“Lisa” went into labor while 42 weeks pregnant last month, and she spent “six excruciating days in a remote desert home, laboring alone – aside from her husband and the 6,000 members of the private Facebook group that were beside her” – according to a report by the Daily Beast. The group is called Free Birth Society, and it served as a community for women who want to give birth outside of hospitals and without the help of a midwife or a doula, or any medical assistance at all.
After stumbling across Free Birth Society’s Instagram page, Lisa decided on free birth. However, she eventually ended up going to the hospital after she found “smelly, odd-colored liquid streaming down her legs”. Her daughter was delivered stillborn.
Lisa had taken to Free Birth Society to write about her pain and her doubts throughout the first few days of labor, and the fellow group members cheered her on, they called her a “warrior woman”, and they urged her to “trust the process”. The group subscribed to a strict code of conduct: “Comments encouraging other members to seek treatment, or questioning a women’s autonomy in any way, would quickly be deleted.”
This is what “Lisa” wrote three days into labor: “Thought I was in transition. at 11:30pm but nows its 3am and it’s intensely painful…like I just want to lie down and for the pain to stop for just a second.”
A group member wrote to that: “My little one was born 4 days ago and she took over 3 days of nonstop contractions. You’re a legend. It will happen.”
However, on day six, this is what happened:
According to Lisa, the baby’s life was lost “due to a massive urinary tract infection she had”, and she took two days to write to the Free Birth Society:
“Life is made up of meetings and partings; that is the way of it. I am sure we shall never forget Journey Moon (her daughter), or this first parting that there was among us.”
The Free Birth Society is part of the bigger free birth movement which is something like the home birth movement. The members are dissatisfied with the current obstetrical model, which includes a 30% cesarean section rate for mothers in the U.S. Free birthers point out that there are many unwanted medical interventions during labor, so they typically eschew any kind of assistance, which includes avoiding prenatal checkups as well.
We are aware that home birth can be safe, and Bruce Young, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU School of Medicine says that for the average woman, home births “go smoothly” about 80% of the time. However, the scary part is that the remaining 20% “would likely involve life-threatening complications for the mother or the child”, which is why home birthers are advised to have a midwife at hand, as well as a back-up plan in case things go wrong. However, Lisa was virtually surrounded by thousands of women who were forbidden by the group to recommend any kind of intervention.
After she lost her child, Lisa was attacked by trolls who were saying that she is the reason for what happened, and many people also took aim at Free Birth Society’s founder, Emilee Saldaya, who previously worked as a midwife’s assistant. They called her a scammer because she provides dangerous advice to expectant mothers with the sole purpose of making money. Saldaya’s Ultimate Freebirth Support Package advertisement offering costs $899, and it promises ” a complete immersion in everything you need to know about in order to optimize your free birth.”
After the case went viral, Saldaya closed the group and created a “safe and private membership platform”.
We acknowledge that the threat of over-medicalized and doctor-focused childbirth is very real in today’s world, but the potential risk associated with a Facebook group filled with thousands of non-experts is much, much bigger. Every woman has the right to choose, but every woman has the right to accurate medical information as well.