mental images this story creates. So I was delighted when I first found a paper suggesting a link between the number of storks in the German state of Lower Saxony and the home birth rate in the same area (Hofer et al 2004).
I was even more interested when I discovered that Hofer et al (2004) had used the correlation between the number of storks and the home birth rate to make some interesting points about the nature of theories and the potential pitfalls of reading too much into apparent correlations. It inspired me to write an article (The Wisdom of Storks) about this in The Practising Midwife, and I have just uploaded this to my articles page if you would like to read it.
I wrote the article for two reasons. I did want to echo Hofer et al’s (2004) warnings that we need to take care not to confuse a correlation with a causal relationship. This still happens far too much in research relating to maternity care. But I was just as keen to make the point that we still need to look out for and observe correlations. As I note in The Wisdom of Storks, this is how we gain knowledge about such signs as the purple line.
I am engaged in a number of projects that relate to this area at the moment and all of them continue to reinforce the value of this to me. There is always a huge need, though, to carefully assess what we think we know, no matter the source of that knowledge. If we want to develop knowledge in ways that will bring genuine benefit, we need to balance our stories with clear thought and our science with heart.
Hofer T, Przyrembel H, Verleger S (2004). New evidence for the Theory of the Stork. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 18(1):88-92.
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