LONDON - They insist they're no superwomen, they have no special powers, and
are certainly not pain or adrenaline junkies.
But 'freebirthers' choose to go through what some call the most painful and
potentially frightening experience of a woman's life with no drugs, no midwife
and no medical help.
An unidentified woman with her freeborn baby at an
undisclosed location in the United States, July 29, 2002. [Reuters]
Delivering their own babies at home, often alone, they dismiss what they say
is "fearmongering" by doctors and midwives and confidently catch their offspring
as they leave the womb.
"Birthing uses the same hormones as lovemaking -- so why would you want
anyone poking and prodding you, observing you and putting you under a
spotlight?," said Veronika Robinson, an Australian based in Britain who sees
growing interest in freebirth among readers of international magazine, "The
Her comment is echoed by many in online discussion groups about freebirth,
where women insist having a baby is as intimate an experience as having sex.
"We were the only people there when she was conceived, and it felt absolutely
100 percent right that we were the only people there when she was born," writes
Laura Fields from the United States.
Robinson says medical establishments in Britain and across other westernized
nations have for years been "taking something that's natural and making it into
a disease," and now, with freebirthing, "women are taking their power back."
Free- or unassisted birth means having a baby with no medical or professional
help. In Britain, as in North America, where its popularity is growing, it is
legal as long as delivery is not "assisted" by an unqualified partner, friend or
To some, like new mum Janet Sears, the idea of giving birth alone, with
no-one around to help if things go wrong, is little short of madness: "It's my
idea of hell," she told Reuters.
INTERVENTION AND FEAR
But one of its most prominent supporters, Laura Shanley, an author on
childbirth, is now mother to four children -- all of whom were born at home
without the help of doctors or midwives.
Shanley, who lives in Colorado in the United States, says that in essence
birth is only problematic because of three main factors -- poverty, intervention
As long as clean water and reasonable living standards are available -- as
they are to many women in the west -- then the task is to eliminate the other
two factors and a natural birth will be as safe as it can be.
"As I began to understand how fear affects the body, and that birth is not
inherently dangerous provided we don't trigger the fight-flight response and
shut down labor, then to me it was natural to want to just trust myself," she
"It didn't make sense to me that something that ensures the continuation of
the race would be a dangerous and scary event."
Diana Drescher, a Dutch freebirthing enthusiast who lives in Britain and
wants a fourth baby with her German partner, agrees.
"We've been giving birth for thousands of years and we're still in this
world. If it was that dangerous we wouldn't be here," she told Reuters.
Coming from the Netherlands, where there is a more relaxed attitude to birth,
Diana finds British medical authorities far too quick to intervene and is
determined to have her next baby here with no professional presence.
She says she will also avoid being in her partner's native Germany where she
says freebirth is virtually impossible without fear of the authorities finding
out and intervening.
"I do know some people who have had unassisted births in Germany, but they
will not talk about it. It's a very close community that does it and they have
to be very careful."
"THE MOST DANGEROUS THING"
Britain's Department of Health frowns on the practice of freebirthing and
says every woman should have a midwife.
"The safety of mothers and their babies is our top priority," a spokesman
told Reuters. "Midwives are the experts in normal pregnancy and birth and have
the skills to refer to and coordinate between specialist services. Every woman
needs the care of a midwife in labor and birth and those women with more complex
pregnancies may need a doctor too."
And some doctors, as well as some friends and relatives of those who chose to
go it alone when they go into labor, are fiercely critical of what they see as a
selfish, reckless, even irresponsible approach to childbirth.
"Dr Crippen," a British National Health Service doctor who writes an
award-winning blog on the Internet, has reacted angrily to growing interest in
freebirth, saying babies born this way should have a right to legal recourse
later in life.
He says "giving birth is the most dangerous thing that most woman will do
during their life," and argues:
"Does a mother not owe a duty of care to her baby? Should a mother not take
reasonable care to protect the baby when she gives birth? And if she does not
take reasonable care -- and the standard should be objective not subjective --
why should a baby who has sustained avoidable brain damage due to the mother's
negligence not take action against his mother?"
If a baby were to die during a freebirth, Dr Crippen argues the mother should
be prosecuted for manslaughter.
Mary Siever, a mother of three who lives in Alberta, Canada, said she has
experienced the wrath of those around her when they learned she had a baby on
"There are people who are horrified when they find out that an unassisted
birth has taken place," she told Reuters.
"I can't claim to know why they feel this way, but my belief is that the
majority of them -- doctors and health authorities -- truly do not think women
are intellectually capable of making their own decisions when it comes to