Friday, April 17, 2009

Homebirth and Freebirth

In the past week or so I have had people ask me if my views on homebirth or shall I be more to the point, ‘freebirth’ had changed after one of the leading advocates of homebirth, Janet Fraser, lost her baby in her home at the end of March.
I have felt a little reluctant to post my views before now because of the fact that Janet and I haven’t seen “eye to eye” and I didn’t want this to be the next part of the Janet and Genie ‘saga’, but after reading so many misleading reports and article’s insinuating that Janet was somehow responsible for her daughters death, I felt compelled to answer some of the questions that I have seen asked and debated about, over the past few weeks.. Not only in defense of Janet, but in defense of the women of Australia, who are at risk of losing their right to protect themselves and their babies well being, because of misleading information and tripe sprawled over the internet.

Some of the questions asked are:
Does a death resulting after a freebirth amount to neglect and a criminal offense?
Has Janet now changed her stance on freebirth?
Does Janet feel responsible for her child’s death?
Would the baby have survived if there was a midwife present?
Is it safer to birth in hospital?
Are women who choose to birth at home, looking to fill their ego at the expense of their child’s health and well being?

The fact that Janet hasn’t even made a public statement about the events of the birth or how she feels about it, means that any opinions are just assumptions. No one knows how she feels, and no-one knows exactly what happened. I can tell you what I DO know and that is the Herald Sun’s statement that she had laboured for 5 days prior to her daughters death, is utter bullshit!!!
To those who have been in the very active phase of labour, imagine going through that for 5 days. It’s not possible. Janet is a human being, not a superhero with superhuman powers. Do you really think ANYONE would be able to do that???
Time to flick that reality switch people.
Anyone who knows anything about the birthing process knows there are phases of labour. Even if she had been labouring for 5 days (which I know she hadn’t) the first few days would have been slow and gentle. Contractions far apart, not overwhelmingly painful and plenty of opportunity to rest, eat and keep up the fluid.
People who choose to birth in hospital go through this also. They have what are called “false alarms” in the days leading up to the birth. They have regular contractions and head off to the hospital to be greeted by staff that often belittle them, make them feel like they are idiots and send them home till the “real thing” starts. The fact is they ARE in labour and there’s nothing false about it, but the hospitals don’t have the time or resources to keep labouring women in the birth suites for days at a time. This is also why when people are in hospital their labours go by the clock, if they go for too long for the hospitals ability to accommodate they rush things along.
Should have a lengthy labour concerned Janet?
Why would it? She had a lengthy labour with her other children too who are both live and well.. one of who was born at home in water. So the assumption made that a lengthy labour caused her baby to die is more than just misleading but is also ridiculous.
In most cases babies who die before, during or shortly after birth show no signs as to the cause. Usually not even an autopsy will determine the cause of death. So how on EARTH do people suddenly become enlightened as to how this baby died???
I have heard of some cases of babies born in hospitals who have died and there has been obvious causes, like broken necks from forceps deliveries or babies crushed to death from the drugs used for induction being on too high making the contractions too forceful.. Two of which are causes that CAN’T happen at home.
But people (including unborn babies and newly born babies) do suddenly die. It happens anywhere to anyone. Heart’s just stop beating, people just stop breathing. Should we be walking around with oxygen tanks and resuscitation trolleys for just in case this happens to someone we are around? Ok, so what if a midwife was able to revive her baby? Good!!! how lucky for those circumstances.
I stood on a chair to reach a vase from the top of my fridge a few weeks ago and the chair gave way. I fell onto my husband who just so happened to be next to the chair. He caught me and I wasn’t injured. It was LUCK!!! Should I always make sure I never stand on a chair unless someone is there ready to catch me?
I may slip when I mop the floor, so maybe I should call an ambulance to be on standby for incase I slip and break my ankle.
Sounds hyper vigilant and over the top hey? Well it is!!! These incidences happen OFTEN they aren’t rare at all, but people continue to stand on chairs and mop floors on their own everyday.
If a person is as informed about pregnancy, labour and birth as Janet is, then they know what to watch out for and know when to call for help. Janet birthed with precaution previously and birthed without intervention the second time around, so the faith that she has in her ability to do it without a midwife is founded.
The lengthy labour was normal to her. It didn’t kill her other children, so why should have she become concerned with her body behaving in a predictable normal way this time?
So, if a midwife was there, what would have she been able to do to save the baby? During the labour she may use a Doppler to check the fetal heart rate. So if she picks up nothing, then what? The outcome would have been the same. What happens if the heart rate was perfect up until the moment of birth? There’s no time to intervene, she would have to wait for the baby to be born and try to revive her. In most cases the chances of reviving a baby (or anybody) after their heart has stopped is very low, especially with just oxygen on hand and knowledge of CPR. Who’s to say that Janet didn’t know CPR herself anyway? I would assume that anyone who knows so much about the body would know first aid.
Let me tell you a story about the Doppler…
I attended a hospital birth around 9 years ago. The women was labouring beautifully and the only interventions happening were the occasional checks of the baby’s heart rate, by the midwife, with a hand held Doppler. The baby began to crown and inbetween contractions the midwife checked the heart rate and the heart rate she picked up suddenly was very slow. She went into panic mode and pulled out the episiotomy tray and then ran out of the room to get the resuscitation trolley and back up.
While she was gone, I whispered quietly to the Mum “I think it’s time you had your baby now”. So, she did!!! She pushed, tore and birthed a beautiful, pink, healthy, crying little girl before the midwife had the chance to even return.
I can assure you of this.. if the baby’s heart had really slowed so much and she was in such dire distress, a change of environment alone would not have been sufficient enough to revive her.
The fact is, there was nothing wrong with the baby at all. The midwife had accidentally picked up the mothers pulse by mistake and it was slow because she had been baring down. Pushing slows the heart rate.. it’s a known fact.
What would have been the outcome for this mother and baby had the midwife made this mistake hours earlier?
I can tell you exactly what would have happened, because it happens everyday. There would have been panic and she would have been whisked away for a c-section and the baby would have been born normal, but the obstetrician would have claimed to have saved the baby’s life and Mum would have been ever so grateful.
She probably would be so traumatized by the near death of her baby because of her malfunctioning uterus, that she would have booked in for an elective c-section the next time around.
The breastfeeding relationship she had with her baby would have been in jeopardy and she would have been at risk of infection from major surgery. But hey.. c-sections are the safe option.. it doesn’t matter if the baby misses out on the chemicals they get in order to bond effectively and feed effectively during labour, all that counts is that the baby is born alive… right? What about if a baby can be born safely AND have the best opportunity for a breastfeeding relationship and close bond too? Would that be even better?
I won’t go into the debate about why natural births are better for both mother AND baby, because it’s been proven and spoken about to death. We all know that to achieve the best possible chance of wellbeing for mother AND infant is through a low intervention birth and the best chance of getting that is at home.
So the insinuation that women choose to birth at home to feed their own ego at the expense of their child is a crock.
Women choose to homebirth with their baby’s best interest at heart.
They do it FOR the baby, not in spite of the baby. Yes they want to feel empowered and blissed out, but the lack of trauma and the satisfaction a mother gets after a natural birth all benefits the baby too. A mother’s health and well being has a HUGE impact on the baby. So why should we ignore the interest and wellbeing of the mother?

I came across a story a few days ago about a women who’s baby died in a hospital in WA. She was outraged at her treatment at the hospital and started a facebook group to bring awareness to others.
I still don’t know the exact message she intended to send, but I don’t believe she was blaming the hospital for the death of her baby.. although perhaps she was.. all I managed to pick up as a definite was that she was humiliated during her labour, ignored, had someone force her leg over her head and push on her abdomen, forcing her stuck baby into her pelvis and then had that person yell at her when she could no longer bare the pain and pushed him away. Of course as soon as she pushed him out of the way and changed positions instinctively, her baby came out. The baby’s heart rate was fine 10 seconds before he was born, so it stopped during the moment he emerged or very shortly after.. nevertheless they had all the fancy equipment around and worked on him for 20 minutes and he died. That just goes to show that baby’s can die in the hospital suddenly and just because they have the equipment to revive the baby, doesn’t mean that the luck to save him, is on his side.
It all boils down to luck. Unfortunately for this baby and for Janet’s baby, luck wasn’t on their side.
Would the treatment this women received be likened to rape?
Well let me put it this way.. I can’t see her returning for a repeat performance. She has 2 options to prevent it happening again.. one is an elective c-section, the other is a HBAC. Atleast for now, women have the ability and right to that choice.

What’s even more unfortunate in the case of Janet, is that there is now an even higher threat to women losing their legal right to choose a homebirth. This isn’t because the baby has become a statistic, this is because of the irony of it all. Someone who became so public and well known for her advocacy on women’s rights to birth at home, out of some crazy fluke, lost her baby during childbirth.
This reminds me of Hectar the Cat. He was the mascot for pedestrian crossings in Australia. While filming his last TV commercial, he was struck down by a car at the pedestrian crossing and killed.
Ironic? Hell yeh.. but do people now avoid pedestrian crossings?
No –way!! Do people still occasionally not have luck on their side and get killed on them? Too right they do!!!
There’s certainly no threat to our right to use crossings either, but in regards to homebirth., the threat is there.

Would Janet feel responsible for the death of her baby?
I bloody well hope not!!! It’s not uncommon for a mother to feel a sense of guilt or blame themselves when their child dies, no matter what the circumstances are, so the possibility is there.
What sort of person would wish that burden on her anyway?
It made me sick to see so many articles and blog posts with the sniggering “haha I told you so” attitudes and the comments of how negligent Janet is and how she will carry this guilt for the rest of her life.
GUILT FOR WHAT???? She didn’t cause her baby’s death and she didn’t prevent her baby from having the chance of life either.
It was bad luck, ironic, and bloody tragic but it wasn’t ANYONE’S FAULT!!!

Should her views on freebirth be different now?
I certainly hope not. There is a reason why she is well known.
Janet has gathered more evidence, information, support and awareness for women and their rights than anyone else I know of.
She doesn’t do it to gain a profit and she doesn’t do it to win any sort of popularity contest either. She has never let any misinformed or oppressive twat shut her up in the past so I doubt she will let that happen now.
She knows why she chose to freebirth it was an informed decision with her and her baby’s best interest at heart. She advocates FOR women and children not against them.
I hope when she has given herself enough time to grieve, that she goes back to doing what she does best. It’s because of Janet and other advocates of homebirth that more and more Australian women are achieving Joyous births, having less cases of PTSD, having healthier happier babies and have gotten back their faith in the ability of their bodies to do what nature intended.. how is that a bad thing?


karisma said...

I am not familiar with the story, been offline a lot these days. I am glad I have not read any of the blog posts you speak of as I probably would have let them have my opinion in a loud kinda way.

Its terrible to hear of the death of any child regardless of the circumstances, I cannot fathom how people can be so cruel.

I have known personally two people who had the "whole hospital and best doctor bullshit" who had their babies die. One due to negligence,(the mother was diabetic and had a history the dr felt was unimportant) the other due to a cord around the babes neck which they failed to check for. Both in a so called professional environment. It happens!!! No-one kicked up a stink on their behalf though.

Indeed my own 4th child had a near miss due to a not so good midwife, (We had the luck of a passing nurse who saved my baby! I say luck but wonder if I had him at home would it have been more gentle and unnecessary for him to go through what he did? Who knows?) I am forever grateful to that unknown nurse for a) stopping the midwife from breaking my sons neck with her efforts to turn him over the "right" way for exit, b)untangling the cord that was as a result of all the twisting about wrapped around his neck and tangled around his little arms and c)helping him to finally breathe on his own.)

Grrrr it makes me mad that so called well meaning do gooders think they can judge others. Poor Janet, my heart goes out to her and all the other mama's who should have the right to birth their babes in the most natural way. I know what I would be doing, law or no law, its my body.

Great post Genie, very well written and great observations. Thanx

Genie said...

Karisma the "what if's" are a killer hey.
I'm so sorry you went through that trauma. In hospital the survival of the baby comes down to the same amount luck as with home. In hospital negligence and abuse is far more common though.


Ariad said...

Great post Genie.
I have been feeling for Janet, and it's been pissng me off all the negative stuff being written about her. Christ...the woman has just lost her baby, leave her the f#$@ alone I think!

Thanks for that.

Valleysprite said...

well said, Genie.

what a tragedy. it's awful that anyone has to go thru the death of a baby. what a shame ppl are using this as ammunition against homebirth. babies die in hospital too, and more often than we hear about...

love and blessings to Janet and her family...

Laura Shanley said...

Thank you, Genie. I stopped reading blog postings about Janet's birth soon after it happened as they were so cruel. But I'm glad I read yours! I don't know Janet but of course my heart goes out to her. A friend of mine who knows her told me the baby was stillborn. I don't know about Australia, but in the US a baby is stillborn in an American hospital every 15-20 minutes. According to a story on my local news, this is double what it was 10 years ago. How many of those hospital birth mothers are blamed for their baby's deaths? Not many. But homebirthers are almost always blamed.

What's even sadder is that many midwives and midwifery advocates have now joined with mainstreamers in condemning freebirthers - as if babies never die in midwife-assisted births. Some have even written to me and said that freebirthers are giving homebirth a bad name. I wrote about this in a recent blog posting for those who are interested. In any case, thanks so much for your wise words!

Genie said...

Thank you for you comment Laura.
I'm not sure of the statistics of stillbirths in Australian hospitals right now, but will find out.
In any case the point that you make in regards to women not being blamed in hospital is so true.
Of course when mothers want to blame the hospital, they have a fight on their hands.. suddenly nature is to blame. I wonder why nature isn't involved at home?

I am following your wonderful informative blog now Laura. I will also direct anyone else who may not have stumbled across it to take a look.

Love and light.

Ms Flib said...

As much as I believe in natural birth, I suspect Janet needed a c-section. Sometimes intervention is necessary and it's a pity that Janet's first birth was so awful that she couldn't even consider the possibility of getting medical attention at some point. I think the hospital system has a lot to answer for especially in sensitively working with women who are having/have had difficult births. There seems to be such a lack of interest in supporting women's mental health - birth is treated as a merely physiological event. Undoubtedly there is a huge cost both to individuals, women in general and society as a whole.

I hope Janet is recovering and is well supported. I hope there are no issues with the law. I don't know how anyone copes with this kind of death but she will have to find a way through for her own sake and her family.

I too had the horrible first birth c-section nightmare but was so fortunate to go on to have 2 very straightforward, drug free, natural vaginal births. I did everything I could to make sure this could happen and I can understand why Janet would want that too....

Genie said...

I believe that if Janet knew she needed a c-section she would have had one :0)
Obviously she had no reason to believe that was the case.
Janet always stated on her site and in the media that hospitals are for sick people. To me that would mean that if she was sick, she would have no issues about going.
I'm sure she even had a back up plan for if anything went wrong.
An ambulance was even called at one stage.
So saying that she wouldn't consider medical treatment because of her previous trauma is just purely an assumption. I can't remember her ever saying hospitals are evil and that we should never go and at all costs stay at home.
It's traumatic getting sick and needing to go to the hospital, but if they can help you to get better, then that's what you do. Most people would want to try and avoid NEEDING to go through the trauma of being in a hospital.
Birth shouldn't be any different.

Genie said...


Louise said...

Thanks Genie for this post, clearly and sensitively written.

I had not heard about Janet and her babe- but am glad that you have posted here about it especially in light of 'other' blogs..

may she find peace