Most women today have no idea how dangerous it once was for a woman to give birth. The maternal death rate today is about eight per 100,000 births. When home births were in style, the maternal death rate was 83 per 100,000 births – 10 times the number of deaths.
Women today almost never die in childbirth because, when things go wrong during labor and delivery, medical professionals can step in and prevent emergencies from becoming tragedies.
Which is why I want to scream when I read nonsense like the following, from a website calling itself “Born Free.”
“Welcome to Bornfree! This site is based on the belief that childbirth is inherently safe and relatively painless provided we don’t live in poverty, and do not interfere either physically or psychologically. Drugs, machinery, and medical personnel are not only unnecessary in most cases, they are also no match for a woman’s own intellect and intuition.”
The site quoted above advocates for unassisted childbirth at home. No doctor. No midwife. And no professional help at the ready if something goes wrong.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t get too exercised over an obscure website. But, it’s how I found this website that has me troubled. It was featured in an article on ABC News.com in the “Entertainment” section. The article mostly extolled the concept of women giving birth at home, with neither a midwife nor a doctor present, giving only the briefest nod to the caveats from an ob-gyn.
In the age of reality TV, maybe a piece about women risking their lives to experience “freebirth” makes good copy. Maybe, because it was in the Entertainment section, this quote from a mother who recently gave birth on her own didn’t raise any eyebrows: “…it is not risky if you do your homework.”
But ask an ob-gyn and you’ll get a much different albeit less entertaining quote.
Yes, so-called “freebirth” is risky. And no, you can’t mitigate the risk by doing “homework.” Approximately 40 percent of high-risk patients appear to be low-risk before labor and delivery. No amount of “homework” can prepare a woman for suddenly finding herself among those 40 percent. If she’s at home, without medical attention, she and her baby could be in serious danger.
Most certified nurse midwives are affiliated with hospitals today precisely because the unexpected can and does happen during childbirth and having medical and surgical teams within shouting distance can mean the difference between life and death. The birthing process is still the 11th leading cause of death in women between 15 and 44 years of age.
When I was in the military, we received a stat call about a home birth gone wrong. The woman lost all muscle tone in her uterus after the birth of her child. By the time the ambulance got her to Bethesda, she had bled to death.
So I’ve seen firsthand how “freebirth” can be a recipe for disaster.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH