I first heard of Dr. Ágnes Geréb when I recently attended a conference with American midwifery advocate Ina May Gaskin in Toronto.
She referenced her friend, Dr. Geréb, who was in custody and awaiting sentence for criminal charges. Her crime?
Attending home births.
Dr. Ágnes Geréb is a Hungarian obstetrician and midwife. She is the founder of the Napvilág birthing centre and is internationally recognized as a childbirth expert. She has attended over 3,000 home births in the past 20 years, with an infant mortality rate of less than 1 in 1,000 (which is lower than many hospitals).
Dr. Geréb was voted one of Hungary’s Women of the Decade in a women’s weekly. She was one of the first doctors in Hungary to advocate for fathers being allowed in the delivery room in the 1970′s.
Dr. Geréb and other birth advocates have been trying to get home birth regulated and legalized by the Hungarian government for the past 22 years. (As it stood up until very recently, women were legally permitted to give birth at home, but medical professionals were not legally permitted to assist them there).
On October 5, 2010, Dr. Geréb was arrested by 4 armed policemen shortly after calling an ambulance for a woman who had spontaneously gone into labor during a routine prenatal checkup. Her charge at the time was “suspicion of reckless endangerment committed during the line of duty.”
The police also interrogated the other women present at the birth center, as well as the mother who had just given birth to a baby in respiratory distress (the baby was revived at the hospital).
Dr. Geréb was placed in prison on a 23 hour lock down. She was subjected to strip searches, allowed to see her family only once a month, and permitted one 10-minute phone call per week. She was taken to court in handcuffs and leg shackles, so tight that they cut into her leg.
Dr. Geréb’s criminal charges now include 2 births where postpartum hemorrhaging was greater than normal (both women recovered and were fine), an infant who died as a result of shoulder dystocia, and an infant (one of twins) who died at 7 months (and suffered a lack of oxygen at birth). The parents of the child who died from shoulder dystocia are the only ones who are pressing charges; the others all support Dr. Geréb.
On March 24th, 2011, the Budapest City Court sentenced Ágnes to 2 years in prison, with a 5 year ban on practicing as an obstetrician/midwife.
Dr. Geréb has been supported by several public rallies, social media efforts, and international organizations.
The International Motherbirth Child Organisation (IMBCO) has added to the increasing pressure on the Hungarian Government by issuing a strongly worded letter asking the Government to release Ágnes. It includes the statement below:
“IMBCO would respectfully ask a democratic Hungary, the incoming President of the European Union, what remedies it has available to its citizens when it is clear, as in the case of Dr. Geréb, that a person, totally innocent of criminal actions, is nevertheless imprisoned indefinitely and faces serious criminal charges which could deprive her of her freedom for a lengthy period? We hope in receiving your answer, Secretary of State that we find a Government conscious of the grave injustice that has been visited upon Dr. Geréb and one willing to find an immediate solution to secure her freedom“.
Ina May Gaskin also states in Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta: (p. 217)
“In December 2010, the European Court of Human Rights heard her case and criticized the “permanent threat” to health professionals in Hungary, emphasizing that, since Hungary is a member of the European Union, Hungarian womens’ right to choose where to give birth is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention (right to private and family life). The Hungarian Department of Health issues a promise to build birth centers and issue regulations for out-of-hospital births on December 20, 2010, Geréb’s birthday. The following day, she was released to house arrest.”
Dr. Geréb is not the only martyr for the cause, though certainly the most prominent in the news at the moment.
Of the 15 midwives who are willing to assist at home births in Hungary, 5 of them are currently facing criminal prosecution.
And from the Budapest Moms Blog:
“Ironically, in this country where home birth used to be the norm just two generations ago, and where it was still officially allowed for doctors to attend births at home as recently as 1984, by now the majority of the population considers it absolutely unthinkable to have a baby anywhere other than a hospital. And when hospital transfers are made from home births, the majority of people consider this proof that home birth is dangerous and irresponsible.”
When I first heard of this amazing woman, Dr. Ágnes Geréb, I felt a strong desire to do something in some way to offer her my support. She has gone to jail (at 60 years old, after a long and respected career) for offering women the simple right of where they might choose to give birth.
The Hungarian hospital system is known for high intervention rates – even higher than in the US in some cases (90% chance of getting an episiotomy, for instance). It is one more situation of highly trained medical people in lucrative jobs who have no actual idea of the reality of normal birth – it has become a country where birth without intervention amounts to criminal charges.
I know that I personally feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to choose where I may give birth, along with access to trained midwives who are legally able to assist me. It would be devastating to me if I was forced to give birth in a hospital and had to submit to unnecessary interventions of my pregnancy was progressing totally normally.
Here in Canada, home birth is an established part of the birth care system. Midwives have privileges at hospitals and are trained to attend births where the woman chooses (in low risk pregnancies). If a transfer is necessary, it is done under the auspices of the health care system, all of it totally normal.
There is a shortage of midwives and not every citizen has access to midwifery care, but it is in no way illegal. I know my wish is to give birth at home with my next pregnancy!
In the US, midwifery is still fighting for its right to survive. In some places the laws seem as muddled as they are in Hungary.
In spite of it all, women across the world are calling out for the right to take birth back – even if it means going to jail for it. I support Ágnes Geréb, and hope and pray that her appeal will come to trial quickly and that she will be released and allowed to practice once again in her amazing work of supporting women giving birth.
If you would like to join me in supporting Dr. Geréb, please know that there are several things you can do:
- Spread the word about her situation – create awareness through your blog, social media and personal relationships.
- Pray for her.
- Sign an online petition asking for her release.
- Write letters to the Hungarian ambassador in your country
- Send a post card to Dr. Geréb:
Fovarosi Buntetes Vegrehajtasi Intezet
Nagy Ignac u. 5-11.
You can also reference the following sites (most of which were sources for this post) for more information and opportunities to offer your support (including specific addresses of who to write or e-mail, form letters, and donation opportunities).
The right to normal birth is something all of us can support, and should do whenever we have the chance. I sincerely hope this change comes around for Hungary sooner than later, and in other countries that are struggling as well.
If you blog about Dr. Geréb’s situation, please let me know so I can add your post to the list of references.