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Why do free-birthers seem so full of anger?

I’ve spent a lot of hours over Easter reflecting on the extraordinary discussion that has unfolded here over the past few days since I posted on the tragic death of free-birth crusader, Janet Fraser’s baby and my bafflement as to why anyone would take such massive risks by eschewing all form of medical support during birth.
In the days that followed my post, I’ve read every single comment – and the thread is still going strong. It has been fascinating and heart-breaking and informative. Hundreds of comments have been left, hundreds of stories and thoughts shared and the tone of the comments could not be more different to my experience writing about this on Essential Baby when the freebirthers came after me with flaming sticks.

I do feel like I’ve learned a little more about the reasons some women have for choosing to birth at home and I also sympathise with those home birthers who are furious with the freebirthing movement for their radical stance, something many home birthers believed has tarnished the image of home birth and the women who always have a trained midwife by their side. A distinction should be made between home-birthing and freebirthing and I am happy to make it. I am talking here solely about the practice of FREEBIRTHING.

Because the freebirthers? The women who choose to give birth at home without ANY medical support? Who choose not to even have their baby’s heart monitered during labour? That’s another very different story. To further try and understand the headspace of a freebirther and to educate myself, I spent some time over Easter on the Joyous Birth website. I also looked at many of the forums. One commenter had posted an article about freebirthing that recently appeared in the Age by John Elder who had interviewed Janet Fraser during her labour.


There were 14 pages of comments after this article, all viciously abusive of the journalist and everyone quoted in the article who raised concerns about free-birthing. The comments were accompanied by emoticons denoting anger, fury, calling the men in the article wankers…..it was vile and extreme.

Why such anger? Where does this fury come from? Why the need to refer to medical intervention in a birth as “birthrape”?

In the signatures under the comments, most of the women listed their children and the way they came into the world. One woman wrote: Mama to Josh (2003 birthrape), Marnie (2005 homebirth) and Jack (2008 glorious freebirth). This stopped me in my tracks. Firstly, the idea of defining yourself LET ALONE YOUR CHILD by how they were born? Really? Secondly, I find the term ‘birthrape’ to be repugnant. How dare they use that word to describe the way a baby was born, no doubt by well-meaning medical professionals who did what they THOUGHT was neccessary to ensure the safe delivery of their baby. Doctors are humans who do their best. They are not rapists, dear God…..

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The headline on the Joyous Birth homepage is “2009: The Year Of Birth Trauma Awareness”. Look, I know many women have had traumatic births. Many of them have posted here and we all have our stories. I acknowledge that there are some women for whom intervention was unneccessary and plenty of women whose births turned out very differently from the way they expected. I’ve had one of those myself.

But to define yourself by it, to turn your life into an angry, hate-fueled crusade against doctors and hospitals and anyone who dares question your RIGHT to birth alone at home? That to me seems to be rather missing the point of having a baby. With the greatest respect and compassion to anyone who has had a traumatic birth, I say go and get some therapy and then try to leave your anger behind and move on.

The other thing about the Joyous Birth site that I found extremely disturbing, was the way the forum threads about miscarriage and still birth were locked. The site claims this is for ‘privacy’ but how convenient, to lock away all the tales of what can happen when things go wrong and you are at home without medical support trying to have a glorious freebirth.

Since the purpose of the site is to promote the practice of freebirth and to encourage pregnant women to choose it as their method of delivery, surely it is beholden on the Joyous Birth movement to be transparent about what these women are risking? Similarly, there is no mention of what happened to Janet Fraser’s baby. None. Another commenter here claimed that all mentions and threads relating to what happened have been deleted. There is not a single comment, not a single discussion about it.

Obviously, the Fraser family are grieving for the loss of their precious baby and no doubt that is something they wish to do in private. They must be shattered into a million pieces.  But where does that leave the Freebirthing movement? What do they say about the fact that sometimes, it’s not so joyous. Sometimes, it’s utterly utterly tragic. Perhaps that baby would have died in a hospital. That is for the coroner to decide.

But to so aggressively attack other women for their birth choices and to attack doctors and hospitals and peddle misinformation and call intervention ‘birthrape’? Well, I believe that requires the freebirthers to front up to the criticism and the questions and keep their discussions transparent when something goes wrong as it so tragically has.

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