For those of you that read this blog, you will know that homebirth in Australia is now a topic of heated discussion. With state maternity systems on the brink of collapse, overwhelmed by birthing mothers, unstaffed and underfunded, having a baby is now a political issue. Most recently, midwives have been lobbying to have a more broadly defined role (such as writing prescriptions) in order to alleviate the pressure on the country's OBs. Nevertheless, homebirth is back in the news again today particularly due to uninformed media releases announcing the women are so 'desperate' that they are having dangerous homebirths because women aren't getting treated in hospital. According to the stats cited in one Daily Telegraph report, 4 babies have died in the last 9 months because their irresponsible mothers decided to give birth at home. This statistic is intended to show that women are now using homebirth as a last resort and not as a legitimate and largely safe choice.
One of these deaths, however, was a result of a freebirth and quite sadly was the baby of Janet Fraser, founder of Joyous Birth, an online forum that initially began as a place for women to talk about traumatic experiences of birth. Over the years, the site has become increasingly 'radical' and is now known to be one of the more popular freebirthing sites. Fraser claims that the site is really just about women being in control of their births, however, if I can be honest, one of the reasons why I initially distanced myself from writing for the site was because I felt that there was an overwhelming assumption that all hospital birth is bad and that women are inevitably the victims of evil doctors. It has been reported that Fraser was giving birth at home with her partner unassisted. In fact, I recently came across an interview with Fraser from The Age which begins with her in labour with the child that did not survive.
The media has failed to differentiate between freebirth or unassisted birth (no midwife or doctor) and homebirth (a birth at home, usually with a midwife or homebirth doctor). For the most part, for low-risk births that are attended properly, homebirth has been proven to be a safe alternative to hospital birth. Freebirthing is significantly more risky (sorry, I'm a supporter but also a realist). It is essential to make this differentiation. Now that homebirth is on the precipice of being banned given that independent midwives are likely going to be denied indemnity insurance from next year, the suggestion that all women who homebirth are crazy radicals or that homebirth represents the majority of birthing women in Australia (only about 2%) is ridiculous. If anything, midwives and their ability to attend homebirths will be the saving grace of the Australian maternity system. Rather than convincing the small proportion of women who avoid a medicalised birth, why not support these women in their choices by making homebirth safe and easy?