Already in the first half of the twentieth century women who lived in cities gave birth in hospitals, although I assume most country folk still had their children at home with the help of a midwife. Today I would say almost every child is born in a hospital. No longer can one find some tiny little village noted as the birthplace on birth certificates. Not long ago a relatively small town was about to lose its hospital, and the most serious concern of the locals was that the children of the town would have a different birthplace recorded on their birth certificates. In any case, if the statistics that appear nowadays in the papers about home birthing are correct, their number is minuscule: 500-600 a year.
The apostle of home birthing is Ágnes Geréb, a gynecologist with seventeen years of experience. I understand that she was also the one who introduced the practice of husbands being present at the moment of their children's birth. Then Geréb started a movement that advocated the thesis that giving birth is not an illness with which one must go to a hospital but a natural part of life. And if there is monitoring of the pregnancy and there is expert help after a normal pregnancy, birth could be easily accomplished at home.
Apparently, the Hungarian hospitals' inhospitable surroundings gave the impetus to Geréb's movement. The care given in many cases is inadequate. The doctor who is supposed to be present at birth doesn't want to get up in the middle of the night or over the weekend and therefore he simply induces birth at a time that's convenient for him. In addition, it is a well known fact that obstetricians are perhaps the richest segment of the medical profession. Although gynecological services, including the birth of the child, are covered by medical insurance, there is a "fee" that is expected by the doctors. I'm not sure what the going rate is, but not long ago I heard about 150,000 Ft., that is, about $750.00. And, naturally, the doctors don't pay taxes on money earned this way. If a gynecologist has no more than 20 births a month he will receive 3 million forints tax free. Not bad. Thus the mostly male gynecologists are dead set against letting women give birth at home with the help of a well trained midwife. I'm not familiar with the education of Hungarian midwives, but in the United States it is a two-year program after a four-year-long bachelor's program.
A veritable witchhunt began against Ágnes Geréb that reached its pinnacle in 2007 when she was briefly arrested and charged with negligence resulting in the death of one of the babies. In the usual way of the Hungarian courts it is only now, three years later, that the case reached the court. By that time Geréb was in jail in connection with another case. On October 6 the police arrested her because a baby had to be revived after a difficult birth outside of the hospital. I quite intentionally didn't describe this incident as a home birthing because the birth didn't take place in the young couple's home but in a house owned by Ágnes Geréb where she normally gives lectures. The house also has facilities for giving birth in a family type of setting.
The birth occurred unexpectedly during a lecture. As we know, such things can happen. Who hasn't heard of babies born in a taxi on the way to the hospital? Or, one of my favorite stories about star doctors is the following. During the war the Dutch royal couple received shelter in Ottawa, Canada, where the queen's last child was born. The attending physician, after being chosen by the queen, became a much sought after gynecologist in town. An acquaintance of mine who had already had two children was his patient and after two children she had a pretty good idea of when the baby was coming. So she phoned the famous doctor who announced that it wasn't time yet and that was that. Eventually the baby was delivered with the help of the next door neighbor in the living room on the sofa! She still had to pay the doctor, though!
Well, something like that happened in this case too. The baby came too early–the details are not known–but the baby was in bad shape. They called an ambulance and they managed to revive the child. The next morning Geréb and three other people who were assisting were arrested. As far as I know, she is still in jail.
Meanwhile she had to appear in court because of her case from 2007. She was in handcuffs at the end of which dangled a chain at least a four-five feet long. A policeman held the end of the chain while the poor accused was led into the courtroom as if she were a dog. On the other hand, one can hear of real criminals who were allowed to leave the courtroom and who simply walked out of the building.They didn't stop until they reached Spain!
At the trial all the experts blamed her for the death of the newborn in 2007. I read the allegations about the administration of oxytocin and of course I don't understand all the details. In fact, I'm rather proud of myself for even knowing about oxytocin and what it is used for. One of the experts admitted that giving birth at home is legal but "the profession doesn't recommend it." Another expert claimed that birth at home is okay but only if a gynecologist is present. So the experts themselves cannot agree on the recommended action. Now the new government is promising definitive legislation on the question. Knowing Hungarian lawmakers' way of thinking, the legislation most likely will be quite complicated and thus will make giving birth outside of a hospital very difficult.
As for the accidents that occurred in Ágnes Geréb's practice, her defenders recall that she has delivered more than 3,500 babies and there were only a couple of problems. People on her side rightly point out that problems occur in hospitals as well and there are also babies born dead or mothers who die in childbirth. Their doctors are naturally not led in chains to jail. Recently there was a rather suspicious case. A young woman, six and a half months pregnant, complained of severe abdominal pain. The doctor gave her a painkiller and sent her home. She was dead within twenty-four hours. She had a severe abdominal infection.
I don't know what will happen to Ágnes Geréb but I'm not too optimistic. The doctor lobby is very powerful, and I assume that the judge is baffled by the differing expert opinions. We know that the association of gynecologists will fight very hard to keep birthing within the walls of the hospitals. It certainly is in their interest.