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Naomi James was laid to rest yesterday
Maternal Deaths

Mother died in Drogheda after 'freebirth' at home with no midwife or doctor present

Hospital staff desperately tried to save Naomi’s life after she arrived in the hospital experiencing postpartum hemorrhage.

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised about the safety of ‘freebirthing’ – giving birth at home without a doctor or midwife present – after a woman died in Drogheda this week after delivering her son at home.

Naomi James, who has been described as “amazing and beautiful” by her loved ones, died in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda on Sunday 23 June after giving birth to a baby boy at home.

She suffered a postpartum haemorrhage, known as a bleed, after the birth. Her son survived. 

It’s understood that an ambulance was called to the house after Naomi delivered her baby, and that she arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda between 45 minutes and an hour later.

Staff at the hospital worked desperately to try and save her life, and several have been left extremely upset by the experience.

Medical professionals have expressed their concerns about ‘freebirthing’ and the risks associated with it to The Journal in the wake of Naomi’s death.

One medical source said: “Medical intervention can save the lives of women and babies”. They added that complications from high-risk pregnancies can be managed more in a hospital.

The photographer and mother-of-four’s funeral took place yesterday.

The Journal understands that Naomi had planned a freebirth delivery at home with the assistance of a doula, a non-clinical birth worker who assists women in the run up to and during labour, after she had previously had two caesarean sections in hospital when she had given birth. 

Some women who aim to have a ‘freebirth’ plan to spend the majority of their labour at home with the assistance of a doula, before going to hospital in the last stages before the delivery. 

The administrator of an online support group for women in Ireland who have experienced birth trauma due to their experiences in hospitals said that freebirthing is a “last resort” for women who have lost trust in the medical maternity system.

They said that some women feel they have no option but to go outside of the system to have the home birthing experience they want, as some are deemed as too high risk by services, and others are too traumatised to re-enter the hospital maternity system.

The doula who was present for Naomi’s labour told The Journal yesterday: “This is a very distressing time for all involved. Naomi was an absolutely sensational woman and birthed her baby boy with incredible power. I won’t be making any comment or confirming any details that Naomi’s family haven’t made public”.

Doulas provide emotional support to women and can work alongside midwives. They do not make medical interventions. 

The doula who assisted Naomi says on her social media that she is a birthing professional, not a medical professional.

The doula also says that women who have had caesareans previously must be informed that they have “options”, including a freebirth, for future pregnancies.

Naomi attended a retreat in April that was run by this doula, alongside other pregnant women.

Naomi had engaged with home birth services while pregnant, and been advised that the risk of a home birth was too high for her due to her previous caesareans.

It’s understood that she was offered a safe trial of labour, which is when a woman who has previously had a caesarean and who wants to have a vaginal birth is allowed to go through labour in a controlled and monitored hospital environment.

A woman who runs a support group Naomi was a member of online said that there is a need for someone within hospital maternity services whose job would be to re-engage with women who have been advised not to have home births, and then decide to opt for a free birth outside of the hospital medical system, and added that in their view, work needs to be done for women to be able to “trust maternity services again”.

They said that doulas cannot act as midwives during free births, and they are there exclusively to provide emotional support, basic assistance and call an ambulance if one is needed.

One member of an online support group replied to Naomi when she asked about other people’s experiences of having doula-assisted freebirths at home after previous caesareans: “If you decide to go down this road be selective about who you tell so you can avoid social workers calling to your home (sent by the hospital)”.

Naomi’s death is one of three recent maternity-related deaths in Ireland. Maternal death rates in Ireland are low, and these deaths happening so close together is being regarded as a tragic occurrence.

Recently, women spoke to The Journal about their experiences of birth-related trauma in Irish hospitals.

An inquest to establish the cause of Naomi’s death will take place in due course – inquests are held in relation to all maternal deaths. People have been donating money towards her husband and children via GoFundMe here.

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