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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
debbie April 28, 2009, 9:38 PM

I am a homebirth advocate. The VERY REAL POSSIBILITY OF DEATH exists in the hospital as well. The baby may have suffered cardiac arrest in the hospital. Many of the VOICES that purport to speak for these babies are the very same voices that are perfectly fine with abortion! No matter the consequences, the choice should be ours…If I can choose to abort, I should certainly be able to risk death to bring forth life. I’ve had 9 babies at home - a few unassisted.

Donna April 29, 2009, 5:47 AM

So I gave birth to my second child, a healthy full-term boy, at home under the care of a certified professional midwife. I was under the care of a physician and planned a hospital birth for my third child, another seemingly healthy full-term boy, and he was born still. Would he have survived a homebirth? No. Would my midwife have been vilified, charged with a crime and striped of her livelihood and professional integrity if he would have died under her care? Probably. Would the entire nascent home-birth midwifery profession in my state suffered dire consequences for my loss? Very likely. Just for the record the hospital where I delivered my stillborn son and the physician who provided my pre-natal care are both doing very well – thank you.

Babies die. They die in planned hospital births more often than they die in planned, professionally assisted homebirths. Doctors are heroic scalpel wielding demi-gods with (smoke and mirror) “power” over life and death, or, sometimes humans who make mistakes. Midwives are witches; playing with fire they have been deemed to have no right to, awaiting crucifixion for one small, human mistake or even a mistake that was not theirs but god’s.

Hospital based maternity care and the interventions that go with it are at best like wearing a seatbelt - a way for all involved to say they did everything they were suppose to and therefore everything they could to preserve life. Sometimes seatbelts don’t save lives. But man if you die without one on than that surly was the cause and you have only yourself to blame.

Sometimes babies just die and there is no one to blame.

BecauseIJustDid May 1, 2009, 8:34 PM

I am concerned that this woman refused all forms of medical support. (Prenatal care). While I am an advocate of Educated FreeBirth, I am not a fan of those going blindly. I am all for trusting instincts and your body, but when you’ve already had a baby via c-section, I believe it qualifies your need for a midwive.

Most likely, this baby had serious heart problems in utero and could have died or been in serious care either way, a factor she could have been able to take into consideration with some prenatal care under her belt.

Even though I do support her decision to do it, I hesitate to say I support her not getting any prenatal care, even a few appointments could have changed things, when it comes to heart problems.

Crystal May 1, 2009, 9:45 PM

QUOTE - 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.

Uhhh I think you got that backwards. I’ve given birth 5 times, the only time my life was ever in danger was when I went to the hospital.

Mike May 5, 2009, 2:29 AM

People who describe medical or midwife examinations or interventions as a type of “rape” are generally regarded to have a personality disorder or be mentally ill. This poor woman needed psychiatric care for her delusional views, not backslapping from a bunch of her equally unstable internet buddies.

Poor child.

misty May 8, 2009, 8:20 PM

there is a lot of talk about his woman losing her child. and one reply stated another losing hers. that’s 2 so far that i’ve heard about losing a baby with a home birth. but there is baby’s and mother’s dying everyday because of what hospitals and doctors do. and over half the time the mother don’t is not even in the loop about what’s going on. you people want to bad mouth her for her choice. do your research first. more people die in the hospital!!!!! plan and simple…
even if her baby was born in a hospital it had a heart attach. i know a woman that lost her baby in the hospital because the drug they gave her caused her baby to have a heart attach, but no one is blaming the hospital. for that baby’s death when they are the ones that killed it.

shara jenkins May 8, 2009, 9:39 PM

“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.”
Where did you get your information for this? That has to be your opinion…Childbirth is a completely natural process that women have been doing since the beginning of time.

Rachel May 11, 2009, 11:41 PM

How sad for her and her family. The saddest part is though that no one would be being investigated if this had happened in the hospital. Not all babies live. That is a fact of life,

Gail Cooke May 12, 2009, 1:59 AM

My question is, how do you people know that the baby wouldn’t have lived if it would have been in the hospital?

Everyone is so holier than thou about not having a baby in the does it serve anyone to have a problem in delivery and noone to help if there is a problem? Doesn’t seem to serve anyone. Least of all the child. Let’s all go back to the Dark Ages and have children home and possibly have to have a dozen kids to make up the mortality rate.

Misty May 13, 2009, 2:49 AM

Misty,whats a heart attach?
Last I heard it sound like cardiac failure but heart attach?!are you that dumb?
I heard a story of baby born with it’s heart on the outside.In the HOSPITAL the doctors saved the boy by putting the misplaced organ in it’s proper place.I wonder this woman would have done had that happened in her feminine cause disquised as freebirth nonesense.In other cases babies have been born with other organs on the OUTSIDE of their abdomonial cavity,but the HOSPITAL staff make quick interventions to help save the child.If this bad attitude towards our doctors and nurses is real,than guess what;don’t go to the hospital anymore!You’ll be one less person getting in the way of another person seeking help.If you are so educuated then why are YOU so DUMB enough to seek hospital care in the first place.Go elsewhere and leave the staff free to work on the rest of us.It’ll be one less ungratefull person to pour attention to.My greatest love to all the nurses and OBGYNs out there!
-a womyn’s biggist enemy is her own self(ishness)

Dr. P May 14, 2009, 2:09 AM

Myself, having been a unassisted homebirth, I decided to have an unassisted home waterbirth….in fact, ALL 3 of my babies were UCs. We had a nuchal cord and hemorrhage with #1, 4.5 WEEKS late and 10 pounder with a nuchal hand with #2, and #3 was only 12 days late. The last 2, I was in labor for 2 days. The first one was 29 hours. They ALL would have been c/s, but I don’t want to be part of the victimized society we live in. Babies die in the hospital and they die at home. EVERY single mother on the planet needs to know that neonatal death is a possiblity - at home AND in a hospital. Being self-righteous by judging Janet Fraser is disgusting. I don’t encourage people to have a UC, but I don’t look down on people who have a scheduled c/s. I had a friend who had a baby at the hospital and the intervention directly killed her AND her baby. I don’t blame her for choosing a hospital birth. Perhaps a little sympathy might go a long way. She’s still a mom, mourning the loss of her baby. What if that was you? Don’t burn her at the stake for a decision that didn’t go along with your belief system.

Yyjxqpzr June 22, 2009, 9:43 AM

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UBACmum June 22, 2009, 4:18 PM

I am stunned at the article. So much ignorance surrounds UP/UC. If you write an article about it at least have the brains to do a little research. So many factors are involved here. What caused her baby to go into cardiac arrest? Even if her baby was in the hospital it might have still died. As long as Fraser took good care of herself and looked at all the signs then she did everything in her power. Leave this poor woman alone to grieve for her child.

Stacie July 21, 2009, 6:40 PM

“A large-scale study in the Netherlands has found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births. Whether you give birth in the hospital or in the comforts of your own home, the stats are the same.”

Jill August 29, 2009, 8:03 PM

Babies die every day in hospitals. I gave birth to my third child, unassisted. The first two were injured in childbirth due to an impatient doctor (so said her pediatrician) and the second suffered from an overload of pitocin. I distinctly remember the doctor saying the pitocin was too strong, to shut it off. Why was pitocin used? Because it was two weeks past the due date(never mind that I had long cycles at the time). I am not saying homebirth is for everyone, and certainly not freebirth. But are we going to start charging someone every time a baby doesn’t make it? (Though I have to admit, I never understood the fascination with waterbirths-give me a nice soft bed).

angelarose August 31, 2009, 10:33 PM

Most of these comments are incredibly insensitive and uninformed. Ultimately God’s will prevails. My nephew was born 1. Lbs and beautiful, but braindead due to medical error, a cascade of interventions that started with unneccessary induction. No one was blamed. No one, not the doctor, not the nurses and least of all not my sister in law. Nit it was established that he died during labor, an incredibly stressful labor. I dreniethed my first and only child. I was led in my spirit to birth that way. I trusted that God would take me through whatever happened and am trusting god still.

A. S. September 25, 2009, 2:25 PM

I find it to be very irresponsible reporting to say that because this baby died after being born at home that home birth must be dangerous.

Our census research clearly shows that fewer babies and mothers are lost during home births. Sometimes babies die in birth. Just because the mother birthed the baby at home does not mean that the baby died because of it. Far more babies die in hospitals, but you don’t see any sensational articles written about them or about how many babies hospitals supposedly kill.

I realize that sensationalism sells, but to blame a baby’s death on a home birth is irresponsible, especially since the baby did not die from the home birth, but from cardiac arrest. It could have happened in a hospital, too. Home birth does not cause heart attacks. What if she had birthed in the hospital and it had had the heart attack while sleeping in the nursery there? My best friend’s baby was born with a large hole in his heart and being born in a hospital did not help him at all.

This mother did what she did out of love for her baby. She wanted to do what she thought was best. Accidents happen. Riding in an automobile is dangerous. Does that mean we should report all parents to CPS who put their children in the car? What if they DIED!

The death of a child is a sad, sad story, but sensationalist writing to harm the mother who did all she could is just cruel and ignorant.

Anonymous September 29, 2009, 9:03 PM

if you want to throw anyone in jail it should be women who abort their babies and the doctors who assist them!!!!

No one is protesting and trying to jail doctors for making a wrong decision that killed a baby while assisting a hospital birth.

There is no doubt she should have had prenatal care and an ultrasound that may have showed a heart problem.

NelsonBig October 8, 2009, 2:55 PM

Funny. This article doesn’t mention the countless infant deaths that occur in hospitals from cross contamination. It also doesn’t mention the bacteria that can enter a woman through her cervix when countless doctors insert items in the cervix during pregnancy. I doesn’t mention that lying on her back and being restrained is the worst possible way to have a baby besides standing on her head. It also doesn’t state that they tell a woman not to drink or do drugs during pregnancy. Yet, they dope her up AND THE BABY during labor so that it can go quicker. This is a lame scare tactic. Women need to take power of their bodies back.

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