Hungary has worked hard to reduce its infant mortality rate to one lower than the United States. In 1960, the country’s rate was 48 deaths per 1000 births. In 2008, this number dropped to 5.4 deaths per 1000 births. Compared to the world average of 46, Hungary is a country that prides itself on the medicalization of birth and how it has saved lives. Unfortunately, Hungarian mothers-to-be are left with little birthing choice, as doctors and midwives who challenge the medical system by promoting home births face imprisonment when deaths occur.
Whether giving birth in a hospital or at home, a certain amount of risk occurs. Many proponents of home birth believe it is safer than a hospital birth for a typical pregnancy. In fact, according to “Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America”:
Planned home births with certified professional midwives in the United States had similar rates of intrapartum and neonatal mortality to those of low risk hospital births
Medical intervention rates for planned home births were lower than for planned low risk hospital births
For many parents-to-be, the risks of medical interventions outweigh home birth fears.
Agnes Gereb is an obstetrician and home birth midwife in Hungary facing criminal charges and eight years in prison for practicing her beliefs. The Economist explains:
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That view may seem outdated in the West, but not in the ex-communist East, where birth is a medical problem not a natural process, and where abortion has long been commonplace.
Unfortunately, Gereb’s supporters worry only expert opinions from hospital birth OBs will be used in her case. When 99 percent of Hungarian births include some form of medical intervention, natural home births are rare. Gereb has advocated for change, and in 1997 was suspended for allowing a father into a birthing room.
Both of my children were born at home, and my family is of Hungarian descent. I am thankful for my experiences with American midwives, and I hope Gereb’s case will change the system in Hungary giving women more choices for natural births.