The Current

Why some women are choosing freebirth over hospital delivery rooms

The stillbirth of a baby in California has raised serious questions about the practice of freebirthing — birth without the help of medical professionals. We hear from experts about the possible legal issues and dangers associated with unassisted births.

Some mothers are taking control of their childbirth experience, but doctors warn freebirth has risks

Rixa Freeze delivered her first child in 2006 through freebirth. She studied the practice of unassisted birth in North America for her PhD. (Submitted by Rixa Freeze)

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When it came to having children, Rixa Freeze wanted a birthing experience outside the traditional hospital setting, where she could deliver her child undisturbed.

Freeze chose freebirth, meaning she delivered her child at home — without the help of doctors, midwives or other medical professionals.

Freeze is pictured here with her first daughter, Zari. (Submitted by Rixa Freeze)

"If you're in an environment that's largely undisturbed and safe, wherever that is, you just let your body do its thing and you follow along," Freeze told The Current's guest host Geoff Turner.

But the case of a California woman, whose baby was stillborn in a freebirth late last year, has raised serious questions about the safety of the practice. The baby is believed to have died of Group B strep, according to media reports.

Freeze, who studied the freebirth movement in North America for her PhD thesis, found women choose unassisted birth for a variety of reasons, including a lack of nearby medical services or previous negative experiences in the health-care system. 

Women in New Brunswick interviewed as part of a 2015 study by the University of British Columbia reported choosing freebirth because their needs or fears haven't been addressed by doctors.

"Birth, I feel, is supposed to be one of those experiences where you get to, as a woman, really realize your potential as a creator and a maker of life," one woman in the study said. 

"So to go and have something like that stripped away and medicalized and controlled, I just didn't want to have anything to do with that."

For some women, like Freeze, freebirth means going into labour at home, with their partner or midwife nearby in the other room. 

Other women, like Simone Thurber whose freebirth went viral, have given birth in less conventional places.

Thurber delivered her child in a river in the remote Daintree Rainforest in northeast Australia, with her husband and other children nearby. A video of her freebirth has been viewed more than 77 million times on YouTube.

Is freebirth safe?

Dr. Brenda Wagner, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Richmond Hospital in B.C., recommends having a doctor, midwife or obstetrician present during birth.

Dr. Brenda Wagner, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Richmond Hospital in B.C., recommends having a doctor, midwife or obstetrician present during birth. (Submitted by Dr. Brenda Wagner)

"We want you to have the best birth for you, but we also want to have the safest birth," she said.

In most circumstances, birth is a safe, natural process, Wagner said. However, there are certain risks involved that could endanger both the mother and child.

"Some of the risks for the mom include infection, bleeding and labours that aren't going smoothly because the baby is not in the right position, or the mom's pelvis is too small," Wagner said.

In the unplanned freebirth of her third child, Freeze had to give her baby neonatal resuscitation.

Freeze said she is grateful she was trained for that moment.

But Wagner cautions that not all parents will be that prepared.

Risks aside, Wagner said there needs to be a shift in how hospitals treat women's birthing needs.

I do think that many obstetrical care providers forget to have those conversations about choice with women.- Dr. Brenda Wagner, Richmond Hospital

"When women are in labour, sometimes they actually have a hard time expressing their deep felt choices … and that would of course become very traumatic for the woman, because she's having something that she deeply felt was wrong for her," said Wagner.

"I do think that many obstetrical care providers forget to have those conversations about choice with women when they're not in labour, and document those conversations."

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Cameron Perrier. Produced by Cameron Perrier, Danielle Carr and Willow Smith.


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