Home birth death stirs up mixed emotions

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Home birth death stirs up mixed emotions

Home birth hit the headlines worldwide this week when advocate Caroline Lovell died after delivering her baby daughter at home.

Caroline, 36, is believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after giving birth to baby Zahra on Monday, January 23.

She was already "critically ill" by the time paramedics arrived at her north Melbourne home and she died the following day in Austin Hospital.

Related: Home birth v hospital birth

It was Caroline's second birth and she was reportedly being assisted by two private midwives.

News of the tragic death broke yesterday and quickly spread around the world, igniting calls for home births to be banned.

Within minutes, social networking sites were inundated with passionate defences of home birthing from the small core of devotees that Caroline herself was a member of.

They were quick to point out the statistics — that Caroline is the first woman to die as a direct result of a home birth since 1999.

As a contrast, the latest figures show that 65 maternal deaths occurred between 2003-2005, with none being related to a home birth.

Homebirth Australia spokeswoman Michelle Meares said these statistics prove it is 'illogical' to ban home births because of Caroline's tragic death.

"The call for a ban on home births because of one maternal death since 1999 is completely illogical," Michelle told The Weekly. "Sadly many women died in Australian hospitals in childbirth last year — should we ban hospital births, too?

"It's tragic, but women do die in childbirth, both in hospital and at home. It's very rare but it does happen."

However, these figures do not take into account the glaring differences in the number of women who choose home birth over hospital birth.

Currently, home births make up 0.33 percent of all births in Australia — in 2009, there were 863 planned homebirths and around 300,000 hospital births. This huge difference in scale makes statistical comparisons between home births and hospital births impossible.

But Michelle said the small number of home birth enthusiasts is steadily increasing — Homebirth Australia reported a 33 percent rise in the number of women planning home births between 2004 and 2009.

The increasing popularity of home births worries Australian Medical Association president Dr Harry Hemley. He disagrees with the home birthing movement, saying the mortality rate for planned home birth babies is significantly higher than those born in hospitals.

"Obstetric, anaesthetic and paediatric care need to be readily available to deal with unpredictable complications," he told the Herald Sun. "This cannot occur when a birth takes place in the home."

Related: My battle with post-natal depression

Your say: Would you ever considering giving birth at home?

Video: Lobbyist dies during homebirth

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