Home Birth Advocate's Own Home Birth Ends Tragically

Pregnancyorg Staff's picture

by Cassandra R. Elias

In The News: Home Birth Advocate, Caroline Lovell, Dies During Her Own Home Birth

Caroline LovellIn a sadly ironic moment, Caroline Lovell of Australia, an outspoken advocate for home birth in Australia, died a day after being rushed to the hospital during her own home birth.

According to the Herald Sun, Caroline, 36, was assisted by private midwives. Before she was taken to the hospital, Lovell held her newborn daughter, named Zahra, who survived. She has a 3-year-old sister named Lulu.

Home births are growing more popular in the U.S. and abroad so the death of a home birth advocate who went into cardiac arrest during childbirth is sure to bring renewed attention and debate over the safety of giving birth at home.

After nearly a century of declining popularity, the percentage of home births in the U.S. increased 29 percent from 2004 to 2009, although they still account for fewer than 1 percent of all births.

Will the death of such an outspoken advocate for home births scare women away from home births?

Susan Moray, spokeswoman for Midwives Alliance of North America does not believe so. "For healthy, low-risk women, we believe birth is a normal process and the body is well designed to do it. Home birth midwifery care has been proven to be a safe and nurturing alternative to physician-attended hospital births."

Moray, a midwife in Portland, Ore., notes that women do occasionally die in labor -- sometimes at home, sometimes in the hospital.

Maternal deaths in the hospital rarely make international headlines. She does not believe one tragedy will change attitudes toward home birth.

"I don't think one death is going to swing the pendulum away from home-based labor and delivery. What's swinging the pendulum to the 29 percent increase in home births is women talking about the satisfaction of their births and the good safety record," says Moray.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has 55,000 members, said in a statement last year that hospitals and birthing centers are the safest place to have a baby. "Although the absolute risk of planned home births is low, published medical evidence shows it does carry a two- to three-fold increase in the risk of newborn death compared with planned hospital births."

Dr. Erin Tracy, head of the college's Massachusetts section, said pregnant women are generally healthy and most will be fine, regardless of where they deliver. However, cases where women need life-saving surgery or medicine are worrisome. The time it takes to get to a hospital can make the difference between life and death.

Tracy explains, "There are circumstances where medical intervention is necessary. We can provide that intervention much more quickly in the hospital. There will be more dialog about home deliveries in general. It's not adding to the literature and the studies. We know the potential risks of having a delivery outside of a hospital setting. People should decide what level of risk they're willing to incur."

The college says women considering a home birth should work with a certified nurse midwife, certified midwife or doctor. Women should have a plan for a quick trip to a hospital in the event of an emergency.

Does the tragic death of Caroline Lovell affect how you view home birth? Share your views with us!

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AnnaRO's picture

Submitted by AnnaRO on

I would like to see some statistics to back up the statement that there is a 2 to 3 fold increased risk in a home birth versus a hospital birth. In a normal healthy pregnancy of a normal and healthy woman, I'm not sure that I buy that. It's the snowball effect of medical interventions that increases risks of complications during childbirth. Certainly, home birth isn't for everyone and every woman should do what she is most comfortable with, for some that is birthing at home and for others it's being in the hospital. What happened to Caroline Lovell is tragically sad, but there is no way to know if the ending would have been different had she been at the hospital to begin with.

Pregnancyorg Staff's picture

Hi Anna, Thank you for your insightful comments. As you know from reading the blog, the statement about a 2 to 3 fold increased risk in home birth vs. hospital birth came from a spokesman from the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They also stated that the "absolute risk of planned home births is low" while citing "published medical evidence shows it does carry a two- to three-fold increase in the risk of newborn death compared with planned hospital births."

We do not know to what published medical evidence they refer. Certainly there are many successful home births.

We have to agree with you, though that every woman has to make her own informed decision and there is indeed no way to know if there would have been a different outcome for Ms. Lovell had she delivered in a hospital.

Again, thank you for commenting. It is these types of comments that open a healthy dialogue.