The rise of freebirthing: Meet the women choosing to give birth unassisted
"I have never been happier, more proud, more joyful, more fulfilled"
New research would have us believe that homebirth's are every bit as safe as labouring at a hospital, but what if you didn't even have a medical professional present?
Freebirthing is when a pregnant person intentionally gives birth to a baby without a midwife or doctor present. They may or may not also choose to have an unassisted pregnancy, with no antenatal care or scans.
Figures on the number of people choosing to freebirth are not collated but researchers and midwives believe it's on the rise. A quick search for Facebook groups gives you an insight into how large the community of freebirthers already is.
Why choose to freebirth?
Some decide on a freebirth, because a homebirth isn't an option for them due to a Hepititus or Group B Strep diagnosis. Some Irish women have chosen to go it alone because the HSE deemed their pregnancy too high risk for a homebirth. Others associate hospitals with past trauma.
Some just believe that childbirth is the most natural thing in the world and want to experience it with as little intervention as possible, by themselves or with their partner.
Although it's not an illegal activity, freebirthers often report stigma and condemnation for giving birth this way. The objection is, unsurprisingly, safety-related. A person deciding to go it alone is choosing the risk for themselves, but a newborn baby should have access to medical care, should they require it.
41-year-old Australian mum Natalie, made the decision to freebirth her daughter Cyan, saying: "The safest birth is where the woman feels relaxed. I have never been happier, more proud, more joyful, more fulfilled.
"The very small risk that was posed, I felt that I was prepared to take and if there was a death of my baby, or a death of me, then I was capable of grieving. We didn't go into it naively, or in denial. We went into it with a calculated risk assessment of what may or may not come of that."
During labour, Cyan's shoulders got stuck, as Natalie explained: "My body tried to push and induce some contractions but she was lodged. So I tried a squat and that didn't do anything, that can actually lodge them deeper.
"We went into it with a calculated risk assessment of what may or may not come of that"
"I do remember feeling a shift, and there was another shift, and then a contraction came and it was really, really strong and powerful, and I did a sort of guttural sound, and that was her shoulders birthing."
Cyan was worryingly quiet when she was born, but quickly recovered and started crying, Natalie herself was losing a lot of blood, as she recalls: "I did pass out a couple of times, I sort of was resting, I call it. I took a little bit of a rest."
Thankfully, the bleeding, stopped and neither mother nor baby needed medical attention.
Of course, things don't always go as planned.
28-year-old American woman Judith describes herself as "an artist and freethinker who believes in all that hippy jazz.” Judith rejected what she refers to as "a sterile hospital" for a warm pool in her own home with only her husband and her closest friend present.
She spent her pregnancy immersed in private Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, podcasts and doing courses had taught her everything she thought she needed to know to bring her baby into the world herself.
Very few medical professionals will allow an overdue pregnancy to go past the 42 week mark. At almost 45 weeks pregnant, Judith remained resolute and eschewed these standards, not seeking any intervention.
“I think I brainwashed myself with the internet”
When labour finally came, Judith walked and danced through contractions. She floated in her pool, listened to music as her friend massaged her back and took mini naps between contractions.
Some 10 hours into labour, things began to go wrong. Judith began vomiting as contractions were coming hard and fast. She tried to monitor the baby’s heart rate, but she couldn’t stay still or quiet long enough to register a reading on the fetal stethoscope she’d bought.
Her waters broke, and with them came a burst of dark meconium — Judith knew it would be dangerous had baby ingested it.
She knew she needed help.
She travelled to the hospital on all fours in the back seat of the car, while her husband drove. There, a team of nurses and doctors prepared to deliver her baby.
As the contractions came, the room quieted and a doctor informed her of the tragic news — there was no heartbeat.
Judith will never know whether her baby would be alive if she had been induced at 42 weeks, or if the baby had been born under medical supervision, but she has understandably spent every day since questioning her decisions.
Speaking about the podcasts and online groups that made her feel empowered and "more heard than medical professionals" had she told NBC News: “I think I brainwashed myself with the internet.”
We speak often about autonomy and choice. A person's body is theirs, and their choices are just that — theirs. When though, does choosing to go against medical best practice become reckless? It's a question with no straight answer.
We'd love to hear your thoughts.