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

  1. I had never heard of unassisted childbirth until today. Have these people no grasp of history or concept of human birthing culture? Isn’t the statistic that one in three women died in childbirth up until the 20th Century?

    Now, I’m not suggesting a hospital birth is necessarily the way to go – I firmly believe that low-risk pregnancies and a homebirth are great options for those women that seek it.

    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. I don’t understand the impetus. Has the hatred of modern medicine pushed people so far away that they are willing to risk their own health and the health of their unborn child?

  2. a very sad story. i am with crunchy chicken – everyone needs a little bit of help, throughout history that’s how it’s been. thanks for sharing this post, amy.

  3. Both of my homebirths were attended by two midwives. Even though Jessica expressed her opinion on Eco Child’s Play, I think it is important to note our writers have many different birthing experiences and opinions (and I love Jessica). We do have a writer that has had unassisted births and is planning another one in a few weeks. My own personal choice was based on the fact that anything can happen at anytime, no matter how many successful births assisted or unassisted you have had. I also wanted to share the experience with midwives. I think midwives are amazing people. I respect them greatly!

  4. I had a UC last July.

    Crunchy Chicken – have YOU no grasp of history? Women died in childbirth not from lack of technology, but from poor nutrition, lack of access to emergency services, and no antibiotics. Granted, some of them could have been saved by medical intervention, but the majority of common pregnancy complications, such as hemorrhage and infection, were not treatable then, but are perfectly treatable now.

    In fact, when birth first moved into the hospitals, the maternal mortality rate ROSE until the US was the worst in the world for which statistics were know. The mortality rate only started to decline when antibiotics were invented, and aseptic routine implemented. (People knew that germs could be transmitted by contact by that point, but up to that point, doctors continued to refuse to wash their hands, insisting that they could not possible be the ones making patients sick.) At that time the #1 cause of death to pp women was puerperal fever, which was given to them BY THE DOCTORS. Hospital-acquired infections currently account for 2 million+ infections in the US every year, and 26,000+ deaths.

    Okay, that being said, there are cultures in the world who choose to birth unassisted. But the primary reason for UCs in our country is lack of options. If a woman wants to VBAC, in many states, the hospitals don’t support VBAC, and if there are licensed midwives, they are prohibited from attending them. So many women have a choice between an unnecessary c-section or home birth without a midwife. Same with breech birth and twins.

    Even so, many women still feel called to birth unassisted. Maybe they want it to be a private family affair? Maybe they don’t want any strangers around them during a time where they need to focus? But all UCers that I have known do a TON of research and educate themselves on when to call for help.

    It’s not like we live on the frontier. I live 5 minutes from the biggest, baddest hospital in the valley. If I were to experience a complication, it would be literally 10 minutes to get there, during which time they would have the OR set up for me. Even in the hospital it would take a minimum of 5-10 minutes to get the anesthesia and people set up to perform an emergency c-section. There are VERY few complications that will kill a mother or baby in less time than it takes to get to the hospital, and those types of complications will probably kill you no matter where you are, before anyone even knows something is wrong.

    In any case, there are no studies done on the relative safety of UC, so it cannot be unequivocally stated that UC is more dangerous than midwife-assisted home birth. The only numbers out there on UC include ALL unattended births, such as precipitous births, dumpster babies, and any birth that occurred outside the hospital and in the absence of a professional birth attendant.

    Rather than crow about how dangerous it is that women take on the responsibility for their outcomes, you all should take the time and do some research. Find out what are the real dangers, and whether or not a mother has the right to assume the risks herself. Then you can come back and defend your position.

  5. It’s very sad indeed. What’s more sad is that when she’s already grieving, and no doubt already blaming herself (that’s what grieving mothers do, even when we know we did nothing wrong, we find a way to blame ourselves), the world thinks its a great time to point the finger at her, tell her what a naughty girl she’s been and use her tragedy as an opportunity to speak up against the home birth movement. Some people are just sick.

  6. Very nice, balanced post. I do not pretend to understand the decision to have an unassisted homebirth, but I do think that many of them women who do make that choice do it with the best of intentions. Babies die, as sad as it is, under all circumstances and to blame a grieving mother at this point is just wrong.

  7. I was going to leave a huge comment, but Emily pretty much said it all perfectly. Yes, I have done the research. Mountains of it. And that’s why I don’t compare my modern, easy life to that of a woman living 100+ years ago.

  8. While I think that stories such as this one give us great opportunities to discuss the safety and merits of UC and the differences between UC and Homebirth, I do NOT think it’s appropriate to dissect the details of this particular tragedy. To do so without any knowledge of the specifics and people involved is highly irresponsible. Frankly, Amy, the benefit of the doubt is not yours to give to this family.

  9. I think it’s so disappointing that one case leads people to conclude that home birth is unsafe. We are all different, our births are all different, our situations are all different. The sad truth is that not every birth outcome is good. We simply cannot say that because this one birth did not turn out as well as we could hope for, that this in any way is a risk for anyone who wants to birth outside of a hospital.

  10. Emily – Historically speaking, I wasn’t referring to “modern” medicalized birth and its inherent issues, because there are many. As for tribal cultures who practice unassisted birth, very few first time mothers deliver alone. It is interesting to learn that women are willing to go to the extreme of an unassisted birth for something like a VBAC when a licensed doctor or midwife could attend to her. That seems even more risky than what I was alluding to earlier. Just out of curiousity, in what states are VBACs unavailable? In what states are midwife assisted births illegal?

    Perhaps I’m taking far too literal an interpretation of “unassisted” birth, but the impression I got was that the woman was giving birth without the help of any individual who had knowledge of childbirth to assist her. The option to seek emergency medical care gets a little sketchy in that does the individual have enough knowledge to know when to act and will they have enough time or ability to obtain it? Particularly when it comes to something like hemorrhaging, where speed is an issue, or infection, where knowledge and expertise is an issue. That’s when a trained birthing assisting would be highly valuable.

    Also, to make the assertion that an unassisted birth is just as safe as using a trained, licensed midwife without any data can be construed as equally misleading.

  11. If this birth was a tragedy that would have happened no matter what the birth location, why is this poor woman being attacked for her choice?

    If a baby dies in the hospital (as they do all the time) is the mother vilified? Of course not.

  12. My heartfelt condolence goes out to the family. Whether a baby is still born or dies shortly after, you cannot imagine the loss you feel.

    I don’t want to be a judge on this, she is an expert after all and probably felt that there was nothing wrong until the baby was born.

    It’s alright for everyone to point fingers at her, but honestly, can they really? Think about how the family feels right now. Show some compassion.

  13. So sad that a baby was lost, my heart goes out to Ms Fraser and her family.

    We all make the choices that we think are best for our family. While I can’t comprehend giving birth with no help at all, it’s all about choice. We should be allowed to make educated decisions about what is best for our family and not judge others by their choices.

    I do, however, think they should investigate the death. You never know, it may vindicate her and help to give her closure.

    Great, balanced post Amy.

  14. Amy,

    This is well written and I applaud you for sharing this issue.

    You know how I stand on this. Midwife for almost 15 years, I don’t like home birth. Things can happen so quickly that getting to a hospital makes no difference.

    We moms are charged with keeping our children as safe as possible. I, personally, would err on the side of caution and enjoy the security of having a NICU and all attending staff in the wings.

    Just like I would ask my child to wear a bike helmet, seatbelt, etc. I do everything possible to make sure my son is safe.

    Sadly, this woman has been dealt the ultimate blow. Sadly, it is worse yet because she was such a strong voice. Sadder even is the fact that women’s choices will be affected by this incident.

    While I would never advocate home birth myself, it’s important to me to know that women are empowered with choices. This may be the ultimate tragedy of this woman’s reckless behavior. That the focus on her terrible misjudgement will create an unbelievable backlash.

  15. Crunchy Chicken: I would encourage you to seek out the International Cesarean Awareness Network at http://www.ican-online.org/ and educate yourself about how difficult it is to come by a VBAC in many states. Where I live a woman would have to travel up to five, possibly six hours away in order to be “allowed” an attempt at a VBAC in a hospital setting. Also, only slightly more than half of the states allow midwife assisted birth out of the hospital. In the rest of the states the midwives operate under a gray area of the law. In some states, like Illinois, midwives are actively prosecuted for attending out of hospital births. Because of this there are women out there that literally have no other choice than to go unassisted if they hope to avoid future surgery and injury.

  16. Crunchy Chicken – Re: VBACS, that is the point I was trying to make. In most of the US, doctors refuse to attend VBACs, and licensed midwives are legally prohibited from doing so. So for many women, their only choice is to use a doctor and have an unnecessary c-section, or to do it at home without a licensed midwife. Here is a breakdown of VBAC rates by state, and the hospital bans on them:

    Midwifery is either illegal, not provided for, or not protected in 17 states. Here is a list of midwifery licensing laws by state:

    Unassisted birth does not mean solo birth. It simply means birthing without the assistance of a paid professional. In my own birth, I had my husband and two friends, who had both had their own births previously.

    And I never asserted unassisted birth is just as safe as midwife-assisted birth. I said, “it cannot be unequivocally stated that UC is more dangerous than midwife-assisted home birth.” That is, that no one can go around talking about how dangerous UC is, because there are no numbers out there to prove it. (In my personal experience, I would guess that mortality is comparable, but morbidity and transfer rate is much higher among the UC crowd.)

  17. lilbet – as Amy pointed out in her post, birthing in the hospital is not “erring on the side of caution.” Study after study, including the one she quoted, have proven home birth to be JUST AS SAFE as hospital birth. Except home birth has a much lower incidence of injury and infection to mothers and babies. So really, the safest place to birth is at home, when you consider morbidity as well as mortality.

    And statements like this: “This may be the ultimate tragedy of this woman’s reckless behavior. That the focus on her terrible misjudgement will create an unbelievable backlash” is exactly what Amy is talking about in her post. There is no proof whatsoever that the baby died as a result of her decision to UC. Maybe the baby just died. Sometimes bad things happen. To simply assume that her choice to UC caused the baby to die is ignorant and judgmental. I’ll say again what I said before: do some research and learn more about what UC entails before you go around telling people how reckless it is.

  18. And then…there are the stillbirths that are PREVENTED because there was proper monitoring of the baby and medical personal recognized that the baby was in distress and took the steps to deliver the baby safely.

    A relative of mine had a hospital still birth. This baby would still have died in a home birth, assisted or otherwise. But, this was actually a clear cut case of doctor negligence and the hospital has settled with the parents. This is a baby that should have/ could have been saved had the staff been paying proper attention. And it is these cases, that make me nervous, and yet even more nervous about giving birth without assistance of any kind.

  19. inthefastlane – Multiple studies have shown no improved outcomes with constant monitoring. That is to say, constant monitoring does not “save lives.”

    Your own example is contradictory – you say that the baby would have died regardless, and yet it was negligent on the part of the doctor? How is that possible? If no one could have predicted or prevented it, then it is no one’s fault. Perhaps this is heart of the insistence of negligence in home birth tragedies, and UC in particular: in a UC, there is no one to blame when something goes wrong.

    And since you admit that constant monitoring and being in the hospital would not have saved their baby in the first place, why do you say it makes you more nervous for home birth? To me, hospital incompetence = want a home birth even more.

  20. Amy, thank you for writing the best piece of real, balanced ‘journalism’ I’ve seen in quite a long time. You could teach ‘professionals’ a thing or six.
    In response to some of your commentors: As an Australian mother of four, I’m familiar with the state of play in the birthing community in Australia.
    I think it’s so disappointing that the most vocal opponents to ‘alternative’ birthing (ie anything other than a booked c-section these days) are the least educated, have never really questioned anything, have all the tests, get their record sheets stamped at the right times, all because it’s simply the ‘done’ thing. They yell about the irresponsibility of anyone who does otherwise, without really finding out why they made that decision in the first place.
    Newsflash: While some women make choices for their births that others don’t see the sense of, the best response would be to ask why they made that decision in a balanced manner and get an education rather than judge and scream and accuse, which helps nobody.
    I question why one person’s birth experience has to be proven to be better than anyone else’s, and why we need to fight each other to ‘prove’ what is reasonable.
    Babies die in every birth situation. None is perfect.

  21. Emily, I believe you mis-understood me. The baby would have died at home. If the hospital had monitored the baby properly (they did not), the baby would not have died.

    Sorry, if the error was on my end. Luckily, I don’t have to make this decision any more. And really, I believe in a woman’s right to chose how her baby is born. My only point being that in the case that I mentioned, had the hospital done their job, the baby would have been saved. At home, the baby would still have been still born.

  22. So many good thoughts found throughout all of the posts. Inthefastlane, midwives have ways to monitor a baby and most often times do a fabulous job and are more than competent. Part of the reason that they do so is because they tend to stay with the birthing mother for most of the birthing experience. They do monitor the baby frequently and check the mother as needed. They are often able to tell immediately when something starts to go wrong because they are there whereas, hospital staff is not. Hospital staff has to rely on electronic monitoring because they cannot possibly attend to every woman on the maternity floor at once. A midwife does and so does her assistant. Homebirth is not cave like. They use homeopathic and herbal remedies wisely, they have spent so much more time w/ the families prenatally, and have each others wisdom to draw from. I don’t think it’s wise to say that your relative’s baby would have died at home too because that certainly may not be the case.

    As for UC, I firmly believe that women should birth wherever they darn well please. If they want to have their baby in a cave, in their home, in a field, etc. then so be it. We all have to live with the consequences of our choices (good or bad) no matter what we do. Having had a baby w/ a CMN first and then my second at home w/ a CPM, I realized that I had taken their lives in to my own hands. Heck, I did that upon conception. The foods we eat, whether smoke, drink or do drugs (even whether we take aspirin for heaven’s sake!) and have an epidural are all choices that we make that have consequences for our children. My first CNM told me (when I was asking her about her choice to selectively vax her children) that we all have to make choices and the tough part is dealing with the possible consequences. She said “you have to make your choice and then deal with the consequences whatever they may be. Whatever you decide has to be something you can live with for the rest of your life.” I feel it’s applicable to how you birth your child. For someone who strongly believes in the power of UC, if they were forced to have their baby in a hospital and something awful happened, they’d have to live w/ that consequence and would feel terrible about it. If someone who wanted a hospital birth ended up inadvertently having a homebirth and something happened, then they would suffer the same grief. The questions of “why” would be different but they still end up with the same feelings of guilt and saddness. The key here IMO is not whether this was the right or wrong thing for this family to do. It’s more of how they will deal with their grief and whether they are able to live with the consequences of their actions. We all have to do that on some level in our lives and I truly hope that they are able to do so. It has to be hard enough as it is to mourn the life of a child w/o all of us stating whether she should be charged and investigated. Would you all want to be charged and investigated if something went wrong w/ your birth regardless of where it was? If this was her fault (and I’m totally not saying that it is) then she will have to live long days of knowing that and I imagine that would be worse than any investigation or “punishment.” I feel for the family deeply.

  23. First, I am so sorry to hear of this mother’s loss.

    My take on the larger issues that surround unassisted birth…I think that it underscores the need for MORE, not less, choice.

    Perhaps if women felt that their needs and wishes would be respected, they would welcome more participation from the birth experts of their choosing. By over-medicalizing birth, we set up a choice of two extremes, both of which may be right for some families, when most of us fall in the middle.

    I also agree with Laura as quoted in your post. There are some babies who would be lost to us no matter what, some who might be saved by medical intervention, and some who are lost as a result of medical intervention.

    Somewhere in there are guidelines that would, on the whole, maximize what medical science can do without causing more harm than good…but we can never be 100% sure in any particular case and I do believe that the families’ wishes must be part of any calculation.

    And none of this second guessing brings back any babies…and families who lose their babies should be given room to mourn that loss.

  24. a wonderful, balanced post, and one that i truly appreciate, being a UC mom myself.

    i guess i’ve come to the point in my life where i accept birth and death as part of the life cycle. we cannot prevent every big bad wolf from knocking on our doors, no matter how hard we try. hospital, assisted homebirth, unassisted homebirth…all have risks, all have benefits. why do we constantly try to find someone to blame? why do we NEED to point the finger at someone? yes, it’s tragic when a baby dies, but death is a part of life, one that society simply refuses to accept.

    i’m so sorry that Janet, on top of her grieving, is being made an ‘example’ of. shame on those of you who are vilifying not only this woman, but other women who choose a similar path. if you weigh your options and decide that UC isn’t for you, that’s perfectly fine! if, god forbid, you lose your baby in the end, i sincerely hope you aren’t thrown to the wolves for your choice as this woman has been. and shame on those of you who ‘speak’ for her child. poor taste, indeed.

    beating your chests and ranting about statistics from past centuries is not going to make a woman who’s chosen UC suddenly change her mind. we already know. we’ve read about it, seen the statistics, and taken them into account when making the decision. we are not uneducated.

    in the end, it’s not our place to sit in judgment of a woman who’s just lost her child. i have to wonder, though…if the investigation decides that she is ‘innocent’, who then will you all point your fingers at? god?

  25. Ms. Frazer, you poor woman, I am so sorry for your loss. Just reading about it brings tears to my eyes. I hope and pray that your family has a chance to grieve in peace, and that someday you are able to forgive yourself. Why do you need to forgive yourself? Because we mothers blame ourselves for everything that happens to our children, whether it is our fault, or preventable, or simply a part of life. Do I blame you for this terrible tragedy to hit your family? Absolutely not. Do I think you should stop the work you’re doing, advocating for women’s right to choose? Absolutely not.

    You see, I am a “victim” of the system, a statistic. My first birth, in a hospital, resulted in a C-section. As a result of that first C-section, and the subsequent weakening of my uterine and abdominal wall, my second C-section saved my life, and the life of my daughter. Had the birth been a VBAC as I was hoping, my uterus would have ruptured.

    Looking back on it, I see steps taken that led to that first surgery, things that could have prevented it. If I had educated myself more on the subject ahead of time, I might have opted for a midwife-assisted home birth. I might not have had that horrible surgical experience, might have been able to hold my baby sooner than 8 hours after birth, would not have had my system pumped full of drugs I’m allergic to, and would have been able to nurse my baby, instead of the uneducated hospital staff shoving bottles at him.

    Because of the voice you are, women are starting to realize they have choices. Please don’t stop being their voice, their advocate. If not you, who will speak for them?

    Amy, this was a wonderful and balanced, open-minded post, very well-written, and I’m glad to see that some women can support other women for their choices, regardless of the outcomes. I wish I could say the same of some of these commenters…

  26. Hey all…
    I see Emily has already been here, educating y’all. She is a fantastic example and advocate for this type of birth.
    I just wrote a blog for Eco Child’s Play about Sheryl from A Much Better Blog, who also did a UC (and commented here).

    I had two hospital births attended by midwives. The first was a very peaceful, wonderful, supportive birth, and I could have done it anywhere. (5.5 hours)
    The second I also could have done anywhere, but *should* have chosen to do alone at home with my DH, as the “medwife” and nurse only got in our way.
    In the 10 minutes we were in the labor room with the attendants, it was entirely me, my DH, and my unborn child who made the birth a beautiful experience.

    Home birth is entirely safe, lilbet. You may have the medical training, but your response makes me sure that if you were my care provider, I’d run as fast as possible in the other direction. It’s exactly this type of fear mongering (“things can happen so quickly”!) that leads to WAY too many interventions…and then to C-sections. It sounds like you subscribe to the ever-popular “Oh my God! She’s gonna blow!” theory of labor and delivery.
    A large-scale study in the Netherlands, where 30 percent of births are at home, recently showed that there was not a higher rate of infant or maternal mortality in the home setting.

    Janet Fraser’s story is tragic, but it shouldn’t be held up as the example of all home births or UCs. Especially not in the U.S., which has one of the highest infant mortality rates of the developed world.

    Thanks, Amy, for posting this!

  27. I agree with you. I think right now I can only imagine what this Mom is going thru- no matter what the circumstances I will believe she had only the right intentions and think that we should consider her and not place judgment.

    I had a wonderful homebirth and hope this doesn’t taint the picture of it for others (and I know Janet would never want that to happen either.) What you said about babies injured or dying in a hospital… So true.


  28. How totally sad. It’s bad enough that her baby died, but to have other moms blaming and condemning her for it when all she probably wanted was to birth her baby in peace? That’s just pathetic. These people need to have a little compassion.

    I would probably never go unassisted because I just don’t know enough. I need a midwife to guide me. However, I have a friend who is going unassisted the same time I am due (in August), and she is well-equipped and has already had a successful birth center birth. She’s seeing a doctor to check and be sure she’s low-risk. Her mother’s an RN and will be there, and she herself is an experienced doula. I think it’s a reasonable choice for her, even if it’s not for me.

  29. This particular case, and not necessarily free birth in general, makes me angry. It reeks of arrogance. I cannot imagine her grief, but it seems she did this (free birth) to prove a point.

    She has a history of complications (emergency cesarean, although I’m guessing that she felt it was unnecessary) and zero-prenatal care (thus, no clue as to the condition of her child) and continued through a week (!) of labor undeterred and, from the sound of her interview days before, unconcerned.

    She is quoted as saying, “I could do this for days” (referring to labor). What about her baby and his/her heart?

    Also, she compared alerting a hospital of her birth to alerting an ER before skiing. How are the two comparable? Does skiing regularly result in the life of a child?

    Those comments, in isolation I understand, seem callous.

    While, I don’t know her and I understand I am judging a situation without knowing every detail, it’s hard to conclude that she had the best interest of her child at the center of her concerns, rather than her own ego.

  30. check your facts… babies do not die “all the time” at hospitals.. this was reckless for you to state this… yes, sometimes you read in your local paper that babies die at our hospital but most are stillborn prior to arriving…

  31. I think Shanley did say it best in that last quote. The fact is that we all make the choices we feel are the best, given the resources we have. And there is no way for us to know how things will turn out.

    I am so sorry for her and for her family’s loss. My heart goes out to them.

  32. Thanks for the great post!

    For my son’s birth, we chose an out of hospital, free standing birth center. it was just a few block from our house, and by the time it was time to go there, my husband and I both had thoughts of just staying home and catching our boy ourselves. Things were going well, we had really prepared, and we were both quite calm and comfortable. But, we still went to the birth center. I’m glad we did, since I had a placental abruption in second stage and was bleeding pretty heavily (my midwife ended up transfering me to the hospital).

    But despite that, my husband and I knew that our next baby WOULD be born at home. We hired a midwife though, because we are not experts, and we know that things outside of our control (like the abruption) can happen. I’m due in July, and I can’t wait.

    Pont is, I can relate to how a woman could feel like she could give birth unassisted. I’m sure there are many who have and can (though I’ve never read much about that).

    It is such a shame that Janet Fraser is being blamed, especially at this time. :( She was prepared, I’m sure and clearly knew the risks. Why do people feel the need to heap blame upon a grieving mother, especailly without ever considering the number of infant deaths in the hospital? :(

  33. Anyone that puts their own child in danger because of their personal mission is unfit to be a mother. I don’t care what their rights are. What about the child’s right to medical care?

  34. The mere fact that this woman is being made an example of is sickening. To imply ( or flat out say, as I saw in one comment ) that she had this coming because of how vocal she was…is calloused and disgusting. A prior cesarean does NOT make the pregnancy, labor, or birth high risk.

    Being in the hospital or having a midwife present does NOT mean that you will not have a baby who dies.

    A woman who had a still birth with a midwife present summed it up beautifully – home birth and UC babies must be more cherished than hospital birthed babies. Because when a baby dies in the hospital, it is accepted. It is accepted that all was done that could have been done, and that it was just a part of the family’s journey in life, or a cruel hand of fate. But when a baby dies in a home birth ( unassisted or not ), justice HAS to be sought. The mother HAS to be scrutinized for her horribly irresponsible choices. She is made to feel like a murderer, instead of being allowed room to grieve the loss of a child that she carried inside of her for 10 months. The child that she cared so much about that she did her best to avoid a repeat cesarean for the baby’s sake.

    Instead of incredibly cruel and disgusting comments ( such as saying that you feel sorry for the BABY ), why aren’t we mourning WITH mom? Put aside whatever small-brained aggressive thoughts might be going through your head about what YOU deem as irresponsible or dangerous, and grieve with this woman as one to another.

    Shame on you all. Shame on you for thinking that this is something that YOU need to debate. Shame on you for pointing a finger at her and scrutinizing very personal and thought out decisions. Shame on you for being so ugly when this woman is beyond heartbroken.

  35. Ditto Birthkeeper! Ditto! She probably knew more than most midwives know. She studied, researched, prepared, probably had various things on hand for various birth type “emergencies” etc…spent hours and hours ..well months, preparing. And yet she is said to be “unfit.” Yet, in this country, we now have a president that has no qualms about killing babies. It’s ok for women to make the “choice” to kill their babies, as long as it’s assisted by some “medical professional.” Even OUTSIDE the womb. Babies even left alive to die, alone and cold. With NO “investigation”. But a mother who WANTS her baby can’t “choose” to give birth at home alone, w/ all the things that are needed, with all the necessary preparation. Somehow, once again, it’s pure magic if you say you have “medical professionals” on hand to “DO something”…. SOCIETY MUST GET A GRIP!!! I do not see this as politics. It’s a matter of natural law and absolutes and ethics… Yk, while I’m at it, the same thing could probably be said of me. I was going unassisted w/ my third..had an abruption, but w/ little bleeding. Something that could have happened at ANY moment of pregnancy, not just labor. From the time it took to call paramedics, get transported around the corner literally to the hospital, get into the OR…pathology shows in that amount of time baby died. There are NO guarantees in life. People don’t, do NOT, want to accept that. I have gone on to adopt a beautiful baby girl who was almost aborted. LIFE is beautiful. Let this mother grieve in peace. Please!

  36. As an OB nurse and a midwife I have to say that I have seen even the most low risk pregnancy turn into a high risk birth. Complications such as acreta’s, abruptions, respiratory distress, etc are not easily predictable by even the most experienced practitioner.

  37. I don’t understand this at all. What’s the big deal about going to a medical facility to give birth to your child? I don’t understand why some people overly romanticize it. Some of you make all sorts of bizarre decisions that are essentially self-centered and self-serving.

    Doctors and hospitals are not perfect, why would someone would forego the added safety net should something go wrong completely escapes me.

    I won’t say this woman deserved what happened to her. That would be cruel and without basis since I have no idea if this could have been prevented. However, I will say that if this baby died because she neglected to get appropriate care due to her own stubbornness and selfishness then, yes, that should be investigated.

  38. I agree entirely with what John said. I delivered a beautiful baby boy 7 months ago who was 7 weeks early. I have the team of doctors at NYU to thank for his amazing health and mere one week stay in the NICU. Had they not given me a steroid to accelerate his lung maturity when there were signs earlier in the week of pre-term labor, things would have been much more grave (another woman with a 33 week birth spent two months in the NICU). Doctors aren’t our enemies. I also had a doula (who is also a nurse and midwife) present to help advocate for my wishes / explain everything that was going on to us. I could not have asked for a better experience.

    It seems to me that childbirth is about the baby not about the mom. No one will remember going forward that you gave birth that day — they’ll think of it as your son or daughter’s birthday. It’s about them and what is best for their well being, having not asked to be brought into this world. To me, that means do everything humanly possible to make the birth as safe as possible. It’s not about empowering the mother….as John said, that seems pretty self-centered and self-serving.

    It’s horrible that this poor child died and I do hope that it wasn’t the mother’s decision making that led to it. And if it was, then yes, she should be investigated.

  39. Jenny- Are you an OB nurse and a mEdwife or an OB nurse? You can’t be a midwife and an OB nurse. The two are a contradiction in terms. If you are truly in tune with your body, you would know when there was a real problem.

    Susan- I am sorry for your little one and yourself to be born 7 weeks early. That, however, falls outside of the realm of normal. If I went into labor at 33 weeks (planning a UC) you bet I would go to a hospital. Some women don’t though and that should be there choice. They choose to let God (or another power)have the ultimate authority over their child’s lives.

    My prayers go out to Janet Fraser and her family.

  40. Birth is an amazing experience, for some life changing but John is absolutely right when he says it is being overly romanticized. I have watched as birth and pregnancy have evolved over the years from the experience of bringing life into the world to an experience of “who had the better birth”. At what point did refusing the assistance of medical professionals make you a better mom? When did it make your birth better? Isn’t the end result-a baby, the same?

    I have delivered hundreds of babies and do so with both empathy and skill. I have had to perform medically necessary procedures on women that differed from their original birth plan, and that makes me a rapist? My goal is a healthy mom and baby and I use my education, insight, and experience to do so. Chossing to forgo the help of a professional is ridiculous and in this case possibly criminal.

  41. Toni- I am an RN and a midwife. I have worked for ten years as an OB RN and another six as a Registered midwife. As for being in tune with your body being the factor for getting help. I beg to differ. Many OB concerns are silent and do not declare themselves until it may be too late. I delivered all five of my babies at home with a RM. With baby number three I had a massive post partum bleed, upwards of two liters. There is no doubt I would have died if I chose an unassisted birth. There was also no reason to think this would happen as my previous births were perfect. If I had been at home without help and appropriate medical interventions I would have not made it to the hospital in time.

  42. It is absolutely possible to be an OB Nurse and a Midwife. My doula, in fact, is all 3 — a trained and still occasionally practicing nurse, a doula and a licensed Midwife too. She’s amazing.

    And Toni, it has nothing to do with personal choice or god — it has to do with the safety of the baby you’re bringing into the world and the safety of you as a mother. And you cannot tell me that it would EVER be the safest thing to have an unassisted birth. What would you do, for instance, if the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around his or her neck? How, on your own, would you deal with that? I nearly died, when I was born 36 years ago, for this very reason and fortunately my mother delivered me with “assistance”. Honestly, those who would deliver a baby on their own, by choice, are no better than those who would let their child die for reasons of “religion” as opposed to getting their child the medical assistance they need.

  43. Sorry, but the choices this woman made were hers and she bears the responsibility for them. She’s a public figure on this issue.

    If she’d been successful in birthing, then that would have been held up as a validation of her arguments.

    Her failure to protect her child from death is HER failure alone.

  44. I’ve been peeking at your site for the last few months and first want to say to you “bravo.” I finally decided to comment today because I think that your general green perspective on parenting would really complement the other voices in an online green social network that I’ve been a member of for the past 6+ months. It seems as though you already have a lot on your plate, but considering that you are so in tune to eco-friendly parenting, I just thought that I’d recommend that you check out http://www.greenwala.com — I hope that you agree that the site needs your voice!!

  45. So many comments – I probably read about half. One point I didn’t see raised explicitly is the importance of preserving women’s choices, options and alternatives.

    This is a really sad case, first and foremost for the family. Part of the reason this woman may have chosen an UC is because she couldn’t find anyone willing to trust her, or who she could trust to treat her the way she needed to be treated. A huge reason women homebirth with midwives is because they can’t find a hospital that will treat them with respect and a “hand’s off” approach. Sometimes, a woman writes a birth plan and literally get laughed at in the hospital. “It’s my way, or the highway” seems to be many hospital mantras – can we be surprised that women will end up choosing the highway then?

    I long for the day where a woman can give birth anywhere she wants, with anyone she wants. I long for the day where homebirth is legal and transparent in every state, and midwives feel supported by the local hospital and have a good rapport with the doctors in the area. I long for the day when a doctor practicing for 5 years can say to me “Yes, I’ve seen a birth with no interventions” – today, that’s a rare doctor indeed. Imagine, some doctors have never seen a NORMAL birth – a woman free of cords and monitors, birthing in whatever position feels best for her. Finally, I long for the day when ACOG and other institutions aren’t trying to take away choices, options, and alternatives, but are trying to PROVIDE them.

    That’s what’s best for moms and babies, and that’s what will raise our current atrocious numbers of child and mother mortality in this country.

    Notice that I didn’t judge this specific case. It’s not about whether I would do what she did. It’s about me having the best access to care, and me deciding what the best route of care is for me and my child.


  46. Jenny,

    Study after study has SHOWN that the risks of complications are LOWER at home than they are in the hospital. This means the rate of respiratory distress, hemmhorage, lower apgar scores, etc.

    I have NO DOUBT that you see low risk births turn bad quickly…the only difference is, you’re in the hospital.

  47. John –

    Who is romanticizing it? Is it romanticizing when a woman cares to not return to the place in which she was traumatized and abused? I dare say that if a man were forced to receive multiple rectal exam, stating that he had no choice, or that if he were strapped down and cut open for something he realized was later totally unnecessary…he’d never go back. Or, being a man, he’d make sure something was done about it. Because of the type of ignorance and utter stupidity shown in the comments here ( and the other bloggers who arrogantly believe that this woman’s tragedy is theirs to dissect ) women are afraid to share their story. Because they are told that they are overexaggerating, outright lying, or “romanticizing”.

    It is AMAZING to me that a woman can choose to KILL her unborn child because she doesn’t want responsibility…but a woman who desires to flee from the environment in which she ( and quite possibly her baby ) was traumatized and has a tragedy occur…then she’s just a negligent murderer.

    I’ll say it again – shame on you all. Especially those of you on here claiming to be midwives.

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