Open letter to a mother whose baby died at homebirth

Another homebirth death: horror, hemorrhaging and a crushing burden of guilt.

Yet another mother from the Homebirth board at has lost her baby in a homebirth tragedy. She has posted the entire story on her personal blog. In addition to the horror of her daughter’s death (with her other young children nearby) she is now coping with guilt. She writes movingly of her daughter’s birth:

…You are crowning. I support with my left hand, and cup your growing head with my right. So slippery, hot.wet… you drop into my hands like to heavy, wet blobs. You fall to the couch. I hear Faith yelling … “pick her up!”

I do, I pick you up … I look at your face. Blood is running from your nose. Your eyes are closed. No movement. Faith is sucking blood from your mouth with hers. She yells “get me my bulb syringe!” I try to wipe the blood from you nose, rub your back…

I sit down next to you, legs spread, you laying limp and white in between. They (Faith, Amy) are working on you. CPR, chest compressions (looks like the doll from CPR class two months before) …DeLee. I am sobbing, rubbing your feet. So long ago Faith called out, “someone call 911!”. such a limp foot… I touch the cord to see if it is pulsing. It is cold, collapsed…time has no meaning when a baby is silent.
CRY , baby, CRY! Sobbing..EMS flood the room, all around my baby…

Me, asking Faith, “Is there any way she could live?”

…………………………… “She’s not going to make it”

I know it’s true , baby, I know it. But, still they are working. They are taking you away from me, loading you up, headed for the children’s hospital.

I never see you warm again. They are loading me up. BLOOD everywhere, soaking, standing, staining….you were born in a river of blood, baby girl….

The baby was transported to a children’s hospital. The mother experienced a major postpartum hemorrhage and was transported to a different hospital.

Now the mother mourns:

I researched birth like a mad woman before all three of my homebirths. Every study I found said homebirth is safer for low risk woman than hospital birth. I truly never found anything to refute this.

I researched possible complications, researched choices for treatments for said complications. I timed my drive to the nearest hospital- 3 minutes…

But, the worst possible thing happened. what is considered a “true emergency” anywhere it happens, home hospital, birth center —- full placental abruption in labor. BUT…but…. if this emergency HAD happened in the hospital my baby would almost certainly be alive right now.

So, ultimately , my birth “choices” lead to my daughter’s death. that is where the beginning and end of the blame falls.

I am finding this weight of guilt to be crushing….

The comments on her blog, while meant to be comforting (particularly to the commentors, if not the mother) are inane. The most inane is this comment:

It’s such a short time, such a VERY short time, that anyone can live without oxygen. I’ve heard similar stories, ones that happen IN a hospital, and in most of the cases, they just can’t get the baby out in time. I don’t believe, even in a hospital setting, your outcome would have been different…

In other words, it’s just more of the same garbage that led the mother to make such a disastrous choice in the first place.

I’d like to offer a more honest appraisal:

To Aquila’s mother,

Do not blame yourself for your daughter’s death. Do not blame yourself for your choices, because you were never fully informed of the risks. If you would feel better placing blame somewhere, blame the homebirth advocates who, in books, lectures and websites, are fundamentally dishonest about the dangers of homebirth.

You would never have chosen homebirth is you had understood that this tragedy could happen. I know that you believe you “researched” homebirth, but unless you read the scientific literature, you merely researched disingenuous propaganda.

How do I know you read propaganda? You wrote, “Every study I found said homebirth is safer for low risk woman than hospital birth. I truly never found anything to refute this.” But did you ever read the actual studies? Did you ever read commentary on the studies by medical experts?

Were you aware that the leading American homebirth study (Johnson and Daviss, BMJ, 2005), DOESN’T show that homebirth is as safe as hospital birth? The authors compared homebirth in 2000 with hospital birth from a bunch of out of date papers. That’s because homebirth with a CPM in 2000 had nearly triple the neonatal death rate of low risk hospital birth in the same year.

Did you know that in the three years that according to CDC statistics, midwife attended planned homebirth is the most dangerous form of planned birth in the US? Did you know that those statistics show that homebirth with a homebirth midwife has triple the rate of neonatal death of low risk hospital birth?

I suspect that you didn’t know, because the sources that you consulted were silent on these points. And if you didn’t know, you couldn’t make an informed decision. Had you known the real risks and willingly accepted them, then you might consider accepting the blame as well. But you didn’t understand that this could happen, and if you didn’t understand, you are not to blame.