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'Free Birth' has its risks and rewards

September 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eyewitness News talks to doctors and families to examine an underground movement known as "Free Birth," where children are born at home without the aid of medical professionals. Pasadena mother Joya Roy comes from a medical family. Her father is professor of gynecology at USC. Her mother is a registered nurse. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Joya decided to give birth to her third and fourth children at home, in the back yard with no doctor and no mid-wife.

Joya and her husband are part of an underground movement known as "Free Birth."

For some new mothers, childbirth is a family affair. For others, it's something to be done alone.

Joya gave birth to her first two boys in the hospital. But for her third and fourth babies, she stayed home with her husband Ben and give birth to Omja and Ketan in a back yard birthing tub.

"In a hospital setting, it's like the odds are stacked against you," said Joya. "It really brought us closer together to rely on each other."

Omja, now 3-and-a-half years old, got a front row seat to his baby brother's birth.

"I stayed up all night," said Omja.

Ben and Joya insist they understand the potential risks of a home birth but feel that childbirth should be treated as a natural event, not a medical emergency.

"If you find comfort in the hospital, go there," said Joya. "But for me that's not the case at all, I get really tense."

"It's part of our biology for that to happen," said Ben. "It's a happening, it's a natural thing, not an emergency."

That's a view shared by Laura Shanley, the author of "Unassisted Childbirth."

"Our culture has developed many fears around childbirth," said Shanley. "You cannot take a natural bodily function and bring in strangers, drugs, machinery, and not expect it to change."

Laura gave birth to all four of her children at home.

"When I felt the time was right, I walked over to the bed," said Shanley. "And seconds later, my baby just came flying out. And my husband caught him in mid-air."

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Dr. Laurie Reynard of St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica has delivered thousands of babies.

"It's taking us back to the 19th century," said Dr. Reynard. "The greatest risk would be maternal hemorrhage. You could lose a massive amount of blood very quickly."

Every year, 500,000 women around the world die during childbirth, most in developing countries. Sometimes it's the children who die.

Australian mother Janet Fraser is a leading advocate of unassisted birth. She has two children.

Her third child died this spring of an apparent cardiac arrest during an unassisted birth.

"Ninety-five percent of the time things go smoothly in obstetrics, but then there's the other 5 percent where the bottom falls out and if you're not in a hospital, you can die or the baby can die," said Dr. Reynard. "And there's really just too much at stake. Just a few hours can make such a crucial difference in your life or the life of your baby. Why take that risk?"

For Joya Roy and her family, Ketan's birth was a moment of family bonding.

"It was just really happy, a big celebration," said Joya.

Joya's first birth did not go quite as smooth as her second.

Omja was born with the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around his neck, twice. Joya said she simply reached down, unwound the cord and everything was fine.

To learn more information about Unassisted Birth Movement, click on the link below.

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