DIFFICULT DELIVERY

The pioneer of home births in Hungary faces jail

IF HISTORY were a guide, obstetrics in Hungary should be wonderful. In
1847 Ignac Semmelweis pioneered mother-friendly childbirth, insisting
that doctors should wash their hands between autopsy and delivery rooms
(they objected to this slur on gentlemanly cleanliness).

Obstetric care in Hungary is indeed excellent today. It is tightly run
by skilled doctors, with low mortality rates. But those who challenge
the medical profession still face problems. Agnes Gereb, a pioneer of
home births, is facing up to eight years in jail. Prosecutors are going
after her over one fatality in childbirth, one case in which a baby
died some months after birth and two births that ended up as emergency
hospital admissions. In the eyes of many Hungarians, such incidents
show that home births are insanely risky and that those who promote
them are little more than irresponsible cranks.

That view may seem outdated in the West, but not in the ex-communist
East, where birth is a medical problem not a natural process, and where
abortion has long been commonplace. Such procedures as episiotomy
(cutting the vulva) are standard, whereas Ms Gereb says she has
performed it in just ten out of 3,000 home births. She criticises
hospitals for their frequent use of drugs to induce labour, which suits
doctors’ timetables rather than nature’s. Women in Hungary also expect
to pay, formally or informally, to be looked after in hospital, and
especially for pain relief.

Outsiders who unsettle the obstetric cartel meet clannish (and even
self-interested) opposition. Ms Gereb’s supporters are inviting
international experts to testify that home births can be quite safe and
that her record is commendable. But the court may choose to take expert
opinion only from the obstetricians’ trade body, which dislikes home
births–and also Ms Gereb. An obstetrician herself, she has often
clashed with her colleagues. In 1997 she was suspended for the
outrageous act of allowing a father into the birthing room. Things have
changed, but in Hungary only one birth in a hundred happens without
some form of medical intervention. Ms Gereb thinks that many more could
be natural, given a bigger role for midwives and a smaller one for
bossy doctors.

Semmelweis went mad and died (of an infection) after being beaten up by
warders in an asylum. Ms Gereb does not face that fate–and she
flinches modestly at any comparison to the great man. But, she notes,
he might have sympathised with her over one big problem: the surprising
difficulty of changing medical routine.

Message for the Prague Protest of 14th October from the Hungarian Freebirth Community

To the organisers of this protest and to all of you gathered here in front of the Hungarian Embassy, we send a big thank you for taking the time to support the cause of Agnes Gereb and the cause of home birthing in Hungary. We, your close neighbours, are now facing a big challenge and we will need all your voices, your power and your strength to help Agnes and home birthing receive fair and proper treatment in Hungary. Agnes and her family would particularly like to express their sincerest and warmest thanks for turning up today in such great numbers. Continue reading Message for the Prague Protest of 14th October from the Hungarian Freebirth Community

Information on the legal conditions under which independent midwives currently operate in Hungary and the criminal cases involving Ágnes Gerén and other midwives

Current legal position of Independent midwives

It is not possible for an independent midwife to do the job she was trained to do at a home birth without immediately breaking a law. Continue reading Information on the legal conditions under which independent midwives currently operate in Hungary and the criminal cases involving Ágnes Gerén and other midwives

Blog Carnival for Ágnes Geréb

Dear Birth Blogosphere!

Hungary needs your help right now. Dr Ágnes Geréb, the most prominent home birth midwife in Hungary, was arrested for attending home births the same week that Midwifery Today’s Birth as a Human Rights Issue conference was going on in Strasbourg,  France. The irony was not lost.

Here is how you (yes, YOU) can help. Continue reading Blog Carnival for Ágnes Geréb

Home Birth in Hungary – One Apprentice Midwife’s Experience

I stopped attending home births in Hungary in 2009 because I was afraid. I was afraid of exactly what happened to Dr Geréb and some of the members of her midwifery practice. I was afraid I’d be thrown in jail after a hospital transfer, or an ambulance call, a maternal hemorrhage or a newborn death – even if the service that was provided was top notch and professional and timely and appropriate. Continue reading Home Birth in Hungary – One Apprentice Midwife’s Experience