This is a terrible and tragic story, but I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on accountability.
NBC tells the true story (I assume it is true, exactly why, I don’t know, since this is NBC. It’s not related to politics, I guess.) of “Judith” who worked at a flower shop. On her long daily drive to work and back, she listened to podcasts, and when she got pregnant, she listened to “The Birth Hour” and “Indie Birth,” podcasts about childbirth stories, which ranged from hospital to home births.The “Free Birth Podcast” excited her particularly.
The podcaster is Emilee Saldaya, a Los Angeles freebirth advocate and founder of the Free Birth Society that has 46,000 followers on Instagram. The podcast promotes the experiences of women who give birh without assistance, in bathtubs, fields, or in their own beds, surrounded by their partners loved ones. Doctors were not welcome.
Judith listened to around 70 episodes, some multiple times. A particular favorite was an interview with a woman who had given birth by candlelight in a yurt in the California mountains with only her husband and her dog she called her a “midwolf.”
I’m having a flashback to 1967.
The podcasts began with advertisements for the Free Birth Society’s online courses and private consultations; this is often the tell-tale sign of a cult. Judith dutifully paid $299 for the group’s 10-module video guide on how to freebirth babies at home. None of the “experts” and “consultants” the group sponsored have medical credentials or experience; that’s the point. Judith didn’t like doctors, so she was a vulnerable target for the group’s message, which emphasized that hospitals were scary places, and hospital births were full of trauma for mother and child.
NBC reports that distrust of the medical profession regarding childbirth is on the rise. A survey conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families claims that while in 2002, 45 percent of mothers surveyed agreed that “giving birth is a natural process that should not be interfered with unless absolutely medically necessary, the number had increased to 74% by 2018.
Could this possibly be accurate? When did giving birth by squatting and biting on a stick become cool again?
When she got past to her due date and Judith’s pregnancy approached its tenth month, she relied on the Free Birth Society course’s episode on “long pregnancies” for guidance. That podcast warned against inducing a pregnancy, a process it referred to as “eviction from the womb.” It insisted that the idea that “babies must be born before 42 weeks is nonsense.”
Judith had her amniotic fluid checked at a local hospital, and though there were no causes for alarm, a doctor thee urged her to schedule an induction. She made the appointment, but canceled it the next day. She sought, NBC says, a second opinion on Facebook. “43+1 today, politely declining hospital induction. They think I’m crazy,” Judith posted on Ten Month Mamas in January 2019. “I really feel like this baby wants a home birth too but we are definitely being tested. What would you mamas do?” Hundreds of comments supported her desire for a home-based freebirth.
No one told her she should do what the doctor had advised, and there was a reason for that. Several of the groups had rules forbidding members from suggesting that another member resort to a doctor or a midwife. “Unassisted Pregnancy & Childbirth,” for example, instructed its 4,600 members,
“This means we don’t want to hear about the tests your midwife wants you to take, or how your OB thinks baby is breech or ‘too big’ or whatever other shit they say. Just don’t. This is not the place. No induction discussion. We do not advocate for induction of any kind, as no induction is natural.”
Egged on by Facebook extremists, Judith told NBC that she became determined resolved to freebirth alone, “no matter what.”
When the day she had decided to freebirth arrived, Judith “walked and danced for hours through contractions and floated in a pool that her husband filled with water.” She listened to music as a friend massaged her back. She took short naps between contractions…everything she had learned from the podcasts. But the pain increased and the breaks between contractions shortened. After 10 hours of labor, Judith started vomiting. The contractions were coming too fast and violently for her to monitor the baby’s heart rate with the fetal stethoscope she had bought. Her water broke, and there was dark brown in it, fecal matter that would kill the baby if it was inhaled. Her husband drove her to the hospital, doubled up in pain. Once there, Judith got the medical assistance she had vowed to avoid, but too late. Her baby was dead.
Stipulated: This should not have happened.
Who’s primarily responsible? For this poll, I’m going to allow multiple voting, because I don’t think there is a single answer.