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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
Serenyd April 17, 2009, 8:37 PM

Babies die in the hospital too. I should know, I work in one.

onwy April 18, 2009, 8:40 AM

Yes, female docs and nurses are part of the birthrape scene. I was violated by a string of L&D nurses, all female. They coerced, the padded the truth, the played on my emotions, and I was violated. From what I remember of Janet’s writings, she too was violated by a female OB. Her definition of birthrape, and it’s one I agree with, is penetration of a women’s body *against her consent.* If a woman is screaming “NO! STOP!” and procedures are done anyway, doesn’t that sound violating? My heart goes out to Janet. I hope that if it is to be, that we find out the autopsy results soon, and finally lay to rest whether this was preventable or not. In either case, she has and deserves my sympathy.

Peggy Gorman April 18, 2009, 11:33 AM

A family lost so much and who is to say the baby would have been ok with medical help. Its something we don’t know

Fleur April 19, 2009, 8:01 AM

I suspect Janet needed an emergency c-section and the baby was so stressed after being in labour for so long. Sometimes we have to accept that we need help and there’s nothing we can do about it. I feel very sad for Janet and her family - it is a terrible loss under any circumstance.
I too suffered a terrible first birth ending in a unwanted c-section. Although I considered homebirth (never freebirthing) I decided to try to birth naturally in a hospital. I did this twice vaginally (drug free and naturally) and am so grateful for the experience and my 2 gorgeous daughters. The help was there if I needed it…

Eugenie April 19, 2009, 9:26 AM

Hi Fleur,

Janet never labored for ‘so long’. These are lies and I wonder why you believe instantly everything what you read? Do you know the facts? No. So why are judging, or even thinking that you know what you are talking about? You do not.

Did you talk to Janet? No. So how could you say she needed an emergency section?

Shaking head,
The Netherlands

Anonymous April 19, 2009, 9:53 AM

Actually, the infant mortality rate went up as a result of births moving from the home to the hospital in the early 1900’s.  I don’t appreciate the ignorant statement that “Childbirth has gone from being the single most dangerous event in a woman’s life to something routine. [thanks to] Western medicine”  I don’t see that statement backed up by anything but poplular belief and assumptions.  I also think that completely unnassisted home birth is not smart at all. 

JustTheFacts April 19, 2009, 5:22 PM

What attempt has been made to verify the story you’ve published? The factual inaccuracies are staggering. You should look up the difference between stillbirth and neonatal death. You may also want to consider removing the mother’s name or at least adding the word ‘allegedly’ before publishing slander passed off as news.

Mary April 20, 2009, 4:50 AM

I cannot comment on this, as what the hell do I really know? But—I had a terrible experience with the head nurse at the hospital (I also had a midwife who was wonderful). I was examined without permission, made to sign and agree to drugs I did not want when husband and doula were out of room, belittled, yelled at, had to beg for my bra, wanted to be covered but denied……I am not going back.

Anonymous April 20, 2009, 1:03 PM

So many of these comments question if the baby would have died at the hospital anyhow- More than likely NOT, due to the CONSTANT fetal heart monitoring. There are signs of distress, and interventions that are done in the case of fetal metabolic acidosis, -non reassuring fetal heart rates, which are tell-tale signs that the baby is in danger. Nurses and doctors are TRAINED to deal with these situations, and no matter how much someone may just “research” online, that does NOT take the place of years of experience one needs to deliver babies. The scary thing is that the majority of these comments are from women who probably don’t have a clue as to what that is. Giving birth is a very serious time in a woman’s life. It’s not just pushing a few times, and the baby is out, no problem. There are more problems that may arise than one would think, and that is why an emergency c-section is called an Emergency! Things can change for the worse in a matter of seconds- I don’t think a lot of woman realize that. My point: the baby could have possibly lived if this woman was in the hospital (We will never know, though)…nurses and doctors could have seen signs of distress and proceeded with a c-section- of course no one goes into a birth desiring a c-section, but look at the alternative. Who’s interest, not desire, are we looking out for at that point?

Mimi April 20, 2009, 1:34 PM

To each his or her own. The loss of her child is unfortunate. There are those who feel completely comfortable delivering at home. I am not one of those people and would take the hospital any day over a home birth. That being said, my hat is off to anyone who feels safe in having a homebirth, if assisted. A death of a child is horrible no matter what the circumstance.

Avinash April 20, 2009, 7:27 PM

It is so sad that Janet decided against medical intervention. The person who had to pay the price for her decision is her baby. Is such an act not a crime tantamount to killing your own baby???

Carrie Ann April 21, 2009, 1:51 PM

Don’t be stupid. The perinatal mortality rate is much higher for hospital births than homebirths. Why don’t you do a story about that. Things happen regardless of location.

Carrie Ann April 21, 2009, 2:03 PM

Oh and most people seem to think that we are all stupid if we don’t have a degree in medicine. Hello? You can READ and LEARN how to deal with most complications; as I have done.

show me the numbers April 23, 2009, 3:06 AM

More babies die in hospitals because more babies are born in hospitals.The math behind the freebirth group is flawed…as less babies are birthed at home(and even less freebirthed).Sweet Janet,if as smart as she thinks she is,should show us the percentage death rate from Hospital birth,Home birth and Free birth ADJUSTED in accordence with the sheer unequal numbers of the respected practice:free/home/hospital/alien/whatever birth.Also if women OBGYNs and Nurses (birth)RAPE,then we must come to consider adding the names of each of these women to a sex offender list.Now I see why Melissa Huckabee is no fluke;as it turns out,according to freebirth women,women (birth)RAPE women all the time.

Sherrycnm April 23, 2009, 5:58 AM

For everyone feeling so judgemental, has it occurred to you that this baby may have died IN the HOSPITAL also. I’d like to have seen this mom with help at her birth but her feelings about poor care are warranted. Shall we jail moms who let someone induce or section with a bad outcome-get real. You might want to examine what happens in traditional prenatal care-no life saving going on!

SesshoumarusGirl April 23, 2009, 4:29 PM

Those of you are are calling for charges to be brought against this woman, are morons. Its called having automony over your body and making choices acorddingly.

And YES, there are Dr’s and Nurses out there that are pushy and don’t give a flying fig about a womans autonomy and just do what they want. However, there are many who actually know what “no” means and are reasonable . . so we shouldn’t over generalize.

This mothers choice isn’t mine, but I defend her right to make it.

ariel April 23, 2009, 6:14 PM

My question is for all the women who believe in the concept of “Birth Rape” If you don’t like the way a nurse or a doctor is treating you, request another. If they are doing something to you that you don’t want done, kick and scream and create a fuss. I personally think this concept is going to extremes. If a doctor/nurse assisted birth is considered rape could not an unborn child be considered a parasitic body. That’s how far fetched this concept is to me. If some women are so tramatized by something being put into their vagina’s then maybe they should have thought twice about having sex. How many women who are doing this silly free birth procedure have enough medical knowledge to give birth on their own and deal with any and all consequences that may arise. Evidently Janet Fraser wasn’t or her baby could quite possibly still be alive. Just because you read all the medical texts and think you can do it, doesn’t make you a doctor. This woman may have cost an innocent child’s its life all for the sake of saving face and having to prove her internet community that she was right. For me the safety, health and the life of my child was a lot more important to me than yet another nurse using her fingers to see how far I was dialated and the doctor breaking my water. This story breaks my heart because a child was put at risk in an act of selfishness.

mom April 27, 2009, 1:09 PM

Thanks anon at 1:03 on 04/20. No doubt, this baby was in unrecognized fetal distress and was probably stillborn. Fetuses don’t flatline, babies don’t routinely go into cardiac arrest. There’s ample warning except if you don’t look or don’t know how.

What difference would a midwife have made? The family would be about $4000 poorer for loosing their child.

I do give freebirthers credit for recognizing that midwives pretend to know how to monitor and intervene but really don’t. I just don’t think they know how often things can go wrong.

For all those who harp that babies die in hospital too, take a look at the details of homebirth (with midwives no less) studies. Look at how and why they died. They are all causes that are obvious lies or things that could have been easily treated in a hospital.

Anonymous April 28, 2009, 1:27 AM

ariel, women are mature;kicking,screaming and creating a fuss are considered immature,childish reactions .A person engaging in such behavior,as often pointed out by teen girls all the time(who are smarter and better than any body else,even older women and who have read Twilight) would be considered immature.So a woman in that type of situation ends up being caught in a catch 22.To act mature or Immature (kicking,screaming and fussing) is the question. So we end up back at square one.

Maureen April 28, 2009, 4:04 AM

Janet may great peace surround you and your family in this great sorrow.You are loved.

As to the cardiac arrest part of this articale,we hope,wish,want desperatly to believe that the outcome would be life at the end IF the baby would have had medical care.Or IF the baby would have been montitered throughout the labour.But we know from these “perfect” circumstances that have been played out for other newborns that they have not had the opportunity to live either.Sometimes little hearts are not able to carry on outside of the womb.Sometimes they stop in the womb.This breaks our hearts.But we cannot turn on the ones that are the most broken to try and relieve our own pain and questionings.This was a mother that wanted the BEST for her baby.She never took drugs or threw her baby in the trash when she gave birth.She LOVED her baby as ANY GOOD mother does.What is our response to be?Compassion.Its the very least we can give.

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