Coroner dismisses free-birth advocate's views

Free-birthing advocates ... Janet Fraser, pictured with her partner.
Free-birthing advocates ... Janet Fraser, pictured with her partner. Photo: Domino Postiglione

Free-birthing advocate Janet Fraser's views about the controversial practice were "wrong" and "quite insensitive” to the potential harm unassisted labour could cause, a coroner has ruled.

Fraser, who runs the Joyous Birth website, had not seen any medical professionals in the lead up to the birth of her third child, and had only her husband and a friend on hand throughout the labour in March 2009. She gave birth to a daughter she named Roisin in an inflatable pool in her study at home, but the baby died a short time later.

After considering the case, Deputy State Coroner Scott Mitchell said the baby had died because the people present couldn’t deal with the complications of a cord entanglement.

He did not, however, recommend charges be laid against Fraser over the death.

The friend who attended the birth, Marianna Duce, had told the inquest that she’d noticed the child was blue after her birth. When called upon to attempt CPR, she said: "I just felt terror. I didn't recall any first aid training despite having done it. All I felt was just fear. That was it."

They are wrong views ... whether for inexperienced mothers or children like Roisin, whose chance at life was so unnecessarily put at risk

Fraser told the inquest her decision to "free-birth" Roisin was taken on the basis of her two previous deliveries. The first involved a failed homebirth, after which she had to undergo an emergency caesarean, which she later described in a blog entry as "birth rape".

She’d then been advised not to have a home birth with her second child, because her previous caesarean section had heightened her risk of uterine rupture.

For Roisin's birth, Mr Mitchell said, Fraser "essentially trusted in the assistance of two unqualified people ... in her previous birthing experiences, which seem to me to have been less than uncomplicated, in herbal tinctures and homeopathics which she says she had gathered, and in her own emotional resilience."

In his findings, Mr Mitchell also took aim at Ms Fraser's website, describing its contents as "propaganda" which intends to "convert women ... to the view that medical and hospital involvement in their pregnancies and births is undesirable and contrary to their interests as women and mothers".


But despite even Fraser admitting that some of the views on the site were a bit excessive, she refused to "tone down" the posts until the end of the inquest.

"I cannot imagine why she hesitated, unless it [was because] the views expressed on the site continue to represent her own views," Mr Mitchell said.

"Whether they do or not, they are wrong views, extravagantly expressed and quite insensitive to the harm they may do others, whether for inexperienced mothers or children like Roisin, whose chance at life was so unnecessarily put at risk."

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