by MIA FREEDMAN
This idea does my head in.
Freebirthing. Where women are encouraged to shun all medical attention during pregnancy. Imagine. No obstetric check ups. Not antenatal care. No ultrasounds. No tests for the baby - or the mother for that matter. And then there’s the birth itself. Solo. Just you and your baby. Best of luck.
This growing movement of (predominantly) women who loath ‘the medicalisation of birth’ will emphatically tell you that women are physiologically designed to give birth alone, far away from medical intervention. Without even a midwife in attendance. Your body, they will tell you, innately knows how to give birth.
Until, that is, something goes unexpectedly wrong.
Take a look at this (devastating) news report:
In Australia, the Joyous Birth website is one of the leading advocates of the Freebirthing movement. But what nobody on the Joyous Birth website will tell you is that this practice of ‘Freebirthing’ led to the tragic death of its founder’s baby.
Last week Jane Fraser – one of Australia’s leading Freebirth advocates – was criticised by a coroner over the 2009 death of her daughter. Experts have confirmed that Fraser’s newborn daughter Roisin would probably have survived if a midwife had been in attendance or if Fraser had been in a hospital or birth centre. Instead Fraser chose to labour at home for five days, eventually giving birth in a blow up plastic pool in her study with just her partner and best friend in attendance. None of the three had any medical training.
You can read more about the case here.
This isn’t a post designed to savage Janet Fraser’s decision to Freebirth her daughter Roisin. When a baby dies it is a tragedy, pure and simple. It’s something I’m painfully aware of.
No. You see it’s not Fraser’s past actions that get me the most riled up. It’s her current ones. Because despite the fact that Freebirthing is the reason Roisin died, Fraser and other members of the Joyous Birth movement are still actively advocating the practice of Freebirth as a safe, desirable option to other mothers on the Joyous Birth website.
And that is what I find reprehensible.
Take a look at some of the information Joyous Birth presents to unsuspecting parents about the pros, cons and philosophy of Freebirthing:
The idea behind unassisted childbirth (UC) is that if the mother is left to birth without any birth authority other than herself to rely on, she will birth as she is physiologically meant to.
With no outside authority to look to and validate her actions, the mother will turn deep within herself and be open to the primal birthing knowledge that is innate in all of us women.
We may not consciously know what to do in the event of so and so complication, but our bodies and our instincts do. Put simply, UC is a leap of faith, and you don’t even have to be religious to do it.
The safest and most responsible birth is one where the mother knows that she needs no one present to birth her baby other than herself. She knows that she has all the necessary primal knowledge that will make itself available to her at the right times.
She knows this knowledge will manifest in actions, feelings and instinct, not conscious, logical thought, and it will prevent and avoid most problems. She educates herself and prepares herself for birth by confronting her fears and researching the “what if’s”, keeping in mind that all she needs is trust in birth, in her abilities and in her baby.
She is positive and confident. Birth is a joyous experience, and she will claim it for her and her baby!
And in the detailed list of 8 ‘Pros’ of Freebirth, they say thisFreedom to drink, eat, yell, scream, laugh, cry, express emotions and feelings, wander around, bake a cake, cuddle your kids, play a game, sleep, relax, have outrageous wild sex (or quietly make love). Basically whatever the hell you feel like doing – all without disturbance or inhibitions due to visitors or strangers.
Responsibility for birth, baby and mother lies with you and your partner.
Staggeringly, the ‘cons’ list contains only two points:
If there is a true emergency, there may be a delay in receiving care while you transport to hospital.
You may have difficulty getting support from family/friends if they know you’re freebirthing.
No mention of death. No mention that the Joyous Birth’s founder Janet Fraser lost her baby girl during a Freebirth.
And the Joyous Birth website is not the only one preaching the wonders of this reckless practice.
The Freebirth Australia website is run by Lisa Morgan who says in her introduction: “I have gone from midwife attended homebirth, to a freebirth with my then-partner present, to a solo family birth as a single mother with only my children present.”
With only her children present? Imagine if there had been complications during that birth. My God…..
Like every post we do that involves the death of a baby or mother during birth, we did not publish this one lightly. Yes, there is a real family involved. Who are grieving. And no matter the circumstances of their baby’s death, it’s a tragic, awful situation. But in the case of Janet Fraser and the death of her baby daughter Roisin during a ‘free birth’ at home, the circumstances do matter. They matter very much.
Because the circumstances of this birth are what led to the death of baby Roisin, from a lack of oxygen caused when she became entangled in her umbilical cord during labour, a labour that went for five days without any medical attention or supervision.
This type of birth, Freebirth, was the express wish of Janet Fraser and – presumably – her partner, Roisin’s father who can be heard on the utterly heartbreaking tape of the 000 phone call made after the baby’s birth and death in the video report above.
Janet and her partner chose a Freebirth for Rosin – Janet’s third child – despite Roisin’s birth being known by Janet and her partner to be a high-risk birth. Her second birth had ended in an emergency caesarean and Janet had been traumatised by it, according to evidence she gave to the coroner.
Janet Fraser is not just an individual who made a choice that went horribly wrong. She is a passionate advocate and campaigner for the process of Freebirth.
While the site contains dozens of glowing, rapturous stories, nowhere on the Joyous Birth website are there any stories of free births gone wrong. And that disturbs me greatly. Because just like the absurdly and duplicitously named Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) which pretends to be a source of credible information about vaccination but is in fact a vehicle for alarmist misinformation and rubbish, the Joyous Birth website does not paint an accurate picture of Freebirth.
And like the AVN, it actively seeks to persuade vulnerable, naive parents to make potentially deadly choices about the way they give birth or look after their child’s health.
So why do I care? When we’ve published stories about the dangers of Freebirth in the past, some commenters have questioned my own motivations. Do we write these articles ‘for traffic’? Hardly.
These posts unleash a shitstorm of abuse directed at me from birthing ‘advocates’ who come after me with untold aggression and personal slurs.
So why do it?
My motivation is more personal. I lost a baby halfway through my second pregnancy. Nobody could ever tell me why. It was just one of those things. I have friends like Bec Sparrow who lost babies even later. Bec’s daughter Georgie was stillborn at 36 weeks. I have other friends who have lost babies to SIDS or when they were infants.
Why do I feel so passionately about women who knowingly choose to risk their babies – and their own – lives by Freebirthing with no medical support? Because those babies could all have been saved.
My friends and I and the thousands of women who have lost babies during pregnancy, birth or afterwards never had that choice. We didn’t have the luxury of thumbing our nose at a hospital, doctor or a midwife who could have saved our babies’ lives.
So that’s where I’m coming from.
I’m not encouraging personal attacks on Janet Fraser. I’m not suggesting a witch hunt. The tragic and devastating consequence of their decision to freebirth their daughter is something that family must live with forever. I’m not without compassion for them or their plight.
However the thought that there are ‘advocates’ – including Janet Fraser herself - who are not only making that reckless decision for their own babies and their own bodies but who are trying to convince other women to take those same unforgiveable risks? While withholding crucial information about the death of baby Roisin due to Freebirthing?
I find that distressing and disturbing beyond belief.