Coroner excoriates Janet Fraser

Janet Fraser, the leading Australian exponent of unassisted childbirth lost one of her own children at homebirth. You might be excused for thinking that this the death of one of her own children is the most traumatic loss that Fraser has experienced, but you’d be wrong. According to Fraser, she was more traumatized by the loss of her ideal birth “experience” when her healthy first child was born. Apparently, the coroner didn’t see it that way. Indeed, the brief coronial report exoriates Fraser for her fantastical beliefs and her chilling narcissism.

The report summarizes what happened:

1. This is an inquest into the death of Roisin Fraser who was born and, within minutes, died on 27 March, 2009. Roisin was the daughter of Janet Fraser and Trevor George Stokes. There are two older children of that relationship, still living with their mother. Ms. Fraser is a leading tigure in a movement called “Joyous Birth” advocating free birthing which is a method of home birthing where, except in circumstances of quite dire emergency (and, sometimes, even in those circumstances.) the intervention of medical practitioners, nurses and hospitals and, often, as in Roisin’s case, that of midwives is avoided.

Cause of Death

2. Practicing free birthing principles and with the assistance of her partner, Trevor Stokes, and a friend, Marianna Duce, both unqualiied in medicine, nursing or midwifery, Janet Fraser was delivered of Roisin at her home at about 1.12am on 27 March, 2009. Roisin was pronounced dead at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown at about 2.27am on the same day.

Why did Roisin die? The coroner, Scott Mitchell, found:

Roisin Fraser, who was born on 21 March, 2009, died moments later at her parents then home at … NSW of an hypoxic episode probably a direct or indirect consequence of cord entanglement encountered during delivery where, at her mother’s insistence, mother and chlld were unassisted by any person qualified ln the areas of medicine, nursing or midwifery.

In practical terms, Roison Fraser died because of the inability of Fraser’s attendants and Fraser herself to resuscitate the baby:

Essentially, Ms. Fraser was quite unprepared for what happened. There was not even a hard, flat surface available on which Roisin could be placed for resuscitation so these three amateurs – Ms. Fraser, Mr. Stokes and Ms. Duce, first placed the child on the rim of the inflatable pool and, when that proved unsatisfactory, used a chair. They were unable to abandon the chair and place Roisin on the floor in order effectively to administer CPR there because, the placenta not having been delivered, “that was as far as she would reach. ” Evidently, it occurred to nobody present to clamp and cut the cord and, anyway, Ms. Duce told the inquest, she had not been aware of the ready availability of any equipment to enable her to do so. According to Ms. Duce, further difficulties were encountered in administering CPR because Roisin was slippery and difhcult to hold and, evidently, it did not occur to anybody to wrap her in a towel although there were towels nearby.

But the real reason for Roison’s deaths was Janet Fraser’s personal beliefs:

The Joyous Birth website controlled by Ms. Fraser offers advice to expecting or expectant mothers some of which is couched in temrs which even Ms. Fraser, its principle author, described as “intemperate.” Visitors to the site are warned ofa “giant birthing industry” against which Ms. Fraser has dared to pit “her arrogant feminine self” “Hospitals are dangerous” and “Obstetricians” she wams “are surgeons at heart
..whose skill set is rarely needed.” Mothers to be are advised that ‘size estimates are a crock” and that “your pelvis works perfectly.” “Monitoring” is described as “you with a bed strapped to your back, monitors wrapped around your be/LY, probably a scalp monitor shoved through your vagina and screwed into your baby’s head thus preventing you from moving around and actually birthing.” Women are warned that their obstetrician is liable to “manoeuvre” them into surgery when they really don’t need it- “there’s a basic contradiction in going to a surgeon to avoid surgery isn’t there?” which, they are reminded, will ‘guarantee your uterus has more than a hole, it will have a big slice that someone will put their hands in and rip open.”

According to Ms. Fraser as she is reported on the Joyous Birth website, “hospitals (places for sick people) have no business dealing with nonnal, physiological birth (perfonned by healthy women) but now that they do, they continue to peddle their own importance and kid us that we need them… …Surgeons create repeat business for themselves in a way that, if it was another industry, would be seen for what it was -
shameless money making… …So it doesn’t matter if she looks for another surgeon or hospital (they’re run by surgeons, did you realise that?”

The coroner explains:

This propaganda served up by Joyous Birth, of which the foregoing is only a taste, appears typical of an intention to convert women who visit the site to the view that medical and hospital involvement in their pregnancies and births is undesirable and contrary to their interests as women and mothers and that professional involvement, including the involvement of professional midwifes, should be kept to a minimum.

The coroner concludes:

This is a free country and Ms. Fraser can use the Joyous Birth website to proselytise as she sees fit… [Her views] are wrong views, extravagantly expressed and quite insensitive to the harm they may do to others, whether inexperienced mothers or children like Roisin whose chance of life was so unnecessarily put at risk. lf they seem intellectually valid or politically attractive to Ms. Fraser, she might give thought or more thought to the effect they may well have on children like Roisin.