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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92 thoughts on “Home birth advocate’s baby dies during free birth, prompts questions

  1. Birthkeeper- I am not sure where you came to assume that my deliveries were in hospitals?? About 90 percent of deliveries I do are at home and the remaining ten percent are about evenly split between the hospitals and the birth center.

    I worked for ten years as an OB nurse prior to midwifery.

    And believe me I have had several uncomplicated, low risk births go bad at home and need immediate transport. I have also had to, in conversation with the family, vary from the original birth plan in order to adjust to the circumstances. I am an absolute advocate of home births and if you read my previous comments you will see that I delivered all of my children at home, WITH a skilled midwife. Even with my education and experience I would never attempt an UC….in the throes of labor your clinical and instinctual judgement is impaired.

    I have seen many hospital, dr attended births go very badly and the emotional toll it was going to take on the woman, in the long term, was evident. That is in part why I studied to become a RM. I support women in making the best decisions in regards to the birth of their child but in no way could I support a woman in going it alone.

  2. Amy- WOW. I don’t know what else to say. I did want to let you know that I linked up to this and hope you don’t mind. I think you did a fantastic job writing this and staying as objective as possible. :)

  3. Contrary to what has been stated in this blog, Janet Fraser did not coin the term ‘birth rape’ although she uses it a lot.

    I believe it originated in the ‘navel gazing midwife’ blog, in a very moving entry where she personally (a hospital midwife) admits to perpetrating birthrape on a number of occassions and being horrified to realize it in hindsight.

  4. Susan-

    I would slide the cord off of the neck. A cord around the neck is not an emergency. Any truly educated, learned, researching woman would know that. Cord around the neck is at the very bottom of my list of concerns. I invite you to check out an article written by Emily Jones.

    http://jeremyscorner-grifter.blogspot.com/2009/02/cord-around-neck-is-not-emergency.html

    Jenny-

    What did your midwife do at home that you could not have done yourself for your postpartum bleeding?

  5. Wow, Amy, this sure sparked some volatile comments.

    The only piece of advise I would give those of you that are proponents of home birth, etc would be to soften your approach. Your anger and militancy are what clouds the issue and turn off people who might really want to hear you to learn more.

    Studies studies studies are often quoted as the basis for one’s argument. I’ll give you a little hint on quoting studies. Studies are PAID for. Often times the entity paying for the study has a vested interest in the results. One should ask:

    1. Who paid for the study?
    2. How many people were studied? Some frequently quoted studies have less than ten participants.
    3. And was the study refuted by another?

    If you’re going to quote them, then quote all of the above so the reader can make an educated opinion about the validity of the study. This is no different than the studies that are quoted as part of marketing materials. The word study often has no value.

    Many of you seem extremely angry about this issue. My experience with your approach is that it’s lost in the emotion.

    I would suggest a softer touch. You will often be heard and not written off as a militant “liberal”.

    As my son grows older, I’ve found that I have less passion about birth experience, breast feeding, attachment parenting, etc. We as parents would be better served supporting each other and respecting each other’s decisions. As long as the child in question isn’t being intentionally harmed, isn’t our ultimate goal the same? Raising wonderful human beings?

    I wonder how many of you will feel in a few years when your kids are older.

    I wonder at what happens to the children who are exposed to so much anger–whether it’s raised in a stand of justice or whether just out of hate–is the result on our children any different?

    Children learn what they live and learn more from your actions than from your words.

    Best to all of you. Interesting discussion Amy. It would be nice to hear you chime in to defend some of your readers who don’t always agree with you. Our voices should be heard without being threatened or insulted as well.

  6. Toni- attempts at manually stopping the bleeding with uterine massage and nipple stimulation were not successful and within minutes I was blacking out. An IV was initiated with 40u of synto and I also needed Ergot and eventually Hemabate-none of which would be available to a layperson.

  7. Wow…not sure if I should wade into this debate or not. Maybe I’ll just state my opinion and back away slowly.

    It’s my understanding that “free birth” involves receiving no perinatal care. If this is the case then I really do believe it’s paying with fire.

    Aside from that I don’t have a problem with home birth or even unassisted childbirth. Personally I’d *prefer* women to have a train midwife/ob attending, but I don’t get to make decisions for all women. I would have loved a home birth with Erin, but obviously you can’t have a medically necessary c/s at 26 weeks at home.

    I do wonder though, has this experience change Ms Frazer’s mind? It’s none of my business, but I do wonder.

  8. I just wanted to say that I am so sorry for this woman’s loss. Some culture do practice birth alone and consider it to be a badge of courage, so to speak. However, even in those cultures other women are not far off from the birthing mother. I personally couldn’t have had a successful birth alone, and would have had myself and my child hurt in a hospital. I am really greatful for my midwives. My daughter’s shoulders got stuck. Alone, I would have never gotten her out alive. In a hospital, I would have probably recieved a huge episiotomy and my daughter could have had her collar bone broken in an attempt to get her out (this happened to a friends child who also had broad shoulders). Happy middle way.

  9. I am not a mom yet, and I have just started to think about having children.

    It seems obvious to me though that every birth has its risk and every type of environment poses some threat. Hospitals are very germy, and nurses and doctors are notoriously overworked. I have heard many stories of women and babies dying in hospital births. But at home with a midwife, you don’t have the potentially life saving skill or equipment you might need in case of an emergency. And in the case of Janet, she seemed to trust herself more than either.

    I think you have to roll the dice is some sense and hope you made the right decision. I don’t think it is fair to blame any women for the decison she makes whether it is at home or in a hospital. I pray for all women who have lost their children and hope that God will ease their grief.

  10. Pingback: Homebirth in the news, Good and Bad. | Mama is...

  11. I wanted to respond to ‘Crunchy Chicken’s’ comment: “But, if you check your Anthropology 101 textbooks, historically, most cultures have quite a supportive community mechanism for assisting birthing women. To attempt to fly solo is, well, slightly nuts.”

    As an anthropologist, whose research focuses on ethnopediatrics I can tell you that many cultures have long traditions of women birthing alone. From nearly every continent on the planet there are societies in which women seclude themselves for birthing and then return to the group with their new infant. In many of these cultures the attitude is that birth is a rite of passage, for which separation from the group is necessary. (If you want to get technical I would question your belief that giving birth alone as being ‘nuts’, as insane behaviors or attitudes are typically social constructs.)

    Furthermore, as for statistics on infant mortality in history, they are extremely inconclusive given the fact that many populations were excluded and that infant mortality was based on the infants first year of life. It is estimated that infant mortality could have been as high as 1 in 5 at the beginning of the 19th century when many infants were fed a flour and water ‘formula’ instead of being breastfed– not necessarily because of inherently dangerous birth practices.

  12. jenny- there are herbs that one can purchase from birth supply stores in order to counter the pp bleeding out. also, don’t know if you had delivered your placenta or not, but I know of several women who have stopped excessive bleeding or stopped themselves from passing out by placing a part of placenta under their tongue.

    bec- not all plans for UC birth include rejecting hiring out for prenatal care and many women do their own prenatal care. Really, pee sticks are online, blood pressure is easy enough to do on your own, and dopplers/fetascopes are not that hard to come by. I can weigh myself and measure my own fundal height every month if I want to. Many women focus more on connecting with their body, eating healthily, and heightening their spiritual focus. It has not been difficult for me to feel the symptoms of something turning badly in my own health on my own and then find a solution.

    umFiona- when I delivered my 10-11lb baby boy at home unassisted, I experienced shoulder dystocia, and I corrected it. I believe that women have the answers inside themselves if they will only listen to it, but how difficult would it be to listen to what you are being led to do in a situation like that when you are outsourcing your birth to someone else? When someone is relying on someone else’s expertise in a situation, they are less likely to discover that they already had the knowledge inside themselves. My body moved in delivery exactly as I needed in order to correct the situation, and it was not something I would have known prior. Our bodies were made for birth, even if our minds sometimes are clouded by society’s perception of us.

    My heart goes out to Janet over the loss of her child. It does rise a debate over homebirth and unassisted birth, but that’s what happens when the “system” is being questioned by some that aren’t afraid to stand up against it.

  13. I wanted to comment on the post that eluded to the fact that if Janet did not have pre-natal care then she was some how responsible for this tragedy….my girlfriend just lost her baby at 20 weeks. She did have prenatal care, but the baby died, just as this baby died.
    Babies die.
    The medical system would not hold my friend accountable, so why should we hold this woman accountable. Because her baby died in utero and she didnt know? That to me makes it even more tragic.
    Imagine having to carry your dead child in your arms, or to birth a baby who will never cry, smile, or suckle at your breast. Imagine that you will still bleed, make milk, and be reminded daily of what you have lost.
    We should show compassion not judgment.
    I think she has suffered enough.

    Lastly, I can not stand the “it happened to me” comments for either side, UC, homebirth, hospital birth or C section.
    So what. It happened to you. Doesnt mean it will happen to me or to anyone else.
    We need to SUPPORT women in the choices that THEY make for THEIR bodies and THEIR CHILDREN, what you think about it, has no consequence. People will change the story to suit them, so if your baby was “saved” by going unassisted, by birthing at home, or in a birth center, by having an epidural, or by having a c -section or a whole host of other interventions, you will find SOME reason to justify it. That is just human nature.
    SUPPORT and EDUCATION is needed, I cannot stress that enough.

  14. A lot of the later comments keep going on about a solo birth, and to quote one “Some cultures do practice birth alone and consider it to be a badge of courage, so to speak. However, even in those cultures other women are not far off from the birthing mother. I personally couldn’t have had a successful birth alone….”

    People are getting confused, unassisted birth refers to a birth not attended by a trained midwife or OB. It does not mean birthing entirely alone (though some might.)
    In Janet Fraser’s case, she was assisted by her partner and a female friend. Without knowing other specifics of the birth, it would be unjust and presumptious to say or imply that a trained midwife or a hospital birth would have made any difference to the outcome.

    For the record, ALL births were ‘freebirths’ until the 40s or 50s, before then, midwifery was not regulated, no one gave birth with a trained midwife. As others have said, it would pay to do some research.

    I agree with those who believe we should have choice. Up until the 50s most women in the UK gave birth at home, and most were only attended by a female friend or relative, or a ‘self-titled’ untrained midwife, and it was completely down to luck as to how good, or bad she was.

    It’s good that medical care and trained professionals now exist and give mums the option and ability to take advantage of the medical care, but to do a complete U-turn so that ALL women should be forced to have medicalised births attended by midwives or doctors, is damaging and unfair.

    Do I want to give birth in a grubby hospital, in a stark room? No. Do I want to play pot-luck with whether I get a good midwife who respects me and listens to me, or one who is more interested in playing it by the book and doing things her way for an easy life? No.

    Women need to be allowed to choose how they birth, we should feel for those who have no choice, but that works both ways, those who have no access to medical care, and those forced to give birth in a hospital surrounded by strangers and machines. No parent should be vilified for a decision they make in good faith.

  15. I read this post and then skimmed through the comments, reading most of them. It seems that the discussion always devolves into hospital vs. home, “safe” vs. “reckless”. As someone who had a birthing center birth with my first, and a midwife assisted homebirth with my daughter just under 5 months ago, I would say that there is nothing more empowering than a natural unfettered birth experience, and doing it at home is even more incredible than the birthing center. We were a family of three and then we became four, without ever leaving our home.

    What I don’t understand from this discussion, and from the “movement” in general is why one would choose to free birth if a homebirth with a midwife is an option. Midwives are such incredible people. They commit their time and focus, one patient at a time, in the face of judgment and dismissal from the medical community. They provide whole-istic care: body and mind, mother and baby. My midwives could tell me more about what was happening in my uterus using their hands as their only tools. My singular visit to the OB proved that without his high-tech ultrasound, he know nothing. A good midwife is calm, focused, and knows when to utilize technology, all the while trusting the mother and her body.

    I don’t understand the motivation behind free birthing. Is there a problem with having a midwife in attendance? I mean, if she is a home birth midwife, then it is really unlikely that she will do anything abusive.

    I think the discussion of hospital vs. home for a healthy, low risk mom, is over, if you look at the facts. ACOGs nonsense notwithstanding, study after study shows that home births lead to better outcomes.

    So, I have yet to hear the argument in favor of eliminating the midwife from the equation. And does free birthing mean no prenatal care? Because, again, that part I just don’t get.

  16. For those who don’t understand how in the world a woman can choose UC – I’ll tell you how. Having been the victim of an unnecessary cesarean the first time, and having to wage a legal battle WHILE in labor during my VBAC (which I accomplished, no thanks to the medpros) I can say that I will absolutely go unassisted for my next birth, if I have to. I won’t ever give birth in a hospital again if it can be helped, and since homebirth is illegal in the state of IL, most providers won’t come near me with a ten foot pole – even though I’ve already HAD a vbac, and my uterus has been “tested.”

    Why not go to the hospital? Because I cannot take another fight light that. I have developed such a severe phobia of OBs that the sheer sigh of gynecological equipment sets off a severe physiological response in me. I would never put my baby or myself in that situation again. And you can thank the doctors and hospitals for that.

    Now, if I could find a great midwife to attend my homebirth, then great. But this state isn’t leaving me a whole lot of options, and I’m not close enough to a border to travel.

  17. Wow! This topic has sure engaged it’s readers and lent itself to some great dialogue. I have five kids, four by birth and the last through adoption. I am also an RN on a high risk maternity floor. I am most definitely in the minority in my views of birth at work. I believe very strongly in the gift of natural childbirth, in womans intuition, and in family centered/woman guided care. I have had four amazing hospital based births all but one completely natural with NO medical intervention. Did I have to fight for it? You bet….Would I have done it at home with no assistance from a trained professional? No way.

    Health care providers are not out to get you. We do not “get off” on over medicating our patients, rendering them unable to push, and then surgically prying their babes from their bodies. While some may believe in epidurals and modern medical interventioins, the majority of us want nothing more than an empowering birth directed by the family and a healthy mom and babe.

  18. @Jen, mom to a lot!

    Yeah? Tell that to the NURSE who told me if I didn’t let her give me Pitocin that my baby would be born “with apgars of zero – that means dead.”

    Tell this to the sOB who told me my baby would be born with cerebral palsy because my water had been broken for a few hours and I wouldn’t let him cut the baby out of me.

    Tell THEM they don’t “enjoy” scaring the shit out of a woman and rendering her totally unable to birth a baby.

    All I know is that I got a perfectly healthy 10 lb baby, NO thanks to ANYone at the hospital.

  19. Feminist Breeder, in no way am I saying that there are not crappy medical “professionals” out there. I have worked with several. All I am saying is the the majority of OB’s, family docs, RN’s, and midwives that I work with do their job well and with a loving heart. A life of being on-call, getting up at all hours, missing family events, paying crazy malpractice insurance, etc are not, for the most part, done by people who want to do harm.

    Many people who have not worked with a large maternity population seem to think that because all was well with their UC, their babe, their situation, that this will be the same for all, when it is simply not the case. I have been around long to have seen some very horrible situations arise from from low-risk pregnancy’s.

    I would never tell anyone to not deliver at home. It is an amazing and empowering experience. I also would never tell women to fear the medical system from my own personal experiences. Women need to be educated about their rights, the rights of their baby, and what to expect in hospital. Fear mongering helps no one.

  20. I’m concerned with the judgements I see coming from both sides of the fence.

    Our society views a woman who gives birth in the car on the way to the hospital as brave and as a supermom. The women who make the choice to be “unattended” are bad women with no respect for life… see a problem here?

    I live in a state where I cannot have a home birth unless it is unattended and I live more than an hour away from a hospital and 1/2hour from a town. I have a history of very short labors and I have every intention of having my baby in the hospital with a midwife attending.

    If I end up having to deliver at home will I be condemned? The what if’s are terrifying, my husband and I are preparing for a hospital birth and an unattended home birth, just in case.
    I would rather be informed than not, but even if I chose to be unattended it is never your place to judge or pity my decision.

  21. The one thing I will add to this is that in my research it would appear that the baby in question had a CONGENITAL malformation incompatible with life.

    That means in no uncertain terms, that the child would not have survived EVEN IN THE HOSPITAL. The only thing that could possibly have been different, is if 1) it were detected sooner and she had a very late abortion, or 2) She transferred to the hospital and they did a c/s in which case the only difference would be that she would have been in labor a shorter time, baby still would have died.

    It is important to differentiate between deliberate negligence and accident of birth. I don’t hear condemnations about incidents like what happened at a hospital around here less than a year ago — a woman had an intestine nicked during a completely unnecessary c/s and died three days later. It didn’t even make the papers. Or the pathetic 46% c/s rate at a local hospital — which statistically has to be increasing the maternal and infant mortality rates. Or the woman whose epidural went haywire and she is now permanently paralyzed. Not even worthy of a blip in the radar for hospital births. Oh, and its just an accident. She should be happy the baby is OK. And even if the woman died, well she had the best care available (even if the best care was screwed up. It was just an accident. The baby is ok.)

    But a child dies in UC and its front page news. Apparently negligence in a hospital is excusable? Maternal death only matters if it was an out of hospital birth? We can be 100% sure that in a hospital death could only occur by accident?

    None of these statements are valid.

    Just as we shouldn’t condemn all hospitals or all drs for single (or in most cases multiple) mistakes or otherwise that lead to the maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, we should not hold up a single death in the UC community and use it to condemn a way of thinking. I really had hoped we had gotten rid of that back with slavery and having women owned by their husband or nearest male relative. I remain disgusted by the vitriol in this case, and feel that this reflects far more on the lack of research people are willing to do while supporting their emotional opinion. It would certainly make things better for all of us if folks would look into the data before reacting, and then think about what they are saying.

    I personally will go back to the words of MLK,jr. We are all in this together: what happens to one of us happens to all.

    I am saddened by that this woman will bear the burden for us all. The death of her child is a sad tragedy and I hope that she has the support and strength to withstand the torrent of inappropriate vitriol that she bears.

    When a woman or child dies after a hospital birth, or has an unnecessary c/s, I am also saddened. Sad that this family now bears the burden of an inflexible system that doesn’t take into account the needs and wants of individuals, and minimizes their pain.

    Hopefully someday the needs of women will be given the same priority as the needs of babies. Hopefully someday, we will stop needing to denigrate others in order to validate our own choices. And hopefully someday, we will be the keepers of a system that doesn’t pit the needs of one against the needs of another.

    May you all find peace in your choices, and the strength to allow others their choices. And where necessary — the opposite as well.

  22. I am a pediatrician, and consequently have seen many hospital births. I have never been present for any home birth. The right to choose where a mother delivers her child is hers and her family’s.
    I strongly encourage unassisted birthing mothers to at least get basic tests (Group B strep status for example) and other prenatal care to give the peace of mind that an issue such as infection is unlikely to present itself. No matter how much research you do, no website will tell you what your body is doing.
    Some advocates of unassisted birth are quick to point the fallacies of western medicine. This stance does not help detractors see and want to learn about the other side (and this is the fundamental purpose of the websites is it not?)
    This story is tragic, but is in no way the norm. Home birth is a natural and perfectly reasonable way to deliver a child. The numbers can be manipulated any way one chooses, but the real issue is that acceptance of another person’s rights would solve almost every one of the world’s problems… but I digress.
    In the hospital when a baby dies, freebirth advocates aren’t pointing the finger at the mother and the doctor and slamming them… why lower yourself to such a low level? Everyone should pray for this mother and support her. Unless I’m severely wrong, the mother did not intend for this outcome. Let this story bring people together, not divide them.

  23. 35 years ago my mother and a baby she delivered in a hospital (one of my sisters) contracted hepatitus during the birth! During one of my own childirth deliveries 21 years ago, the ob. cut open my vagina and rectum into one opening and inserted his arm into my body to pull my “sunny side up” baby out while I was screaming and trying to climb backwards off the table. A friends baby died of an infection contracted during delivery. Not one of these doctors was ever held responsible or even questioned for these events. I’m sure millions of women could add as serious or worse experiences at the hands of medically “safe” and “responsible” hospital childbirths.

  24. I have had 2 hospital births. My first(because I chose to trust my medical prfessional) was enduced. I was given potossin(spelling?) and left alone, no nurse in the room, though I did have a button I could press(sorry, not the same as having someone with you). My water was broken for me at 12:30 and my MOTHER delivered the baby at 2:30 because the doctor(and nurses) were not in the room when he decided to make his entrance. I’m not saying that they weren’t needed, as I don’t know how to cut a cord and all the other crap that needs to be done, but, honestly, I didn’t feel the medical professionals really gave a good damn about my comfort, needs or well being, as long as they had a machine hooked up to my belly they thought they knew everything.
    Fast forward 3 years. I chose to have baby number 2 in a hospital as well. I felt the labor pains come on, went to the hospital, was told I was only 3 centimeters dialated and that I was probably just wishfully thinking she was coming. My Mom(bless her) threw a hissy fit and demanded I be given a room, an hour later I was 7 inches dialated. My water broke on its own(again no nurse or doctor in room) about 45 seconds later there was her head! The doctor didn’t even have time to wash her hands before she caught my daughter. Then she cut the cord, did whatever else needed to be done and that’s all I saw of her.
    Now, I guess things could have gone differently, but on a practical level, I paid that hospital almost 20,000 dollars to esencially do nothing for me. Is it worth that much to feel ignored? Not important? I did the work and neither experience was I at the hospital for more than 24 hours. Maybe things can go wrong… I know so very well that things do go wrong in life as 2 years ago my house burned down and I lost both of those beautiful babies in the fire. Was the fire my fault? No, it was proved, but not before our lovely community pointed fingers, said how I must have been on drugs or drunk and just LET them die. I know how it feels to not be able to greive because of all the blame that’s being cast, not only by ourselves, doing the whole survivor guilt thing.

    My heart goes out to all the mothers who have lost children, we, as humans, make choices. That what makes us different.

    I am now pregnant again. I am looking at all the options. Midwives, hospitals and unattended as well. I was born at home, my husband was born at home, as was all three of his siblings. No harm to any of them. Do I look at all the options? Yes, I know what it feels to lose a child. But I also know what it feels like to be in a hospital and not feel cared for in the least.
    Maybe I shouldn’t say anything, my opinion is just one of many… but the root of all of this is that a woman lost her child, she didn’t murder her child and blame should not come from those who do not know.

  25. I think it is ironic and sad that her baby died in her attempt at “Freebirthing” Maybe this tragic event will cause some to reconsider and think a little more about the consequences to their selfish actions and reevaluate if they are willing to sacrifice their childrens lives for their “Experience”

  26. Of course my heart goes out to any parent who has lost a child.

    In response to Emily Jones’ comment about ready access to emergency care, I wanted to share my dissapointing story on that front. She said you can get emergency care within 10 minutes, but this is not always the case. I had a home birth with 2 midwives in 2007. The birth went SUPER smooth, I was a very healthy 24 year old, and everything LOOKED totally normal, but still I had to go to the hospital afterwards for a severe post-partum hemmhorage. We called L&D ahead, they said they would be waiting for us, but still took almost 2 hours for an OB to come to the ER – at a VERY good, but busy, SF Bay Area hospital. It was partially due to poor communicate/poor organization, but he was also busy with other emergency cases at the time. I almost bled to death, and needed 2 blood tranfusions. Doctors could not figure out what caused it, but said I would have been treated many hours sooner if I had an OB already attending me at the time. 2 weeks later, I hemmorhaged again, but not as severely, and it took about 2 hours to get an OB, again. Needed 2 more blood transfusions, and 2 (minor) surgeries before I was fully functioning again. So unless I can find an OB who will agree to be on call during a homebirth, I will have my next baby in the hospital with a nurse midwife (with OB backup), because I can’t imagine leaving my son without a mommy.

    While I think ERs and ORs ARE MUCH faster when a baby is involved, I seriously doubt the ability of most hospitals to treat unexpected critical obstetric emergencies in the necessary time frame. I know other home birth mamas who needed an emergency c-section and it all went smoothly, so do your own research. However, you are taking a chance on whether an OB will be available in time. I grew up in a small town where the ER is much faster, but blood transfusions, etc. still require transport to a bigger hospital an hour away. My OB thinks a smaller town with a good ER and OBs is a much safer situation for a homebirth. So I would advise home-birthers to research the local ER, L&D ahead of time, to assess the best hospital to go to, resources available there -can they treat everything or will there be a transport and more delay? – and the expected wait time to see an OB/get an OR when the ER is very busy. Talking to an understanding OB to get their advice would be a great first step, too – although they will ALWAYS advise you to stay in the hospital, they might give you some insight about how the local system is set up. My OB said that some times when SHE is CALLED to the ER, patients have already been there up to 6 hours! Yikes.

    I think if it were possible to have an OB (preferably one you know!) on call during a home birth, that would be ideal. Yet the litigation-minded medical system is not set up like this. I only know one midwife with a practice specifically geared this way – but the OB has to do it “under the table” and she is the most expensive midwife in the area. But I personally feel (based on experience) this is the BEST possible setup – homebirth with an OB on call for immediate care in an emergency.

    One other personal thought, death is a part of life. As many have stated, babies (and mothers) die in the hospital, too. I am SO thankful for medical technology that saved my life, but I also believe it can cause harm when used improperly and unecessarily – which I hear about VERY often from friends who are mamas, nurses and doctors. Among other reasons, I chose homebirth to have the greatest control over what interventions were performed, as I didn’t want misuse of technology to CAUSE problems. I can be certain that my hemmorhage, however awful, was caused naturally, by my own body. I don’t see how any blame can be placed on any mother for her baby’s totally natural death. Medical technology can now save even the most critically ill people, but using these interventions is a personal CHOICE – and even when doctors and nurses and midwives and parents do everything right, people will sometimes die – nature is not always within our control, nor should it be.

  27. Crunchy Chicken-

    Just two examples to answer some of your questions:

    VBACs are unavailable in any hospital Walla Walla, WA because “required equipment is not available.” It’s a stupid excuse, but the one given to mothers in order to force C-sections on any mother who has previously had one.

    Midwife attended births are not illegal in Wheeling, WV, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a midwife in the area (specifically, a 60 mile radius), much less one willing to attend a home birth.

    There are lots of places in the country with similar problems. For mothers who do not wish to be subjected to unnecessary procedures considered standard and required by the local hospitals, free birth is the only other option. I actually had one doctor in Wheeling tell me that if I refused *any* of the procedures she considers standard (including induction right at 40 weeks, an IV, and constant fetal monitoring), that she will refuse to deliver my child, even if I’m in the maternity ward and in active labor! Where would she expect me to go at that point? I’d be safer and way more comfortable at home.

  28. It saddens me to say that none of what I’ve read has been surprising. I’ve been reading and listening to stories like these for years. Is it just me, or is it getting worse? We, as women, need to stand together. We need to support one another and do everything we can to help each other. I’m hopeful that there will be a change within my lifetime of the way in which the United States sees childbirth. I hope to see my Great granddaughter give birth one day in a world that understands childbirth as a naturally occurring event in nature. I hope to see her surrounded by a loving circle of women as she gives birth. If only there were a clear answer to all of this. I can understand the fear that brings women to say, “you are crazy to give birth at home by yourself” at the same time I sympathize with the mother who demands her freedom of choice and pushes for her child’s rite of passage. The fear that is woven throughout our culture is a culprit of terribly disappointing childbirth delivery practices. Our health care system will surely dictate the future. Let’s all take an active approach in making sure we fight for our right to health care for all. Those states that offer medicaid coverage for women using midwives have promising statistics. We need more midwives, and more health insurance coverage for midwives. Then and only then will we, as a nation, begin to see the difference. A women in the United States should not ever feel that her only option is to give birth at home, without support. How can it be, that that is where we are in 2010?
    I know we woman are strong. We will survive this era and better times will come. I not only believe this, I fully intend to make as much of an imprint on this issue in my lifetime as I can.
    My deepest sympathies go out to all the women who have a story to share. But please continue letting yourselves be heard. The world needs to hear your story because that alone can change lives.

  29. It is, to say the very least, somewhat presumptuous to say that Janet Fraser must be responsible for the death of her baby, and that she could have prevented it by going to hospital. This is not clear at all, so let’s not make accusations, shall we? It is likewise presumptuous to say that a baby born still in hospital received the best care possible, and died despite that. The world is not that black and white, ladies! So, those of you with condemning comments don’t like unassisted childbirth. Fine. But your accusations are not based on fact, and serve not purpose.

  30. I’m not meaning to cause any more of a ruckus here, but I’ve read a lot of comments on this thread which frankly refer to women who choose not to homebirth as ignorant.
    I am a mother, and I would personally NEVER choose to home birth. I am also NOT ignorant of the history and realities of childbirth in any environment.
    This has actually been an ongoing discussion between my best friend and myself for several years; she has chosen to have each of her 3 children at home (specifically, a caravan home in the middle of the desert) with a midwife, her mother, and her husband the only people present. I have been dedicated to a hospital birth complete with epidural since I was about 12. If we can manage to discuss this without getting angry, anyone can!

    Yes, accidents happen is hospitals, as well as at home. Yes, licensed midwives know what they are doing and are usually incredible at thier jobs; my friend expereinced a severe tear with her first baby and her midwife stitched her, though it took her several months to heal completely. But here is my opinion, and it’s actually pretty short and sweet . . . it is a FACT that anything can go wrong in cildbirth, and it can happen with no warning. If any complication arises during the birth of my child, I want to be in a building full of people who know what to do and have the world’s best technology to hand.
    About VBACs, I had a vaginal delivery and I admit that my present opinion is hypothetical, as I have never had the experience and I know that my opinion could very well change if I am ever presented with the situation. However, while I believe that every woman should have the choice to attempt a VBAC, I don’t understand why any woman would want to do so in a UC environment. The risks involved, not the least of which would be a repeat of whichever medical issue led to the first c-section, are all excellent reasons to have someone on hand, midwife or doctor. If a midwife is not a possibility, then go to the hospital! Is the reduced chance that you will have a normal birth worth taking the risk? Most hospitals are NOT chop shops, and DO care about the health and safety of infants and thier mothers. One could easily get the impression here that doctors are greasy bad guys twirling thier mustaches, only out to make a buck or force unsuspecting women to have completely un-neccessary procedures. I had a wonderful birth experience in the hospital, and that included the medical intervention I was given . . . I tested positive for strep B and was given antibiotics, which were neccessary for the health of my son. Upon request I was given an epidural,which I adored. And no, I don’t feel that missed out on the “experience” at all, nor do I feel that I did myself or my son a dis-service. Though I felt no pain, I DID feel the pressures of my contractions and felt the birth of my child. I experienced a cervical tear, which my OB repared immediately. I was surrounded by family and friends, had great nurses, and felt the next day like I wouldn’t mind doing it all again without reservation.
    If a woman chooses a home birth, that is her business, and I believe that most women who choose that option have done thier research and are doing what they genuinely believe to be best for thier family. I do wish that more women who have had a marvelous hospital birth experience would speak up as well, because as so many have posted here, it is also a valid choice. I’m loving this modern age, which allowed me to have a healthy child in a beautiful environment with almost no pain and with a perfectly healthy outcome for myself and my child. I’m gratefull that the minor complications I experienced were immediately dealt with in a sterile environment. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

  31. Just as everything in life, each circumstance is completely unique and personal. There is no black and white, one-size-fits all when it comes to birthing a baby. There are risks to every situation, and no one is better equipped than the parents to decide which risks they are willing to take.

    I’ve had one c-section, one unassisted birth, a midwife assisted birth, and a hospital VBAC. Each situation was completely different from the other and I made the best decision I could for each birth. Now that I have 20/20 hindsight, I can say I made the right decision!

    Please, someone, tell me a birthing choice that is 100% guaranteed to be safe for both the baby and mother and I will gladly choose it!

    Until then, they all possess risks, and I will not throw stones at any woman for making a different choice than I did.

  32. I understand that having a freebirth is an intensely personal choice, but unless there is a sonogram machine handy, it can be more dangerous than an assisted birth or a hospital birth. If in the event the cord wraps around the babys neck, what could the mother do with out some form of medical help? Or if the baby is transverse ( sideways)? Trust me, a transverse lie is very painful and requires a c- section. Or what if the babys heart beat is low and the oxygen level is in danger? All these are possible events in any birth. I feel bad for her, but really she should have had a midwife on speed dial just incase.

  33. I am a mom who has had two c-sections. My last section was an HBAC turned CBAC after 67 hours of labor. In my state, NH, it is nearly impossible to find an OB who will support you in even a TOL. It is also illegal for a CPM or CNM to attend a HBA2C. There is only one hospital in my state that allows VBA2C. It is over 1.5 hours away. My only options are to lie to an OB and say I will have an RCS and show up pushing. Or have an unassisted birth. While I would rather show up pushing than to go unassisted, I will go unassisted if I have to. I am already certified in neo-natal resuscitation. I am a doula, I have supporeted enough births to know what is “normal” and what is not. If something were to go wrong, I live literally next to a hospital {that has a vbac ban}. I would never put my life or my child’s life at risk, which includes signing up for another unnecessary c-section.

  34. I had a unassisted childbirth, 2 hours from the nearest hospital, our birth was and remains the most powerful experiences of our lives. My pregnancy was truly about preparation and none of the nursery walls were painted before he was born:-) Giving birth and how we choose to do it is one of the last birthrights that remain in our control.
    The possibility of death is something that every woman who has a unassisted childbirth has to think about and come to terms with. What happens is fully her responsibility and thats why women choose freebirth because they want to be completely responsible for their birth.
    The issue of safety in childbirth…if you can presume a hospital is more safe than your own body, well you should have your baby in the hospital and always stay close by. Being at home without a doctor was the safest place for me to have my son
    We are so removed from the natural order we forget that death is not an ugly thing and things have a divine order. Janet did the right thing because their is no wrong in this instance, its her life, her baby, her karma. We could commend people who choose to take responsibility for their well being and life, rather than blame and put ourselves in a disempowered situation. We could remember Birth is magical and the science is only a linear way of comprehending the most miraculous things in this existence. There is a lot to learn before embarking on a unassisted birth, most importantly a lot to learn about yourself. It is a journey. May Janet heal and put her baby to rest with Love and honor, the miracle of life remains a miracle. May her heart expand and may she receive another opportunity to give life.

  35. Aborigine women in the amazon go through a “free birth,” whether they are 15 or 30, but, never l100% alone, it is somewhat assisted. Even though the birthing mother is left alone, literally, to birth on a hammock, the elder women keep an eye on her from afar, considering the fact that something could go wrong and they can quickly run to assist the birthing mother if help is needed. Why would anyone want to birth alone knowing the something could happen?!? Even aborigines are well aware of this.
    I’m a mother of 2 an I’ve tried natural birthing with a DOULA -although I ended both times cesarean -one girl turned and got stuck and the other never went unto labor- my pregnancies were 23 mos apart and I was scared the second time around, even though I had chosen once again to try natural, my body had given me signs and the second girl had the cord wrapped 3 times around her neck, which could have caused some trouble during delivery or maybe not. I do believe we can all try and get the desired birth but we are just all different. What works for one, doesn’t work for another. I hope this lady doesn’t attempt a second time around and let this be a learnt experience.

  36. I just sat down and read this entire article and all the comments that followed,I’m not here to attack anyone for their own decisions,or beliefs no matter how ignorant.I understand that research on childbirth can only be done so far back,but the truth is,women have been growing their babies without medical help and delievering them as well for. millions of years,its the single most natural act in the world. There are many complications that have presented through the years in accordance with the erra, to which is no fault of the mother butbthe conditions in which she lived,there are far more diseases and illness’s these days than ever before,far more reasons for a women to most deffinatly seek medical help for her birth, to ensure her and her baby’ s health,but that defiantly does not include all women,none of us havebthe same problems or complications. I myself have cystic fibrosis,I am relatively healthy,I take good care of myself,and although I would love nothing more than to have a totally free birth with just my husband and I,i will atleast have a midwife present in my home birth,which is supoorted by my doctors and the majority of my friends and family,but mind you,the midwife will be there for caution side only,I will be delievering my child myself,with no help from anyone besides my husband,none will touch my child or take him away,he won’t get measured and his foot prints on a piece of paper,and he wont get suctioned out,seeing is how giving birth naturally squeezes the fluids from my childs lungs,my child won’t be made to.cry as long as he is breathing,there is no reason to upset a calm baby,having a child is built in to my dna,as if i was born for that moment,my body will know exactly what to do,if fir any reason I should need my midwife,she will be there at my.ready. women have the strength,we all to. Often underestimate our bodies and our abilities,its time for an old practice to be new again.

  37. Babies die in hospitals all the time? Seriously? I’m sorry, but how likely are healthy babies to die in a hospital and how likely are healthy babies going to die during a homebirth.

    Use your critical thinking skills, please. You are making advocates of women choosing to birth however they please (within reason) stupid. Stop it.

  38. omg.
    do your own research, people.

    why, why, why, why, why do the vast majority of women (and men) just regurgitate what has been culturally and commercially programmed into their minds without even hinting at the necessity of evidence?

    why not do some research on infant mortality rates? on home-birthing, and for that matter, unassisted birthing? on the reasons, actual provable reasons, why babies/mothers die in childbirth, and why it happened in the past?

    Molly says:
    “Babies die in hospitals all the time? Seriously? I’m sorry, but how likely are healthy babies to die in a hospital and how likely are healthy babies going to die during a homebirth?”

    don’t be sorry molly, just look it up.

    i was expecting more out of treehuggers.. read some ina may gaskin for god’s sake! let’s not open our brainwashed mouths before doing the research, or you’ll be advocating without a clue as to what is actually safest. when it comes to childbirth, that’s simply a disgusting level of ethical irresponsibility.

    “many western doctors hold the belief that we can improve everything, even natural childbirth in a healthy woman. this philosophy is the philosophy of people who think it deplorable that they were not consulted at the creation of eve, because they would have done a better job.”

    -kloosterman 1994

  39. Well – it is hard to see why some people make the choices they do because we all have different experiences.

    Having had four c-sections, I would do ANYTHING to have a VBAMC, however after the FIRST c-section (I was lied to in order to sign the permission to have the procedure done, and later found proof that it was most certainly a lie in our paperwork – long story!), no OB would touch me with a ten-foot pole. Each C-section was a repeat elective, although I have been researching for years about safety in all different environments and with all different interventions and assistants. Putting many MANY studies together has been done, and going in for a repeat c-section with my fourth baby knowing that I had a more than 3-fold increased risk of dying on the table than if I was attempting a vaginal birth after 3 previous c-sections was hard to deal with. On the flip side, having a vaginal birth after 3 previous c-sections has a significantly higher rate of needing an hysterectomy…

    I believe that we are all so emotional about this because we all care for our babies, our births and safety and choice. Where I live in Australia – I will not be “allowed” a VBAMC, and finding a midwife willing to attend such a irth would be a rare find indeed. When we have another baby – my risk of DEATH on the operating table is increased again if I chose a c-section. Should I sign up for another c-section KNOWING that my risk of DEATH is higher than ever before on that cold operating table compared to a VBAMC – knowing I am choosing something that risk’s my children’s mother’s life significantly? Should I choose a homebirth where I am less likely to die – but then if I can’t find a midwife to care for me? What if I did a UC because there ARE no other “safe” options available to me as far as I can determine through years of searching through medical publications as well as statistics up to my ears?

    Should I have my choices taken away from me? Should I be forced to have a medicalised birth although I have spent years educating myself? Should other’s be condemned for researching for themselves and deciding that the hospital is the best environment to give birth in? Should a women make the best choice she can given the circumstances she’s in (including the laws and availability of midwives, hospitals, personal health, support system etc)?

    We all want the best for every mum and bub… every woman has had (or will have) different experiences, and will make different decisions based on that. If you have been hurt badly, lied to or had significant physical and emotional damage from traditional medical care – being forced back into that environment will cause fear, that will hamper labour due to how women were made (any threat the woman feels causes labour to slow until she no longer experiences that “fight or flight response”, and when she feels safe again, labour should resume) – labour slows and then interventions “have” to be done… and the cycle repeats itself – reenforcing the belief that the hospital is not the place to birth.
    If a woman feels comfortable in a hospital setting, she will not feel threatened or fear, her labour should hopefully be fine as much as possible and she will hopefully have as great a birth as possible. She will feel positive, and then her belief that the hospital is the safest place to birth is reenforced.

    Let’s just support the right to choose, the right for all women to be able to access any medical care she needs to support her choice for birth – and support women who are grieving all over the world at home, in hospitals and many other places for their babies who didn’t make it.

    *BTW – I am not able to access my own computer atm, but I will try and find the composite of many studies I used to have, and post it up links if I can find it.

  40. I come from a very ancient line of midwives of south india. My 2 cents;

    1) Dignity of mother and baby entering a new life are more important than ANYTHING – including survival. (I know I’m going to be lambasted for saying this, but its just true).

    2) The majority of birth complications and “failures” are because of conditions and situations existing before the actual delivery.

    Its true that hospitals can perform emergency procedures that MIGHT save the child or mother’s life, however the rampant commercialization of the birth industry, the almost SURE use of drugs and so many anti-dignity, anti-woman, anti-nature practices weigh far far more.

    The only reason people assume hospital births are less risky, is because of the short-sighted viewpoint that doesn’t include the baby and mother’s future health, emotional connection and self esteem as important enough to be parameters of safety.

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