BIRTH OF A NEW TREND
By HANNAH ROSS and !MEL McMILLAN
AS MANY as 50 women a year on the Northern Rivers are giving birth without a midwife or any kind of professional assistance.
And, according to figures from the Natural Birth Education and Research Centre in Lismore, the practice of 'free birthing' is on the increase in the region because of a shortage of midwives.
The centre and the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have warned against free birthing as an unsafe option.
Tina Dvorak, of Barkers Vale, has had two free births and is a passionate advocate of the practice.
"I knew I could do it," she said. "And I didn't want to pay all that money to a midwife."
A midwife-assisted home birth costs around $4000, and there is no Medicare rebate.
Tina gave birth to her first child, Gypsy, now five, with just two friends present and again with her second child, Sharla, 18 months, with only friends and her partner assisting.
"Nobody had any medical training," she said. "My friends both had given birth, but that was their only experience."
Tina's objection to professionally assisted birth is her belief that childbirth is an intuitive process, not a scientific one. And Tina thinks medical assistance makes women fearful.
"They put fear into the woman and make her doubt her body can do it," she said.
"If I can get pregnant, then I can give birth. The body just knows what to do, it opens up and the baby comes out. It's pretty simple really."
Tina says even if she had wanted a midwife present there were very few available.
"There just aren't enough midwives in this area any more. You need to find the one right for you, but you can't if you have no choices," Tina said.
The centre's childbirth educator, Margaret Spain, said since 2002 independent midwives had been unable to get professional indemnity insurance and many had left the profession.
Ms Spain said the rise of free birthing, also known as earth birthing, could be also attributed to its promotion on many Internet sites.
Ms Spain said it was imperative the Government stepped in to cover the cost of indemnity insurance for midwives so women wanting to give birth at home could do so safely.
The centre has put forward a submission to the North Coast Area Health Service that the service pays the wages and%insurance of five midwives at The Natural Birth Education and Research Centre.
Ms Spain said this arrangement would reduce costs per birth to the Area Heath Service from $4192 down to $3700. She said the arrangement would reduce the cost to families wanting to use the centre to $1000.