Home birth advocate’s baby dies during free birth, prompts questions

Janet Fraser, a home birth advocate and founder of the site Joyous Birth, recently experienced a personal tragedy when her baby died at her home in Australia on March 27 during her free birth or unassisted childbirth (where a woman gives birth at home without the aid of a midwife or doctor).

When a tragedy like this occurs, people are often left scratching their heads wondering how something like this could happen, what went wrong, and lastly, who’s to blame? I don’t know if we need to point a finger to make ourselves feel better, but it seems to be human nature to ask, “why did this happen?”

While I did not consider giving birth at home without a midwife in attendance for my home birth, I know a handful of women who chose an unassisted birth and I respect them for it. I believe these women did a great deal of research in advance, knew what they were doing, trusted their bodies and their babies and were prepared to go to the hospital if any issues arose. Although I don’t know her, I trust that Janet Fraser would fall into this category as well. Not everyone agrees with me though and some, like Amber Watson-Tardiff, are suggesting that what Fraser did by having her baby unassisted was “reckless, neglectful and borderline criminal.”

Jessica Gottlieb of Eco Child’s Play says, “I support women who chose a home birth. But a free birth? I cannot see the wisdom in it. Neither can Ms. Fraser’s baby.”

Watson-Tardiff goes on to say, “I hope she is at least subject to an investigation for child endangerment.”

Ronda Kaysen of MomLogic says she sees the value of home birth as a way of reducing medical intervention, but believes giving birth without medical assistance is “absurd.”

Fraser’s “free birth” argument, which on the surface appears feminist, is actually the opposite. It doesn’t empower women to take control of their own bodies. It sends them and their babies into the dark ages of medical care – where women give birth with no medical care at all and face the very real possibility of death as a consequence.

For the record the police are investigating the death and have said “it was not clear whether the baby was stillborn or died after delivery. If a baby is stillborn, there is no autopsy. If a baby is alive at birth and dies soon after, it is considered a matter for the coroner.”

I guess I give Fraser the benefit of the doubt and assume that like most mothers she was doing what she thought was in the best interest of her baby. Although she coined the term birth rape (birth interventions done against the woman’s wishes), I don’t believe she would put her child in harm’s way rather than accept a potentially life-saving intervention. Then again I don’t know Fraser and have not spoken to her, so I can only speculate just as others are doing, but I prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, I do believe that whenever a child dies, there should be an investigation into the death.

While many are blaming Fraser for her baby’s death since she did not have a doctor or midwife in attendance, no one seems to mention the fact that babies die in the hospital, where doctors are present, all the time.

Laura Shanley, author of the book Unassisted Childbirth and owner of the Bornfree! website who blogs at Letters from Laura – Thoughts on Unassisted Childbirth, brought up that point and shared another perspective many of us may not have thought of when she shared the following statement with me:

I don’t know Janet, but of course my heart goes out to her. An Australian friend of mine has told me that despite what the media is saying, Janet’s baby was stillborn and the outcome wouldn’t have been different had the baby been born in the hospital. Regardless of whether or not this is true, I find it sad that so many people are blaming Janet for her baby’s death. A baby is stillborn in an American hospital every fifteen to twenty minutes. According to a story on my local newscast, this is double what it was ten years ago. Yet almost no one blames hospital birth mothers (nor should they) for these babies’ deaths. This is because it’s assumed that if a baby dies or is stillborn in the hospital, everything possible was done to save the baby’s life. The possibility that at least some of these deaths might have been caused by early inductions, c-sections and other interventions is rarely discussed.

I can tell you, however, that as a homebirth advocate I have received numerous letters over the years from grieving mothers who wonder if their hospital born baby might have survived (or avoided injury) had they been born at home. The fact is, in most cases we may never know. Sometimes medical intervention saves lives, and sometimes it takes them. This is why I encourage parents to do their own research and decide for themselves where and with whom they want to give birth. In my case, I chose to give birth at home unassisted because from the research I had done I felt that the majority of problems in birth – both now and in the past – could be traced to three main causes: poverty, unnecessary medical intervention, and fear which triggers the fight/flight response and shuts down labor. Despite what most people believe, the act of birth itself is not dangerous. But our cultural beliefs and practices can make it so. In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home. Regardless of the outcome of this case, I will continue to speak out about unassisted childbirth as I believe that in most cases it’s the safest and most satisfying way to give birth.

Genie, an Australian blogger who writes at Home Is Where the Heart Is, blogged extensively about her thoughts regarding Janet Fraser and defends her choice to have her baby unassisted at home. She feels the insinuation that women who birth at home do it to feed their own ego at the expense of their child is “a crock.”

Women choose to homebirth with their baby’s best interest at heart. They do it FOR the baby, not in spite of the baby. Yes they want to feel empowered and blissed out, but the lack of trauma and the satisfaction a mother gets after a natural birth all benefits the baby too. A mother’s health and well being has a HUGE impact on the baby. So why should we ignore the interest and well-being of the mother?

In the wake of this tragedy and surrounding media coverage, some feel the need to point out that there is a difference between home birth and free birth. Dr. Meredith Nash of The Baby Bump Project says homebirth and freebirth are not the same.

The media has failed to differentiate between freebirth or unassisted birth (no midwife or doctor) and homebirth (a birth at home, usually with a midwife or homebirth doctor). For the most part, for low-risk births that are attended properly, homebirth has been proven to be a safe alternative to hospital birth. Freebirthing is significantly more risky (sorry, I’m a supporter but also a realist). It is essential to make this differentiation. Now that homebirth is on the precipice of being banned given that independent midwives are likely going to be denied indemnity insurance from next year, the suggestion that all women who homebirth are crazy radicals or that homebirth represents the majority of birthing women in Australia (only about 2%) is ridiculous. If anything, midwives and their ability to attend homebirths will be the saving grace of the Australian maternity system. Rather than convincing the small proportion of women who avoid a medicalized birth, why not support these women in their choices by making homebirth safe and easy?

Summer Minor, who blogs at Wired for Noise and gave birth to her daughter at home a little over a week ago, references the recent Nederlands study that says home birth is as safe as hospital birth. “A new study is out from the Netherlands that gives us home birthing mothers a nice little pat on the back. Despite the labels of ‘dangerous’ and ‘unsafe’ by some, once again it’s been found to be just as safe as giving birth in a hospital.” From the BBC:

The largest study of its kind has found that for low-risk women, giving birth at home is as safe as doing so in hospital with a midwife.

Research from the Netherlands – which has a high rate of home births – found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births.

I think that Shanley said it best when she said, “In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home.” We all must do our research and make the choices that we feel are the best for ourselves and our babies and then, find peace with our decisions.

I offer Janet Fraser and her family my deepest sympathy. My thoughts are with them.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Welcome to your life

“Welcome to your life.” Those were the words spoken to me by my therapist a couple of weeks ago and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

I was going through a brief phase of acceptance with regard to my anxiety disorder and seemed to be on the upswing at the time. That didn’t last long though as the very next week was one of the hardest I’ve had in a long time. I think a lot of it had to do with Ellie’s passing (we put our older dog to sleep last Tuesday and it was much harder than I thought it would be). I’ve had some other significant changes/stressors going on too – my little sister moved in with us and my mom went through a health scare. I went into grieving mode and a lot of emotions, thoughts and feelings, as well as anxiety and panic, emerged as a result.

Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield
Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield

I decided to start on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication as of two weeks ago. Going on meds definitely wasn’t my first choice, but after going several months with only brief and fleeting improvements in the way I was feeling, I decided it was the right choice for me for right now. If being on medication can help me feel a little better while I continue to go to therapy and focus on sleep, exercise and taking better care of myself, then I will do it. I’d gotten to a point where I’ve been in nearly a constant state of anxiety and, as a result, I have been neglecting my kids and my marriage. I’m sick of telling my kids, “Don’t do that. Mommy doesn’t feel well.” I want them to be able to enjoy life and I want to enjoy it with them. I don’t want my whole family to have to walk on egg shells and constantly wonder how mommy is doing and how she will react. It’s not fair to them. A friend pointed out it’s not fair to me either to have to feel that way.

I’ve been taking Zoloft for two weeks now (a very low dose since when I tried to increase the dose, I started having insomnia, which was absolutely counterproductive) and haven’t noticed any good benefits yet, but my psychiatrist said it can take 2-6 weeks or even as many as 8, so I’m trying to be patient.

At the suggestion of my therapist last week, I picked up the book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me both in showing me how I likely developed anxiety/panic disorder and in showing me steps to help myself recover from it. It’s also amazing how many things I can identify with in it. Talk about “welcome to your life.” This book feels like it was written just for me. If you have any issues with anxiety, panic, phobias or OCD, I strongly recommend this book. I am hopeful that it is going to have a huge impact on me as I try to heal myself. I’ve been doing the breathing techniques the past two nights and have found them alone to be very helpful.

One of the things I’ve found most frustrating in this whole process though is just how much of a process it is. There is no simple quick fix. Even medication takes time to kick in and to adjust the dosage and that (in my opinion) is really only a temporary solution and one part of the equation if true recovery is going to happen. And so I’m doing my best to be aware that the condition I’m in now took years and years to develop and it is going to take a long time to heal from as well. (Thanks to my dad for those words of wisdom.) I have to learn to appreciate the small victories and take it one day at a time or I will drive myself crazy.

I’ve taken a break from reading the news or anything that will likely raise my anxiety level. I read a little bit about the swine flu a couple days ago, and it sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. I’ve told Jody to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Otherwise, I need to keep myself in the dark about some things for now for my own peace of mind.

Part of the reason I’m writing all of this is to let you know where I’m currently at, and also to encourage others who may be going through something like this that you are not alone. I also want you to know that I may not be blogging that often in the weeks ahead. (Subscribe to my RSS feed if you want to stay current.) I’ve already tapered off considerably from where I used to be – posting daily or nearly daily – and it feels good to take a break. I also haven’t been on Twitter much. I am sure it will wax and wane, but I also feel part of my recovery needs to involve looking at my internet addiction. Yes, I will freely admit to having one. I have lots of justifications for it too, but ultimately, I want to find a way to use the internet for productive reasons, not just to fritter away my time (which is what I’ve been doing way too much lately).

Yesterday was the first day this season I got out in the dirt in my backyard and did some weeding in my little strawberry patch from last year. I honestly haven’t felt at all like gardening so far this year, despite ordering seeds, seedlings and even some raspberry plants (that are still sitting, unplanted, in my garage). Although several of my friends have been digging in the dirt and planting for weeks, I just haven’t felt the gardening urge at all myself. That is, until yesterday. As I was weeding and getting the dirt under my fingernails and noticing that many of my strawberry plants have flowers on them, and the kids were playing in the dirt beside me, I began to feel alive and good and once again had the desire to garden. I think growing things and digging in the dirt will be very good for my mental health right now.

Like it or not, having anxiety/panic disorder is my life right now. It’s not what I would choose, but it’s where I’m at. I’m choosing to face it head on and do what I can to make it better – little by little, taking baby steps, one day at a time.

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National Healthy Schools Day – April 27

National Healthy Schools Day – What you can do to make sure no child’s health is left behind

A Guest Post by Janelle Sorensen

When my husband and I first toured schools to find the one we wanted to enroll our daughter in, I’m sure I was silently voted one of the strangest parents ever. Why do I feel I was secretly endowed with this title? Because every room and hallway we were taken through, I sniffed. A lot. And, according to my husband, I wasn’t terribly discreet.

I didn’t have a cold or postnasal drip. And, I’m not part bloodhound. I was simply concerned about the indoor air quality. My daughter was (and still is) prone to respiratory illnesses and I wanted to be sure the school she would be attending would support and protect her growing lungs (in addition to her brain). For many air quality issues, your nose knows, so I was using the easiest tool I had to gauge how healthy the environment was.

While air quality is a significant issue in schools (the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least half of our nation’s 120,000 schools have problems), parents are also increasingly concerned about other school health issues like nutrition and the use of toxic pesticides. Many schools are making the switch to healthier and more sustainable practices like green cleaning, least toxic pest management, and even school gardening. What they’re finding is that greening their school improves the health and performance of students and personnel, saves money (from using less energy, buying fewer products, and having fewer worker injuries among other things), and also helps protect the planet. It’s truly win, win, win.

To highlight the issue, the Healthy Schools Network (http://www.healthyschools.org/index.html) coordinates National Healthy Schools Day. (http://www.nationalhealthyschoolsday.org/) This year, over three dozen events will be held across the country (and more in Canada) on April 27th to promote and celebrate healthy school environments.

What can you do? Healthy Schools Network recommends simple activities such as:

You can also help support the efforts of states trying to pass policies requiring schools to use safer cleaners. (Or, initiate your own effort!) There are good bills pending in Connecticut, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. According to Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, the key pieces to promote on green cleaning in schools are:

  • Not being fooled by ‘green washing’ claims—commercial products must be third-party certified as green (to verify claims);
  • Understanding that green products are cost-neutral and they work; and,
  • Learning that “Clean doesn’t have an odor.”

She encourages parents and personnel to tune into one of the archived webinars on green cleaning (like the first module for general audiences) at www.cleaningforhealthyschools.org.

The fact of the matter is that whether you’re concerned about the quality of food, cleaning chemicals, recycling, or energy use – schools need our help and support. Instead of complaining about what’s wrong, it’s time to help do what’s right – for our children, our schools, and our planet.

What are you going to do? There are so many ideas and resources. Find your passion and get active on April 27th – National Healthy Schools Day.

Additional Resources:

Janelle Sorensen is the Senior Writer and Health Consultant for Healthy Child Healthy World (www.healthychild.org). You can also find her on Twitter as @greenandhealthy.

Happy Earth Day

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. – Native American Proverb

I hoped to have an exciting Earth Day post up for you all today, but between everything that’s been going on in my life, it just didn’t happen. There is no shortage of Earth Day posts around the ‘net today, so if you go looking you are sure to find something good. Please feel free to post links to your own Earth Day posts in the comments too.

I hope you can each do something today and every day to celebrate and care for our Earth. It doesn’t matter how small that something is – they all add up.

Happy Earth Day!

You take the good, you take the bad

Today Jody and I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. Eight years ago, we said our vows and made promises to each other that have certainly been challenged at times. You know when you say your vows that at some point the honeymoon is going to end and that you will face challenges as a couple, but you never really know when those challenges will arise or how you and your partner will respond when they do.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen more than our fair share of “in sickness” rather than “in health” and, as a result, more “bad times” than “good.” Yet through it all, our love for each other has remained strong. I’m so thankful I have a husband who supports me even when I’m not at my best.

Today we celebrate our love and our commitment to each other and I am thankful for my husband for honoring his commitment to me, even though I don’t always make things easy.

Tomorrow we will face another challenge together as a couple – one no one can really prepare you for and one you hope you don’t ever have to experience. We’re putting the older of our two dogs, Ellie, to sleep tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a tough decision for us, but her health has been failing for a while now and we believe it is for the best. Jody and I are going with her for the process, while the kiddos will be staying at a friend’s house.

I explained to Ava that Ellie is going to the spirit world tomorrow and she asked if she is going to die and I said yes. She said, “we need to give her all of our kindness today.” And I agreed. She pet Ellie and said she will miss her and then went about playing. I think she will be OK. I hope the rest of us can be as accepting.

Please keep us, the kids, Ellie, and our other dog Maggie in your thoughts tomorrow. Thank you.

Guest post: Healthy bodies are good for the environment

After witnessing a site hacking on my very own blog (fer realz) and having a lot of crazy stuff going on in my personal life, I just haven’t been up to blogging this week. Thankfully, I have a guest blogger to fill in for me today. :)

Today’s guest post comes from Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish (thank you, Beth!) and is very timely considering all of the illness that has been plaguing the Crunchy Domestic Goddess household as of late. Beth works hard to live life with as little plastic as possible and to help others figure out plastic-free alternatives via her blog, Fake Plastic Fish.  Her plastic epiphany occurred in mid-2007 after stumbling upon the article Plastic Ocean, which she feels should be required reading for anyone who wonders what all this fuss is about plastic.

Healthy bodies are good for the environment

The ferocious flu that hit me several weeks ago resulted in quite a few trips to Kaiser Permanente. During one of those visits, I noticed something in the public restroom I’d never seen there before: a green bin and green liner… telltale signs of composting afoot. I moved in to take a closer look. Sure enough… compostable liner and a sign above the bin instructing users to deposit paper towel waste there.

Sick as I was, I had my camera with me and the presence of mind to snap a few shots, while curious restroom users stared. I forgot about this green moment in Kaiser until reading the Ecology Center‘s recent issue of Terrain Magazine on BART this morning, particularly the article, “When More then the Scrubs are Green.”

The piece describes the efforts of some medical institutions, including Kaiser, to reduce waste and switch to environmentally-safer products… from the food they serve patients to the carpets and furniture installed in buildings. And it points out that while a few hospitals have made changes to lighten their ecological footprint, most go through immense amounts of waste each day, much of it toxic, in an effort to protect patients’ health. Ironic, no?

But the part of the article that really hit me came towards the end (emphasis mine):

No matter what percentage of its trash a hospital recycles, or how local its food is, or how sustainable the building, the uncomfortable truth is that modern medical practices have a big impact on the environment…. Possibly the best way for each of us to reduce the impact of hospitals on the environment is to do our best to avoid using them. That means making lifestyle choices like eating well and exercising, and advocating for better access to good food and laws that clean up our air and water.

In my case, of course, it also means getting more sleep.

We often think about the relationship between ourselves and our environment in exactly the opposite way. Pollution in our air, water, and food is harmful to our bodies. This article shows one way that our sick bodies can then contribute to further degradation of our environment. It’s a vicious cycle, and someone needs to stop pedaling!

I’m guilty as charged. I stay up way too late. I imbibe excessive quantities of caffeine (My dentist advised me yesterday to give up coffee and I replied, “But I have. Many, many, many times.”) and sugar and baked goods. My exercise routine is suing me for neglect (I will run again, I swear!) and my ass is getting flatter by the minute from so much sitting. Many of you have heard this litany from me before.

What I’m doing to my body is not just harming me… it’s harming the whole planet. Yeah, fundamentally there’s no real separation between me and anything else anyway. But on the level of everyday human experience, it’s good to have a concrete reminder that the excuse, “I’m only hurting myself,” is ultimately meaningless. When I get sick, sickness in the world increases. Medical waste increases. Medical spending increases too! Actions become ineffective. It’s all just one big FAIL.

Now, before anyone jumps on me for “blaming the victim,” I’m not saying that people don’t get sick for totally random (as far as we can tell) reasons or due to factors over which they had no direct control. What I am saying that wellness is the responsibility of all of us… for all of us.

Healthy choices we can make that have far-reaching environmental consequences include:

1) Buying less plastic
2) Choosing organic food
3) Eating more plants and fewer animals
4) Driving less and biking/walking more
5) Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, stretching, & breathing
6) GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP!

What are some ways that you keep both your body and the environment healthy?