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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.

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173 comments so far | Post a comment now
Emelle April 14, 2009, 11:16 AM

The details of this baby’s unfortunate death are sparse in this sensationalistic article. Many people posting comments are automatically assuming that this child’s life could have been saved in a hospital. There’s absolutely no evidence of this. My heart goes out to this poor mother, and people should stop assuming that she caused her baby’s death by choosing free birth!

Anonymous April 14, 2009, 11:22 AM

When a woman in a hospital births and the baby dies, nobody says: she must be put in jail. And the FACT is that there are more babies to die during hospital births than in unssisted births. Do your homework, ladies!!! And if you choose not to do put any effort in research, eduaction and soul searching than keep your mouth shut!

Millie Mookie April 14, 2009, 2:19 PM

My heart bleeds for the family, I and several friends have suffered the pain of losing a baby….however from what I have read the outcome would have been the same had she have been in hospital with midwives and Drs…..having been in hospital when my daughter died I can confirm that the care was terrible, just vile…..I am pregnant again, exactly a year on from my daughters death and have NO intention of stepping foot in a hospital and heaven forbid lightening strikes me twice I would rather be in my own home with people that CARE than in an insitutuion that does not…….
Choosing an unassited birth after having a traumatic birth in hospital is not careless, criminal, insane or wrong, it is a deep felt, well researched. INFORMED CHOICE that 1000’s of women around the world are making and the chances of the babies or mother dying as a result are smaller than if a woman goes in for a planned c/s……
Stillbirth happens at home and at hospitals, but is far more likely in a hospital than at home….
The woman who wrote this article SHOULD have done a lot more reading and could have given a more balanced report…..
I think she has picked up on the irony that the woman who baby died was also involved with a website that promotes free birth, had a baby died to a common or garden freebirther it would never have been reported just as the 17 babies A DAY that are stillborn in the UK are not reported on……
My heartfelt condolences to this family and those who have angels too x

Angie April 14, 2009, 2:19 PM

As if babies don’t die during midwife assisted births, or hospital births? Please! Don’t twist things around to condemn something that you probably haven’t researched (research unassisted births and outcomes, not home births). There is very little that a dr. or a midwife does during birth that really makes that big of a difference. I know, I’m using a midwife with this baby, I’m seeing that it can be done myself. Even ultrasounds are wrong, and blood tests like the one for Down Syndrome, so having a baby with medical care does not guarantee a positive outcome. Having a c-section does not mean you cannot deliver naturally, either, that’s just a hospital cover-up to cover their butts from lawsuits. And, most of those who choose to birth unassisted take better care of their bodies than anyone else, because they bear the sole responsibility of that child. Research prodromal labor, you’ll see it can go for weeks. Bottom line is, you weren’t there, so you cannot judge the situation to know if the outcome would have been any better with a midwife or a dr. What ticks me off is if she’d been like the millions of people who’s babies die in the hospital, everyone would say ‘it was meant to be’. But because she chose to trust birth and her own body, it’s all of a sudden shameful. If I remember right, God did not create a midwife or a dr. to deliver Adam and Eve’s children, so that should tell us something. If Western medicine is so great, than why is the death rate amongst infants in the US higher than in countries where birthing at home with or without a midwife is the norm? Sorry, don’t buy it. Bottom line is, if you’re going to condemn someone who’s baby died at home, then you better start condemning women who lose their babies in other situations, because they didn’t research the situations and blindly trusted another human being to make decisions for THEIR child.

Heather April 14, 2009, 2:21 PM

Right, cuz babies don’t die in the hospitals all the time from unnecessary interventions. I love how everyone has played this up. I gave birth unassisted to a 10lb baby. I guess I would have been neglectful in avoiding cesarean as well. I was also born at home 4 wks after my due date with a cord around my neck. Goes to show how irresponsible it is, since I died right?? This was written in ignorance and missed the whole point of freebirth.

Zea April 14, 2009, 2:35 PM

What a loss. My heat goes out to them.

I agree with some other respondents: birthing is hospital seems more safe than it is. In hospital a lot of baby’s and mothers die because of bad treatment.

Saying this situation is equal to the middle ages is stupid I think. This woman, just like most other free birthers, was well educated, healthy and she knew a lot about birth. I agree, maybe an attendant would have saved this baby girl, but maybe not. Besides that, some lifes just end to early. You never know what kind of life she would have had when she got trhough this experience.

Very sad… Zea, The Netherlands

Momma of 6 April 14, 2009, 2:51 PM

My heart goes out to this woman.

I am ashamed at all of you who are out to get her. I know of babies who have died born in the hospital and do you shame and name call those parents? What a sad world we live in when a family loses a child and you pathetic people feel the need to lash out at her decision. I have had a hospital birth, 4 homebirths with midwives present and my last was an unassisted birth. Guess which one ever had a baby admitted to the NICU… the hospital birth.

Birth isn’t dangerous…. I really would like you people to research why women had problems in birth before hospitals were the normal place to birth. What about years ago when many of the women who died from birthing in the hospital after the dr would come from dealing with a patient or a corpse and not washing his hands. Or what about the babies now who die in the hospital from coming in contact with diseases or illnesses that they get at the hospital. It is always easy to make blanket statements…

Look at the medical system and wonder why women are choosing to take back their birth. There is no timetable for birth and there shouldn’t be a standard as far as dilation or length of contractions. Birth is like any other bodily function and no two people or births are alike and they should never be made to follow the same standards.

Natural Nurture April 14, 2009, 3:05 PM

This is a sad day for all of us. My heart goes out to Janet Fraser and her family.

To call this reckless child endangerment is to totally misunderstand the birth process and the role that nature plays to continue our survival.

It is time to do a real reckoning of the statistics. When an OBGYN loses a baby. Is it news? NOT LIKELY!
But when a tradgedy hits the competitor; the ACOG has a note on its website to the effect. “if you find any mistakes or tragedies from birthing with midwives, home births etc… as an OBGYN please bring them to the attention of the ACOG” (paraphrased)

The facts are so skewed as to be derivative drivel.
Imposed ignorance is the backbone of medical model of birth. John Cleese said it best in his spoof on birth: when the doctor was asked by the mother-to-be, in the operating theatre: “what do I do?” He answers: “Nothing, you are not qualified!” see the dramatic comedy here… …if it wasn’t so sad it would be terribly funny.

We have so taken ‘hook line and sinker’ with the mythinformtion that is fed to us by the proponents of profit: The MedicoPharma Model of Industrial Birth… to our peril.
Check out the video on CBS re MORTALITY RATES IN THE US or better yet read up on the reality of birth not the medical media releases.
Unassisted birth with healthy gravid women is normal and natural except where an oligarchy sets policy and premiums for the people and profit; and it is to be applauded. Anything else is a gateway to the biggest killer in North America: iatrogenesis.
How any sentient and sapient being can say: ” It doesn’t empower women to take control of their own bodies.” is beyond me and utter nonsense. This is totally contrary to common sense.
The US has one of the highest mortality rates in the World and yet we adore our gods in green and give over our health and that of our young and OUR FUTURE…all in the name of what? Profit over Prudence!

Tina April 14, 2009, 3:09 PM

I cant figure out why the single most importent question is not even being raised - not in the article - not in comments. Question being - would baby have lived in hospital - cardiac arrest can happen for any number of reasons and we have NO documentation at all that the baby died as a direct result of the mother choosing an unassisted birth. Just as if a baby dies in hospital - and this too happens all the time - noone cares to ask if it could have been avoided at home - just as noone tells you to never give birth in a hospital because someone they know lost their child in hospital. It all doesnt make any sense.
Fact is that there is absolutely NO medical evidence to suggest that unassisted homebirth - when done by informed and well educated mothers - is any more dangerous than assisted homebirth or birth in hospital. There are no studies to suggest a higher rate of mortality - or a lower one for that matter. All opinions about unassited homebirth being more dangerous is guesswork - much influenced by ignorance and fear of the unknown. The article is nothing but a personal opinion. THere are no facts to suggest the baby died as a direct result of the choice to birth unassisted. And as long as that information is not available the death of said baby tells us nothing at all about the safety or possible dangers of unassisted homebirth.

Jaclyn April 14, 2009, 3:29 PM

First off, I am very sorry for her loss. This is horrible. Doctors and medical care are not everything….and shouldnt be when it come to pregnancy, labor and childbirth. Womens bodies do a great job all by themselves, without medical intervention.

To say that unassisted birth is reckless and irresponsible is absolutely not the truth. The baby would have gone into cardiac arrest at the hospital and the doctors might not have been able to do anything anyways. I wish people would quit being so judgemental. Lots of babies die in the hospital around the ‘almighty’ doctor as well….and lots of the time it is thanks to that very doctor. If those babies would have been born at home they probably would have lived.

Medical intervention is a major factor in lots of maternal and fetal deaths.

I know personally of three babies that died shortly after birth. One was at home with a midwife and the other two were in the hospital.

Her choice to do this is her choice, things very possibly could have turned out the same way in hospital.

SM April 14, 2009, 6:32 PM

Her birth is a reminder that life happens in infinite variety. There is no saying what her choices would have been if she had been in a hospital or if she would have even been GIVEN choices in the matter of her newborn.
A dear friend of mine gave birth and without her knowledge or consent, her child was resuscitated despite the knowledge of potential brain damage and the needs for long term care and all of this was done without the parent’s consent or knowledge of the amount of intervention and/or the ability to say “no, we do not want this done”.
This woman made her choices just as the mothers in hospitals make theirs and yet, when taking responsibility for birth, she will be judged much more harshly than the mothers who’s babies die after inductions without cause or cesareans that were not necessary. She has enough to bear with having been traumatized and abused during her surgery to the point where she wanted no medical care and now, in losing her child.
Frankly, this should make every one of us question the systems that we have in place that are making women run screaming from the assault they were given at the hands of medical personnel as a part of “standard of care.”

maria April 14, 2009, 6:54 PM

You all don’t even know if the heart arrest was even birth related. In fact, from this article I get that the birth went well. The baby could very well have had a congenital heart failure. A more medicalized route may not have changed anything about the outcome, and possibly made the birth and the period afterwards worse. Also, not everyone decides to do anything if they know something is wrong with the baby ahead of time. Are those parents then criminals as well? Where is the line drawn?
Unattended does not mean the mother is ignorant. I find that people who jump on an article like this without even knowing anything about how one actually goes about preparing for a UC, ignorant. You all have no clue how this woman prepared for the birth. Unless you have looked deeply into all sides of this, you should keep your mouths shut.

Alison Murphy April 14, 2009, 7:14 PM

People need to pay attention to the details in the article- the baby died of cardiac arrest after the birth, not during. More than likely there is a heart defect in play. Not all heart defects are diagnosed prenatally nor are all reparable. This family needs loving support at the devastating loss of their child at this time, not criticism of their choice of birth place and attendants.

Hallo April 14, 2009, 9:53 PM

We don’t want to “freebirth” because it is fun! We do it because we feel there is no other option for us, we feel it is the best for our children. Even though this has happened, I plan to try for a free birth the next time I have a baby, so that I won’t be pushed into another cesarean.

Lisa April 14, 2009, 10:03 PM

What right does anyone have to judge this woman? If she had birthed in a hospital & lost her baby, people would say that ‘it was ‘inevidable’, or that ‘they did everything that they could’.

Not every baby can be ‘saved’ regardless of what medical interventions are available. But you wouldn’t be reading an article about how a woman had gone to hospital to birth & lost her baby to cardiac arrest. Nor would her actions be seen as irresponsible.

People are pretty quick to condemn this woman, but know nothing about her or what actually happened. They don’t know whether this baby’s death was in any way preventable, but still they slam her for her choices.

Always April 14, 2009, 10:47 PM

I find this case to be IRONY at the most LULZworthy!Feel the LULZ!!

Gail Cooke April 14, 2009, 10:49 PM

While this is a tragedy for Janet Fraser, it is unfortunately the result of arrogance and folly. Whoever referred to it as “Dark Ages” is absolutely correct. I get that as a society we overcompensate medically. I agree that it happens and it’s wrong….but it’s insanity to forgo medical checkups and such because of your overblown conviction. Yes, it’s your baby and your body. But to possibly deny your child his/her very life? To me that’s murder…at the very least manslaughter. We don’t know if that baby would survive. Maybe, maybe not. But because she was so blind she’ll never know. Now she has a dead baby. Good one.

Grey April 14, 2009, 11:03 PM

Katie that sounds an awfull lot like an alien abduction case;in which a grey comes in and takes conrol of the pregnency.Maybe there’s a connection here that abductees haven’t looked into?I myself find it hard to believe the grey alien stories,but this may be a cause for such stories.Those strong feelings have to show up,some how,in some form.

Oh dear April 14, 2009, 11:36 PM

I think in a hospital a device called a defibullator is at stand by,is it not? I suppose the woman was expecting nature to rain down a lightning bolt to jump start her baby’s heart.

Ruth April 15, 2009, 2:24 AM

My condolensces to Ms Fraser and all her family. I will not put blame on her as she is dealing with the loss of a child. It is not her purse she has lost, her car hasn’t been stolen, she has lost her child. A life that she will never see grow up,take the 1st step, 1st smile. Would her baby have lived even if she was at hospital? I have lost a child, he passed away in my arms (in hospital) with all the specialists, gp’s and midwives around. Noone could save him. I was overdue and we found out before he was born. I guess I can feel some of the pain Ms Fraser and her family are going through. Give her a break, enough is enough. She would be having her own thoughts on all of this let alone trying to grieve.

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