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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
Tina April 15, 2009, 9:18 AM

Its obvious that many readers are are against homebirth - period. But all reseach studies comparing the safety of homebirth to hospital birth come out with the same conclusion. Midwife assisted homebirth is in every way AS SAFE as hospital birth given it is a low risk birth. So in essence the discussion should not be about whether there is a defibrillator around - as in assited homebirht there wouldnt be either - and still the outcome is every bit as good as in hospital. Better even as women who homebirth require fewer interventions than in hospital. The discussion should be about the outcome in unassisted homebirth vs. assisted homebirth. Those stats DO NOT exist.
As for her not getting prenatal care- then basically prenatal care is about urine samples to check bloodsugar and a doppler check to see if there is a heartbeat. Most UC’ers do these things themselfes. That they dont go have it done by a doctor doesnt mean they dont keep track of their physical condition - it just means they are usually well educated intelligent women, who are perfectly capable of doing these things themselfes. Also most UC’ers DO transfer to hospital if they suspect complications during pregnancy or birth. So choosing an unattended birth doesnt mean that a woman is unwilling to get medical help when needed - it just means she doesnt want doctors poking and mishandling her private parts for no reason. I dare say UC’ers are in 95 % of cases much better educated about birth and pregnancy and possible risks than the average hospital birthing woman.

Eugenie April 15, 2009, 9:24 AM

I know that UC women are FAR more educated and consious than mainstream women who believe everything drs are telling them. How many of you still allow your vaginas cut with scissors !! ‘because dr says it is lifesaving’?? How educated and alien is that? Research, from the same drs, prove that cutting the vagina has no better outcomes than leaving the perineum intact. In fact: a lot of women DIE because of this slaughter: they bleed to death! But still there is this hypnosis that you are safe in the hospital. How many of you are induced with Cytotec? A drug that is NOT allowed to use in childbirth, the manyfacturer is strongly against it, but ob/gyns still use it because they earn a lot of money with this drug. It has been proven this *&*&^ drug KILLS babies AND mothers!! So those of you who think going UC is from the dark ages may ask themselves in what age do you live, trusting people who love to cut your vagina for no reason at all! Not to mention the many times a stranger was poking and poddling with their fingers inside you during your birth. For no reason at all!! In front of your dear husbands, for crying out loud. How educated is that??

So please leave Janet alone. If you do not have anything positive and supportive to say; keep your mouth shut.

You really really do not know what you are talking about!


Michelle  April 15, 2009, 10:03 AM


Having a choice is what matters.

This baby would have likely died in the hospital.

How many babies died YESTERDAY in hospitals all over America? How many died because of malpractice.

The statisics show that homebirth is inherently safer than hospital birth.

This family just lost a baby. Shouldn’t we shoulder together with our support and love?

Stephanie April 15, 2009, 11:02 AM

I am sorry, but you people are all insensitive jerks. She has lost a child and all you can do is try to find someone to blame. As someone who has lost a child to stillbirth, I know what she is going through right now. I have lived with guilt for the last year and 2 months even though it was nothing that I did and there was nothing that could have been done to save my baby. One day his heartbeat was there, the next day it was gone. How would you feel if your life was posted all over the internet and all people could do was say things like you should be in jail? I’m sure she is feeling enough guilt herself without you people piling it on even more. People all over the world have babies without any medical assistance and sometimes babies die. People all over the world have babies with medical assistance and sometimes babies die. Why not put all doctors in jail who have ever had a baby die in their care? No, then it’s just a horrible tragedy and it’s nobody’s fault.
Janet, as someone who knows what you are going through, I am deeply sorry for your loss and I will pray for you and your family.

Carlyn April 15, 2009, 11:30 AM

i deeply believe that any birth besides freebirth is irresponsible. every mother and father should be trained in the knowledge of freebirth, and the practice of doing your own prenatal care (such as nutrition, nurturing fetus’ consciousness, educating oneself and preparing for the stages of birth and parenting, monitoring blood pressure and urine can be done at home). blood tests are optional to learn if the baby has and ‘defects’, which is mainly an abortion issue. ultrasounds (and due dates) are often unnecessary. during labor, doctors, midwives, etc. are just making educated guesses on what the birthing woman and her partner(s) should know instinctively. that’s the whole problem with interference!!!!! i will add that it is not bad to have a doctor, midwife, or emergency equipment present at birth- of course! but, i deeply believe the responsibility of birth is the mother/baby/father energy. not fear.
i think a better response to this family’s story would have been to discuss infant resucitation techniques, prolonged labor, infant monitoring during labor, and when to get help. duh. not taking the power out of the birthing woman and putting all the responsibility on a doctor, midwife or machiene!!!!!!!!! i advocate knowledge of the preganancy and birth process, and primal family power.
my heartfelt prayers and angels have been sent to the family in peace.

Hawk April 15, 2009, 12:51 PM

For something being posted on mom logic, it is strange that logic from this post is lacking.

Pregnancy is a risk. Birth is a risk. If you look up the statics, wether hospital vs home, assisted or unassisted, you will see that many women and babies die during the process. Now some may argue that those numbers can be brought down.. and indeed in some cases they might.

Such as the US having one of the worse maternal/infant death rates among civilized countries, which also has the highest rate for hospitals births. Certainly, something could be done about what we are doing in contrast with other countries who are doing better than us.

However, in cases such as this.. No one knows. Could her baby have been saved if she had been in the hospital? Perhaps, perhaps not. There are so many circumstances and variables to look at, no one here nor the author has. Interesting that though she had no midwife, people are quick to assume that she had no pre natal care at all.

The mom made a choice, as many of us mothers do. She had to assess the risk for herself and her baby. It is a hard thing to shoulder when things do not come out right. But it was on her shoulders to do so,a nd she made that choice on what she felt was best. People want to punish her because the outcome wasn’t favorable?

What of the woman that put every decision in the hands of their OBs and have tragedies? Would you like to punish them and write an article about those women as well?

annick April 15, 2009, 1:54 PM

Had she been in hospital, very likely the outcome would have been the same ! Thousands of babies die in hospitals every month. Some of them are just not made for this world…I hope her homebirth will give this mother courage to bear her loss.

AVON April 15, 2009, 7:48 PM

Free birth in Africa,all those babies live!And the moms live with holes in their intestines and urine streams because their births lasted over a week only to give birth to a dea…uh…live baby !FREE BIRTH FREEDOM! Arrest all the Grey aliens,and the mens,and the womens doctors, taking babies away from their moms who had probes stuck up their personals.
See NOVA walking to be beautifull
and see INTRUDERS ;you’ll learn the beauty of child birth there.Turn off your TLCs,your Discovery Health,Your We! Let us unite on FREEBIRTH day in Africa!

Mouse^^^ April 15, 2009, 8:01 PM

I can’t believe that people are so heartless that they would throw accusations out at a woman who has just lost her child!!!!!!!!!! You have no idea whether or not this child would have lived if she had birthed at a hospital.
YES I do take this personally! I just lost my own son on March 2nd and birthed him on March 3rd. He had IUGR and I had been refused care through my entire pregnancy.Yes you read correctly REFUSED by 16 providers including a high risk ob. I finally convinced the highob to see me but that was at 40 weeks, 16 hours after Nathan had already died. I did birth him in a hospital but with out any dr or nurses in the room, I still had my UBA2C. I also had 3 drs tell us that nothing could have prevented what had happened.
Janet and any women who choose to birth unassisted or assisted know the risks they have even in the hospital. There is more of a risk for me to birth in a hospital then at home unassisted.
Janet, my heart goes out to you and your family. I understand the pain and emotions that you will go through. My prayers are with you.

La Lagomorph April 16, 2009, 12:52 AM

Sending prayers of comfort & compassion to Ms. Fraser. Babies die in hospitals, too. And the statistics are not as black & white in favor of the safety of the hospital as the public has been led to believe. Not at all. It’s easy to point the finger at whatever is ‘different’ from what any individual thinks, or what ‘the majority’ thinks. I’m familiar with a case where a friend’s best friend lost a baby in a birthing center with a midwife in attendance and all emergency equipment available. My friend immediately grieved her friend’s reliance on ‘that natural stuff,’ and desperately wished her friend had gone completely for the mainstream medical management mindset (of epidural & domino effect leading to c-section), sure that that would have saved the baby. As information came to light about what happened, the hard data said that nothing could have been done, in any setting, to save the baby. It was just one of those things. Sometimes babies die. My point is that any of us are arrogant to assume we *know* why a baby died, and especially in a case like this, where none of us personally know the details, how can we say the baby would surely have lived in a hospital? We don’t know that! Maybe someone else has information/knows something we don’t. And maybe anyone can think & learn and have access to information besides only the ‘experts’ - who alone get the majority vote for being able to ‘handle’ knowledge.

fulltimehuman April 16, 2009, 3:43 AM

My opinion is that any one who says this woman should be charged with a crime also would think that if she had made it to the hospital, and the baby died the doctor should be charged with murder, and to me that logic does not work in all directions, front to back, therefore is flawed and untrue. Babies die in birth sometimes, so lets just make birth itself illegal to cover all bases or just attack this case because we think she deserves punishment? That seems strange.

Tina April 16, 2009, 6:51 AM

You cannot compare women birthing without the OPTION to go to hospital with those choosing unattended birth who have access to hospital if complications should occur. It is true that many women and children die in childbirth - most of them in 3. world countries - every year. But in almost all of these cases the women are in poor health and have no access at all to medical care. You cant compare this with women who have the option to seek medical care if complications occur. Most UC’ers surely intend to seek medical care if they NEED it. They transfer to hospital if they experience unexpected complications, they call paramedics if something is wrong with baby and they perform their own prenatal care. Such as urine samples, bloodpressure readings etc.

Noël April 16, 2009, 8:00 AM

My heart goes out for Janet and her husband. The choice to have a freebirth is made by heart & mind. The fact that their baby died is not because of a wrongly made choice, but a defect of the baby’s heart….
Also my heart goes out for those too ignorant to make their own descissions. Those who rely on others to have a ‘good birth’ and are too far out of their ‘own’ to trust on the birth as a natural event of mother and baby, going to the next phase… being together-apart, outside the womb.
Please, let these loving parents have their time to morn and do not judge them. They were not ignorant and were well prepared for this birth.
Still, my heart goes out mostly to them. I hope everyone will respect their grief.

Noël, due today and hope to deliver soon, at home, alone with my husband and kids…

sociallyskilled April 16, 2009, 10:37 AM

In the Dark Ages, women commonly had vitamin deficiencies that prevented their bones from forming right. Women often died because babies could not come through the deformed pelvis. They also didn’t know about germs and sanitization, so a doctor would come straight off performing an autopsy and stick his hand into a woman’s uterus after she gave birth, and then she would “mysteriously” die of childbed fever.

We are not facing these problems today. The problems we ARE facing is the increased maternal and infant death rate due to increased number of c-sections in hospitals. The World Health Organization says that no more than 10% of women should need c-sections. US rates are climbing over 35%, and you are much more likely to die during a c-section than a vaginal delivery.

Plus, cardiac arrest in an infant is not a symptom of vaginal birth gone wrong. This would have occurred had the mother been in a hospital or at home.

Remember before you post, that this is an article about a mother who lost a child. I hope she never gets directed here and sees all these mean and judgmental comments.

Gail Cooke April 16, 2009, 10:58 AM

I just need an explanation over why a person would put themselves and her baby in such danger. What if it’s breach? What if something goes terribly wrong and the ambulance can’t there on time? What if the person who is with you doesn’t recognize the danger and doesn’t call the ambulance until it is WAY too late? Giving birth isn’t like going to lunch in the park. It can be very dangerous. In previous generations a LOT of women died during the process. Why, even if you don’t value you’re own life, would you put your baby in such peril? How can you call that being a responsible parent? I’m not saying that you HAVE to go to a hospital. Just saying that maybe someone with some medical knowledge should be there (ie: a midwife or whatever). I don’t care if you have your baby at your house…what I care about is that lives are not in peril. I think it’s so foolish to forgoe medical care in countries where it is available. But to clarify, I don’t agree with random medical procedures that are just done for the doctor’s wallet.

Lindsay April 16, 2009, 3:18 PM

This was probably the most judgemental, narrow minded, and outright heartless article I have ever read. I’m not even a UCer and I’m pretty upset over it.

Firstly, you have no idea how much this woman did in her pregnancy as far as tests, just because she didn’t go to a doctor doesn’t mean she didn’t check her BP, weight, fundal height, or use urine strips herself. You also have no idea why she had a previous c/s, and we don’t know how truly ‘emergent’ it was.

We also have no idea if this baby actually died becuase of a UC or if he would have died anyway. Babies die in hospitals too, and when they do, it’s pretty rare that you see several hospital bashing articles crop up, even if the death was caused by the hospital. Anyone remember the Cytotec disasters? That wasn’t even that long ago! AND it’s still being used.

Childbirth did used to be dangerous, but do a little research and you’ll find it was even worse when it went to the hospitals. Also the danger was for reasons no longer applicable, such as poor undernourished women giving birth or rich women not getting enough sun and wearing corsets that deformed their pelvises. Also germ theory was unknown at the time. There are actually more germs in the hospital than anywhere else, you’re less likely to get an infection giving birth in your clean home. It’s true that Western Medicine can save some lives in some cases, but if it’s overly used, you get what we have in the US -a true crisis where our death rate is sky high, as high as some third world countries. And the US is one of the only developed nations to have 99% of it’s women giving birth in the hospital. If Western Medicine is so great, why doesn’t it save more lives here?

Mainly, I’d just like to say: this woman just lost her child, and instead of showing a little compassion, you slammed her and accused her of reckless endangerment. No matter what she said previously about doctors or midwives or how outspoken she was, she doesn’t deserve this. Shame on you.

Desiree April 16, 2009, 4:40 PM

Wow, what has happened to humanity? A baby dies due to unpreventable circumstances and we scream to string up the mother? What is wrong with this society we live in now? What is wrong with all of you? A few women here have compassion such as sociallyskilled and Eugenie but what is the excuse the rest will give? My greatest compassion goes out to this mother and I hope that she finds those of us who actually care for another human being instead of you horrid excuses of such.

Gail Cooke April 16, 2009, 5:00 PM

Desiree: I feel sorry for the baby…

How do you know that the death wasn’t preventable? The police are investigating according to this article. Maybe the death wasn’t preventable, but what if it was? The baby would still be dead. The mother had a choice of whether to have someone who could actually ascertain whether it was or wasn’t but chose not to have a competent professional attending. As far as I’m concerned if you don’t have someone to make sure the baby is safe, you are negligent. And if it was preventable, someone will have to live with that guilt for their of her life. Probably in jail. It’s foolish to take such a risk. I would not want to know that my baby would still be alive if I had someone competent attending. Would you?

Anonymous April 16, 2009, 5:57 PM

And here I thought female OBGYNs had saved women from the horrors of the hospital nightmares.So am I to believe that female OBGYNS and the female nurses are in the birthrape too?I mean if you’re rightfully concerned with BirthRape why not ask for a female doc?’cuz it sounds like female docs working at a hospital can’t be trusted either.
Birth Rape?!

aerialla April 16, 2009, 6:09 PM

I have seen one comment after another bashing hospitals and medical professionals on the topic and had to weigh in. What would be said if this mother had lost her own life and not just her child. Complications can arise at any moment without adequate medical help. With the birth of my first daughter my blood pressure shot so high so quickly that would it have not been for a quick nurse I would have died and my child as well. While I feel incredibly sorry for this woman because of her own arrogance and fear she may or may not ever know if she caused the death of her own child. Hospitals are not the evil monsters so many on here have portrayed them to be.

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