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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
Jennifer J January 26, 2010, 6:45 PM

This is a sad story, but I don’t think unassisted birth as a whole should be condemned. It’s funny how you can hear on story of a baby dying, but you don’t hear about the thousands of successful unassisted child births. Just like the hospital doesn’t publicize how many babies die there either. It’s all about personal choice and let me tell you I had an extremely successful unassisted waterbirth at home and nothing has left me feeling more empowered. That being said, if I was in labor for a week of course I would have went to the hospital, that was just so reckless. I am studying to be a midwife, so I do feel educated enough to know if my birth isn’t going good.

mommy of 3 January 28, 2010, 10:19 AM

i understand where this women is coming from i have 3 girls when i had my 1st one the dr pulled my placenta out within 15minutes of giving birth after i got home i noticed a nasty smell coming from my crouth when i called the dr to ask him about it he yelled at me and told me he had done 1000s of births and i didnt no what i was talking about when i went in for my 6wk he said everything was fine however when my daughter was 3months old i crippled over in pain unable to take care of her but when daddy came home he grabbed me &her and drove us 5miles down the road to the closest dr office when she checked me she told me that i had a piece of placenta rotting in me and it had become infected and if i had waited any longer i wood never be able to have kids again i am now pregnate with my 4th child and plan on having a unassisted home birth (and yes if i feel i need help i will get to the hospital 5miles from my house ASAP)

Hailey February 4, 2010, 6:25 PM

Birth is not a risk. It is natural to birth…people do it everyday. Running your mouth on a subject you don’t really know about it is more of a risk.

lilolme March 15, 2010, 10:52 AM

Did anyone consider the possibility that the cardiac arrest could have happened regardless of where she gave birth? I think it’s barbaric the way we dictate what’s “right” and “wrong” and often don’t allow women legal choices. Practicing midwifery is still illegal in many states. How incredibly judgmental of all of you condemners. The poor women lost her child, and not one of you were present to know the medical details of why. It could have nothing to do with her birthing choices. The United States ranks 33rd in infant mortality yet spends more than any other country in ob and delivery. We are the laughing stock of the obstetric world. Death is a part of life that no one can avoid. I know a women who died giving birth in a hospital. Should we condemn her as well?

Anonymous March 22, 2010, 4:10 PM

Would the police be investigating the baby’s death if it had happened at the hospital? Of course not cos nothing amiss goes on there does it?

Krysten April 12, 2010, 8:30 PM

The ignorance in these comments just floors me. Instead of women supporting women and their choices, we attack someone who has just suffered a tremendous loss. Way to go everyone! Big pat on the back for two steps back for women and natural birthing everywhere.

Brittany May 3, 2010, 9:47 PM

Most OBGYNs never witness a live birth before they are allowed to practice them, the vast majority of their knowledge in medical school comes from textbooks, which anyone can read. Doctors are human just like the rest of us, their brains are no more capable of learning knowledge than a pregnant woman’s or her partner’s. Same is true for midwives.

In the hospital all three of my births were unnecessary inductions. During my first labor I had a very rude nurse who yelled at me several times and when I requested another nurse I was refused. Then after a long labor the doctor was pushing for a c-section and refused to check me and said I wasn’t progressing. When he left the room I begged the nurse to check me, to which she reported I was at ten and ready to go. After that when the doctor returned to deliver the baby he performed an unnecessary episiotomy against my will. Once they have your legs in the air and you in that position, you can object as I did, but at that point the doctor with the scissors at the other end has the final say. Then 24 hours later a nurse over swaddled the baby in an 80 degree room and they said her temperature was above normal and they took her for observation in the NICU for 4 days after. The baby underwent countless tortures including a spinal tap without ever getting a diagnosis of anything. And once you put yourself in the position of being in the hospital you have no say unless you want to challenge the doctors threats of calling child protective services for going against their all mighty medical opinion. The third birth ended in me returning to the hospital a few days later with the uterine and spinal infection I contracted from being in the hospital in the first place. Lets hear it for all those lovely teaching hospitals where they use you to teach a new intern at every shift change how to do an internal exam. Not to mention the all wonderful epidural, I wonder what would have happened had I not noticed the signs of the infection to follow. But I guess that’s just luck, a mother’s judgement to see medical warning signs is just a fluke. Like the friend of mine who told the intern who was trying to assist the delivery of her placenta to stop because it didn’t feel right, only to not be listened to and have her entire uterus pulled out of her body and nearly bled to death.

I will no longer blindly trust all medical professionals because that is what I’m supposed to do. If doctors, hospitals and midwives were so infallible then the wouldn’t need to carry malpractice insurance. If a woman is willing to educate herself about birth and has a partner who is willing to do the same and support her through the birth, then how are they any less capable than a midwife. And anyone can go on the internet and buy all the same supplies that a midwife would bring to a homebirth, including resuscitation equipment. It all comes down to responsibility. Some choose to take the responsibility on themselves and some turn it over to someone else. But why is it that when there is a bad outcome, wether in the home or in the hospital, the majority of people only want to hold accountable the unassisted homebirthers and why aren’t doctors being asked to take more responsibility, or someone calling for jail time when the prove their incompetence. All the doctors, interns, nurses, and hospitals involved in the births I previously mentioned, including when my friend almost died, are all still working as usual and have never faced any corrective action.

Denise May 29, 2010, 6:57 AM

If a woman knowingly chooses a hospital or a doctor with a c-section rate of 30% (the WHO states that a rate higher than 15% in unacceptable) & suffers a tragedy such as this, would you chastise her choices as well?
Could you back up the statement that birth was ever the single most dangerous event faced by women? And could you also rectify how we have survived as a species for as long as we did before Western med ‘saved’ us? Perhaps you could also point out which Western medical intervention is at the forefront of saving women- because here in the US the capital of medical advancement, where we spend astronomically more per mom than any other country we have among the worst fetal & maternal death & injury rates of any nation.

Katalyce May 29, 2010, 9:20 AM

That is so sad. Either way, the woman whose baby died, suffered a tragic loss because she was paralyzed by fear. If she had erred the other way, and her baby died following an “emergency c-section” this article would not have been written. :(

John May 29, 2010, 11:57 AM

This is such a bias story. The problem with deaths in early America was sanitation, environment and the fact that medicals doctors would go study dead decaying bodies and then go deliver babies without washing. Yes, true story! When one doc suggested they were causing the deaths he was called a quack for suggesting they wash their hands. Crazy eh? But true!

Not to mention, in the late 1800,s many hospitals recommended that the babies not be touched unless to feed or change them. Do not touch the babies? Yep, that was the medical advice. You can thank western medicine for that!

Kath May 29, 2010, 7:14 PM

People need to realize that no matter where the woman was, the end result is the only result that could have happened. There is NO medical intervention in the WORLD that will keep ANYONE from dying if it is their time to go. Babies included. Doctors would be advised to remember this and quit making promises that they can keep any baby from dying because that’s crap. Why didn’t the author of this article mention how many babies die in the hospital from complications due to a doctors’ negligence? Due to no reason at all? Babies die. Period. Everyone dies. Period. Let the woman grieve and leave her personal choice to birth how she wished to out of any discussion. How she chose to birth has no bearing on anyone’s outcome.

shauna  June 6, 2010, 7:17 AM

I delivered my beautiful baby boy at a hospital. I had had a normal pregnancy and delivery. Then the dovtor who didn’t want to wait for my placenta to pass on its own, and wouldn’t let me have my son to assist with nursing, pulled and tugged on my ambilical cord until he riped it out of me. I had to had sergery and three units of blood at a time when I should have just been able to rest and enjoy on of the most amazing moments of my life. Everything would have gone fine as it had with my previous deliveries if the on call emerg doctor had just left me alone and let nature take its course. The reason why he was delivered by the emerg doc was because my midwife went on holidays the day before the burth and 3 days before my due date. So in my mind though all doctors aren’t all bad, they aren’t all great either. We pay them a lot of money and give them the most precious gift and privalige of being the first hands to touch our precious babies and rarely do they deserve that gift. So what does a woman like me do now that I am expecting again and scared of doctors knowing how that fear alone will afect my ability to labor and deliver efectively. My husband and I have decided to have an unassisted home birth. His hands should be the first to touch our child. However we are being smart and very careful about it. I have succesfully delivered 5 children problem free and both my husband and I have CPR for all ages. We live 2 minutes from the fire/abulance department so they are very close if we need them. My pregnancy has been problem free and we have gone to apointments and aultra sounds to ensure a healthy baby and pregnancy. We have also preregistered at the hospital so they will be expecting us. Birth is a very personal and intimat thing and it should be the mothers choice to do as she beleives is best for her and her baby. It should be done smart though. It isn’t a competition with something to prove. I am terribly sorry to the parrents for their loss and though many are quick to jump to conclusions I think its also wise to remember that even in hospital babies and moms die. Botom line is baby making is God’s business.

Shannon July 23, 2010, 5:08 PM

You know what, there are a lot of bad doctors out there, but that is no excuse for making reckless medical decisions. I had a dentist that badgered me into a painful, expensive, unnecessary procedure, but I didn’t stop seeing dentists! I just went out and picked a better dentist. I had a friend that had liquid nitrogen dripped on her vagina (WITHOUT WARNING!!) during a routine OBGYN exam, and then rudely informed she had gential warts… only to learn later that she never had genital warts. Did that person stop going to her yearly exams? No.

Did we experience those things as medical rape? Yes. Is receiving an unnecessary c-section against your will medical rape? Yes. Does that mean you should forgo medical care and have babies on your own? No.

And as far as having a midwife goes, are they going to be able to save the life of a still born baby? No. Can a doctor? Sometimes. I’ll take my chances with the hospital… and in terms of going to the hospital if something goes wrong, I can just see myself sitting in traffic during labor, no thanks.

Shannon July 23, 2010, 9:19 PM

BTW, how can anyone say that having a baby isn’t a risk? Of course it’s a risk. And using nature as a reason for why it isn’t a risk is just silly… someone has been hanging out in Whole Foods too long. Nature doesn’t give a crap if you live or die, that’s nature. And sure women have been doing it for thousands of years. They’ve also been dying for thousands of years, and giving birth to dead babies.

It makes me wonder if they’ve stopped having people take history class. Or read books. That’s where I picked this up, not the medical establishment.

Sarah July 27, 2010, 4:22 PM

So I have a question: How can we praise or permit women to get abortions whenever they feel like it, and criticize this woman for choosing to forego medical intervention?

Anonymous August 13, 2010, 11:52 AM

I wonder how the human race came to be so prevalent if childbirth has only recently been saved by the medical community. Babies die. That’s a fact. No matter where they are born, there is ALWAYS a risk. No matter what we do everyone stands the possibility of dyeing. This article is written out of ignorance and that is the saddest thing of all.

Libby September 28, 2010, 12:14 PM

So do you know how many babies die in hospital each year?!?! Do your research!!

chase internet banking October 18, 2010, 2:04 PM

@chels I know what you mean, its hard to find good help these days. People now days just don’t have the work ethic they used to have. I mean consider whoever wrote this post, they must have been working hard to write that good and it took a good bit of their time I am sure. I work with people who couldn’t write like this if they tried, and getting them to try is hard enough as it is.

MIssie October 21, 2010, 10:32 AM

I know this article is a bit aged however I feel a need to input.

The baby died from cardiac arrest after having zero interventions..

after a week of labor (midwives call it prodromal and it is a variation of normal) a hospital would have hooked her up to pitocin and probably broken her water..

this could have made the baby die while still inside.. but that would have been ok because she would have had a doctor do it to her? thats ridiculous!!

And to defend freebirthers, of which I am one, not all unassisted births are entirely medical free.. not all freebirthers go to a doctor or midwife, that is true, however some of us will do our own prenatal care.. checking our own blood pressure, and there are many ways to check the health of the baby without the fetal monitor that is slowly going obsolete (and medical studies show that the fetal monitor itself is overused to dangerous levels as much as anything else)

This article greatly disappoints me because it uses 1 case, 1 baby, 1 tragedy in an attempt to negate the experiences of thousands of women today and billions throughout history.

Birth is not inherently unsafe, medicine does not always prevent deaths, and most of the improvement in maternal/fetal health is the information gained on cleanliness and nutrition. If birth were that dangerous we would be extinct!!

Hemorrhoid Cure November 27, 2010, 8:15 PM

Very helpful information. Thank you, looking forward to your feed updates…


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