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Baby Dies in Unassisted Home Birth

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Ronda Kaysen: Janet Fraser, a leading advocate of home birth, lost her baby during childbirth at her home in Australia. Her tragedy stands as a stark reminder that forgoing medical care in childbirth is risky business.

woman having baby at home

Fraser gave birth without a midwife or doctor attending, in what is known as a "free birth." The baby apparently suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after being delivered in a water birth on March 27. An ambulance was called, but paramedics were unable to revive the infant. Police are investigating the death.

Fraser runs the Joyous Birth website, a home birth site that advocates free birth where women give birth in a home setting completely free of any medical support. A staunch critic of medical intervention in birth, she describes caesarian sections and episiotomies as "birthrape" and genital mutilation. The Australian College of Midwives has criticized Fraser for "recklessly" promoting free-birthing on her site.

In a chilling preamble, Fraser spoke with a reporter for the Sunday Age five days before the birth. Already in the early stages of labor, she said that she planned to deliver her baby at home and said she had never seen a doctor during her pregnancy, even though her first baby had been delivered by emergency caesarian.

When asked if she'd alerted a hospital to the fact that she was in labor, she replied: "When you go on a skiing trip, do you call the hospital to say, 'I'm coming down the mountain, can you set aside a spot for me in the emergency room?' I don't think so."

In the days following the baby's death, Joyous Birth posted an announcement of the grim news. But the posting was later removed. Neither Fraser nor her partner has returned reporters calls for comment.

Clearly, this is a tragic story and Fraser paid a heavy toll for her convictions. But her decision to forgo medical care entirely -- even after her labor continued for a week -- is tantamount to reckless endangerment of a child.

In the past century, childbirth has gone from being the single most dangerous event in a woman's life to something routine. We can thank Western medicine for that.

Western medicine has its shortcomings. Medical intervention is too readily used in childbirth and women are often treated with little respect in the hospital. There are some good arguments for home birth, reduced medical intervention being one of them. But reacting to the problem of too much intervention with no medical assistance at all 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.

next: Rape Charges Possible in Sandra Cantu Case
173 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jill (the other one) April 13, 2009, 6:02 PM

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a home birth at all. But to say a big “screw you” to any medical help AT ALL?
Neglect and stupidity. What a horribly ironic tragedy. It’s a pity that an innocent baby died because of the careless arrogance of an adult.

Sharon April 13, 2009, 6:03 PM

I wish that you would take home birth out of the title.
You make a clear distinction in your article that this was a free birth and not a home birth. Home Births do have medical professionals present. The title is misleading and damaging to the reputation of the good people that attend home births.

My condolences to Ms. Fraser.


Mommy In Pink April 13, 2009, 6:08 PM

I am an advocate for homebirth seeing as I’ve had a homebirth myself, and feel it is a very personal choice.
However I would never have forgone my birth without a midwife present with the knowledge and equipment present in case of an emergency.

This is a sad story, but referring to her choice to birth at home from something of the “dark ages” is extremely judgemental and demeaning to this woman at a time of great tragedy. I would have chosen my words more carefully if I were you!

Momof2 April 13, 2009, 6:19 PM

I agree, leave out homebirth in the title or at least define unassisted homebirth and assisted homebirth.

Homebirth’s need to be taken with care and common sense with past medical history taken into account. She did have an emergency C-section with a previous birth and should have kept an ambulance/emergency room standing by just in case.

We did this and it was not necessary but if it had been we had safety’s in place.

She is grieving right now and doesn’t need to be ‘accused’ of anything right now. She really wanted to trust her body - so much so that I think she neglected many signs that should have told her to seek some attention, if not from a doctor then from a midwife.(who if needed would have referred her to a medical doctor)

Assisted homebirth is safe and in certain cases I would even say unassisted birth is safe but with help close by and by healthy and prepared individuals.

Pamala April 13, 2009, 6:40 PM

This woman should be put in jail, plain and simple. And yeah I know it may not be popular but to totally not go with care and give birth without someone who actually knows something about medicine? That’s reckless and frankly that child didn’t need to die. Homebirths are wonderful things, but I think many do them with the assistance of someone who knows what they are doing.

Grace April 13, 2009, 6:53 PM

further proof that mother nature doesn’t give a hoot if you die. This is such a stupid loss.

LopsidedMom April 13, 2009, 6:58 PM

Please, please forgo the scare tactics and misleading titles. Unassisted home birth and assisted home birth are NOT the same. Janet Fraser does not represent the midwifery model of care, which study after study show has merit and value.

Anna April 13, 2009, 6:58 PM

Thank you for this article. A return to reason and rationality please!!

Beth April 13, 2009, 7:08 PM

I’m very sorry for her loss and wish we could all temper our beliefs with the realization that before Western medicine the maternal/fetal death rate was SKY HIGH with those “natural” deliveries. Perhaps this will serve as that reminder to us all.

sherry Wagner April 13, 2009, 7:34 PM

A friend of mine had a at home water birth for her first child, attended by a midwife. The baby got stuck in the canal and died in route to the hospital. THe midwife made no difference whatsoever. Women need access to full medical facilities in case of emergency. (including this sad case) My friend went on to have another child -in hospital- but never fully recovered from the unnecessary loss of a ten pound beautiful baby boy! It’s beyond arrogance- it’s stupidity to have your baby (especially a first) miles away from support by choice - some women have no choice: that’s called fast labour and poverty.

Kristen April 13, 2009, 7:54 PM

I feel really sad that this women lost her baby, no one deserves to go through that but I agree with the article. Women are for the most part not having to worry about dying in child birth and that is a good thing, doctors are not all bad.

Jen April 13, 2009, 8:05 PM

She should be charged. Midwife or no midwife present, if there are serious complications you are wasting precious time getting to a hospital.

Katie April 13, 2009, 8:19 PM

What the issue here is is that women are afraid of being legally raped in hospital by medicos, and are choosing alternatives. Where the disgust and accusations of criminality should be directed are the hospital providers who knowingly forgo consent for procedures. If Fraser had not been sexually battered in hospital in the first place, making it unsafe, she most likely would have been able to see her way through to a professionally attended birth, or at least got in to hospital more quickly. To blame her, and not her former “provider”, for the death of this baby is absurd, just like you can’t blame a rape victim for forgoing visiting the same bar or alley way. This should be taken as an example of another preventable complication of the broken maternity system, in which all pregnant women are viewed as targets for intervention, just like the girls out there dressed in next to nothing. Do women NEED these interventions? Generally not, just like the short skirters don’t need to be raped. If a family hasn’t experienced first hand the devastation that being sexually battered during birth can cause, then it’s hard to understand just what another family has experienced. If any one party is to be singled out for blame, it should be the doctor who grievously injured Ms. Fraser in the first place, and who caused her to avoid professional maternity care out of fear. This is not a question of the safety of freebirth, but an example of the long term consequences of experiencing a birth rape.

Sara April 13, 2009, 10:12 PM

My heart goes out to them. Sadly this did not have to happen though. Unassisted childbirth is just plain careless. At minimum have a midwife! But even that is not giving you access to many emergency medical interventions that could be necessary to save the life of the baby or mom in many possible emergency situations.. Both of my children would have died had I not been in a hospital and could have immediate intervention. I am young, healthy as can be and there were no signs of concern or risk factors but in both situations my children became suddenly stuck and the heart rate went to nothing in a matter of seconds. What would happen if I had been at home? Wait for the ambulance? My child would have been dead by then. Why take chances?

Sharon April 13, 2009, 10:16 PM

Thanks for changing the title!

It is a sad state of the medical system when a woman doesn’t even feel safe enough to bring a medical professional into her own home.

I don’t regard free birth as an option, for me, or for most women, and I feel sad for the women who feel it is their only option.

My first birth was a c-section, my second a VBAC, and my third may be a homebirth. I was lucky enough to have the option and the support to VBAC. Some women don’t get that.

A return to women centered care, in or out of the hospital, but out of the OR and free of inductions would do us all a world of good.

Safe and happy births to you all.

Pamala April 13, 2009, 10:24 PM

Birth Rape? I can’t believe people even try to equate medical procedures with rape. That’s just down right offensive and people being far too extreme.

Bec Thomas April 13, 2009, 10:28 PM

I’m actually curious if this infant that died of cardiac arrest could even have been saved if it had been in a hospital. Cardiac arrest in an infant is not a common thing at all and where it was birthed might not have made any difference.

Katie April 13, 2009, 11:35 PM

Birth Trauma Can Cause Women to Develop PPD&PTSD

February 01, 2007 by Heather B.

A Discussion About Birth Rape and Its Results

We all know that birth trauma can occur in infants, but what about women? For years women have been suffering in silence from birth trauma that results from their treatment during labor and delivery of their child. The feelings some women have about their negative experiences are overwhelming, so much so that some women suffer from PTSD afterwards. Some women refer to their treatment as birth rape, especially if they had instruments placed inside them without their consent.

Some believe people use the term ‘birth rape’ to sensationalize their trauma and feel it is disrespectful to actual rape victims. The pain these women feel is just as real, and they are just as much victims as anyone else. One dictionary definition of the word rape is “to violate or abuse.” State laws about rape usually consider any forceful penetration of the vagina or rectum to be rape. Ladies suffering from birth trauma display some of the classic symptoms of rape victims, including silence and shame about their ordeal.

This can include having Q-tips, speculums, scissors, forceps, vacuums, fingers, hands, and other objects inserted into a woman’s vagina or being given an enema, IV, epidural, or C-section without her consent. Having one’s water broken is another example of doctor’s taking control, which is basically what rape is all about. Being coerced, manipulated or deceived so that one will be obedient and go along with these treatments is another form of birth rape. Some even consider making rude and discouraging remarks to influence the mother rather than empower her to be included in the definition. Moving a mother into certain positions without asking and telling her what to do are further examples of mistreatment.

Claire April 14, 2009, 7:42 AM

I feel so sad after reading this story. For a mother to lose her child, in what could essentially have been a preventable death, is something that you would never, ever get over and never forgive yourself for. My twins were born 13 weeks premature, and without medical intervention they would not be the healthy, robust and cheeky 18 month olds they are today.

Melissa April 14, 2009, 9:43 AM

As the person in whose body the baby resided, Fraser made the choice for her and her baby, displaying her autonomy over the event; therefore she alone bears responsibility (not blame) for that choice and the consequences thereof. I wonder which experience she now considers to be more traumatic?

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