Category Archives: Planning your vbac

VBAC: A husband’s experience and lessons learned

“I have just seen so many women who have husbands who aren’t supportive because they don’t understand. My husband would love to help more men understand.”

A couple recently shared their VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) journey with me.  It touched my heart.  My the time I was done reading it, I had tears in my eyes.

So many women do not feel that VBAC is an option for them because their partner isn’t on board.  Now I know there are women who will birth how they please regardless of their partner’s feelings or thoughts, but there are many women who wish to bring their baby into the world while preserving their relationship.  And, what typically happens in these scenarios, is that the woman puts the desires of her partner above her own and she schedules a repeat cesarean.  Often, the challenge of educating and convincing their partner is just to great in the face of the conventional wisdom that states VBACs are just plain dangerous.

Just the other day, I was talking to a couple in their 40s who didn’t have children.  Yet despite the fact that they were not in the “world of childbearing,” they thought “once a cesarean, always a cesarean.”  This falsehood is so ingrained in our society that even those without children know it by heart and believe it to be true.

The absence or presence of social support is a huge factor in whether a woman plans a VBAC or a repeat cesarean.  This is why it is so important for partners and people of non-childbearing age, such as the birthing woman’s parents, grandparents, and extended family, to know that the American College of OBGYNs and the National Institutes of Health say that VBAC is a safe, reasonable, and appropriate choice for most women with one prior cesarean and for some women with two prior cesareans.  When friends and family members are undereducated about VBAC, it negatively impacts the birthing mom.  Many women are simply not willing to create family drama in order to plan a VBAC.  And the seeds of resentment are planted.

And then there are men that want to support their wives, but don’t know how.  They feel trapped between a growing mistrust of their doctor and the desire for a good outcome for their wife and baby. Today I spoke with a father who said that he “felt powerless” as his wife was bullied into a cesarean. He really believed that he should be able to completely trust his wife’s OB, but as her labor progressed, he did so less and less.  And yet, he didn’t know what to do.

Men need to hear the experiences of other men as partners are such a critical part of the birthing woman’s support team.  For many women, when their partners are on board, they have the emotional sustenance required to plan a VBAC in a country where over 90% of women have a repeat cesarean and women planning VBACs are often bombarded with stories of “VBACs gone wrong.”

I hope you enjoy the words of this engineer, this military man, this caring father, as he graciously articulates his VBAC journey.

I would love to share more VBAC stories from the partner’s perspective.  You can submit your birth stories via email.

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One of the most important life choices is the freedom to choose what one wants for their own health and their body.  For my wife, it was the choice to have a VBAC after two c-sections and the need for her husband’s support to make it happen.  This is a short story about a husband’s lesson learned and incredible experience of sharing a VBAC birth with his wife.

Our first child together was a cesarean because the labor would not progress and ultra sound pictures indicated a large head.  The doctor feared complications due to the large head and the concern over my wife’s first vaginal birth 9 years earlier that resulted in a 4th degree tear.  Our going in game plan was always as natural as possible.

Before we decided to start a family, my wife relayed her desire to have a natural birth when the time came. She described the challenges in her first birth that resulted in a painful 4th degree.  She relayed that in retrospect, the 4th degree tear could have been prevented had the atmosphere of the delivery room been more supportive, more relaxed and the doctor vetted more carefully prior to delivery.

All doctors are not created equal.  A medical degree does not guarantee that two doctors will have equal outcomes. And with my wife’s first child years before I was in the picture, there was good evidence to support her claim that both support structure and doctor helped lead to a painful labor.

“I could not understand the true emotional implications”

When our son was born cesarean, there was a disappointment that only she could truly understand. I was simply happy to have a healthy son.   I remember her making a comment about cheating me out of the experience to have a natural birth, as if her body had failed what it was made to do.  I reminded her that natural or cesarean, it was all the same to me as I just wanted wife and baby to be healthy.  How this was accomplished was not important to me.  But, to my wife the cesarean felt like a violation of her choice and cheated her out of the way nature created the female physiology to behave after 9 months of baby development.

I admittedly could not understand the true emotional implications that having a cesarean had on my wife until she went through her second cesarean.  When we decided to have baby number two together, my wife’s third, our doctor immediately said that since our son was born cesarean that our next child would have to be delivered cesarean too. We argued the point and our doctor, whom we loved and took care of all the children and my wife, finally gave us the option to find another doctor because the hospital “protocol” required that under the circumstances (quoted as saying the 4th degree and then a cesarean) dictated a second cesarean regardless of how the pregnancy was to progress.  This catch-22 complicated several factors for us.

“Our doctor, whom we loved, gave us zero options”

First, our doctor, whom we loved, gave us zero options.  She was a great person, wonderful doctor, but she was strapped to the protocol of the local hospital or their medical group that tells patients what they will do as opposed to giving the patient real options and choices on their health care.  I mentioned to my wife that we could switch doctors for this pregnancy but found that it may complicate our life because we were getting good care just miles from our house with the current doctor.  In the end, we stuck with the doctor we liked.  The lesson learned was that I should have told the good doctor to either grow a pair and stand up to the hospital’s myopic protocol and allow us the opportunity to do it our way or we should have just cut ties and got a new doctor who supported our VBAC wishes.  In the end, my wife’s freedom to decide should have been more important than our comfort zone with the local doctor.

I reluctantly supported our doctor and their protocol for a second cesarean.  I could tell my wife was disappointed, but she did not fight me.  This is one of those critical marriage lessons that go both ways.  Since there was little objection, just subtle and maybe even lingering apprehension to not make the decision to switch, we stayed with the plan.  Looking back, my wife’s apprehension to switch doctors was due to lack of VBAC education and lack of support from any of her caregivers, including me.  She just couldn’t understand why she was being forced into major surgery.

Later, after our daughter was born, I realized how much the inability to have the option of a natural birth meant to my wife.  The night before the scheduled cesarean, it appeared my wife was going into natural labor.  In retrospect, considering the labor signs and the small size of the baby, there is little doubt that she could have delivered vaginally.  My wife mentioned this to me the night before the c-section when she was having contractions and said, “I can do this naturally.” My response was, “No, we already have this scheduled for a cesarean in the morning and the doctor said that they would not do it.”  This response was naive and void of any empathy or realization of what that lack of support meant to my wife.  We went into surgery and it wasn’t until she was pregnant with our third that I realized how much the second cesarean had left her with some lasting emotional stress and even low grade secret resentment toward me for not supporting her or understanding her feelings on the topic better.  Whether she’ll admit it publicly, she harbored feelings against me for not supporting her, for the medical community’s lack of birthing choices, and to the doctor who we loved but had a hard time saying no to.

“I realized I let my wife down”

When I finally realized how critically important it was to have the freedom and choice to labor naturally, without absolutes dictated by the medical community or their “legal directives,” did I realize that I let my wife down. When the clue light came on I was set on supporting her on a VBAC, but it didn’t start that way.  My awakening did not come immediately when we found out we were having a third baby.

The pregnancy of our last child coincided with the pop up surprise news that I had to leave on a one year deployment to Afghanistan. In January 2012, I found out I was leaving the first week in April for a one year deployment and days later my wife announced she was pregnant.  What great timing.  Now my wife had to be a pregnant single mom to 3 children for an entire year.  Fortunately, we found out that due to the length of the deployment I was allowed 15 days of leave any time after 90 days in theater and therefore we started planning on my arrival for leave to coincide with the birth of our new baby.

“A selfish desire to try”

My wife quickly relayed her wishes about how this pregnancy would go.  She said to me bluntly that we’re doing this naturally. I quickly shot back with absolutely not.  My engineering brain quickly argued with her that we had three data points that indicated this was not a good idea: a 4th degree tear from forceps and 2 cesareans.  I told her that I did not want to take the chance of having my wife or baby put at risk because of a selfish desire to try and prove something to me or the world that she could do this naturally.  I had read medical reports of women’s uterus rupturing and dying from bleeding after attempted VBACs.  I feared what could happen.  But, I never knew the more thorough and recent facts of what my wife wanted to do.  She knew that I was a man who required facts to make critical decisions so she turned away from this conversation and re-engaged me at a later time with literature that showed a VBAC after 2 cesareans is not as dangerous or risky as I originally thought.  She showed me numerous medical associations that supported VBACs of all types.  I did a little more research and realized that from a technical perspective; it was possible assuming the pregnancy progressed normally without anomalies.

“It was at this moment that guilt set in”

When my wife dropped this data in my lap and looked at me with a long, deep stare that pierced right through me, my awakening had begun.  I realized that she wanted to have the choice to deliver this baby naturally without anyone in the medical profession telling her no unless there was a clear smoking gun for why it wasn’t possible, like high probability of death to baby or mom.  I knew she needed my support to make this work.  I decided at that moment that I would support her wish to have our baby without surgery.  I knew if anyone could do it, she could.  And I knew that there was no reason why we shouldn’t try to do it naturally.

It was at this moment that guilt set in for not doing something about my wife’s desire to try and have our daughter (second c-section) naturally.  I could have pulled my alpha male tricks and told the hospital to pack sand and that we were going to labor naturally and they’d have to follow our wishes or put us in the parking lot.  But, I didn’t do that and I was determined to redeem myself for not understanding how she truly felt.

“The only doctor we could find was a 2.5 hour drive without traffic”

The plan was complicated.  The only doctor we could find that took our military insurance and would entertain our idea of a VBAC with my wife’s past birthing history was in Los Angeles, a 2.5 hour drive without traffic from our desert home.  The doctor seemed too good to be true.  Our doctor, Dr. W, was personable, professional, and most importantly very supportive.  There was no talking down or psychological political play to try and convince us that our decision was not wise.  I told him that if there was no real reason why the baby couldn’t come into this world naturally, then we wanted his support for a VBAC.   He said he’d support our wishes as long as mom and baby were healthy, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supported VBAC.

This seemed too good to be true because our impression was that California was much more litigious than Washington State from where we had our last two children and the previous c-sections.  We assumed we would have fewer choices in California because California is a highly regulated state.  In our case, it took a very experienced doctor with the courage and trust to allow us to proceed with our desire to have a natural baby.  He was under pressure from both the hospital and his own reputation if things went badly, but he took a chance and gave us the benefit of the doubt to respect our right to choose.

“I wasn’t worried about the rocket attacks from insurgent forces, I was worried about my wife.”

While in Afghanistan, I wasn’t worried about the every 8 to 10 day rocket attacks from insurgent forces, I was worried about pregnancy issues and my active wife.  She was now a pregnant single mom, raising a teenager and two children, running 3 houses (we own two in WA State) and maintaining an aircraft.  With our son, my wife was put on bed rest at 29 weeks due to pre-term labor and in the end because the labor did not progress she had the first cesarean.  The surgery was an experience she did not ever want to repeat but ended up repeating with our daughter.  While I received the daily reports via emails, skype sessions and pictures, I prayed for her and the kids’ safety and health.  I was slated to fly home on or around the 5th of October and be present for the birth, due date October 11th.

There is no doubt that the 15% increase in grey and white hair while deployed was due to the reports of life at home.  While pregnant, my wife traveled to Florida, Georgia, and Colorado, traveled and hiked the forest on the Pacific coast with all the kids.  And at 8 months pregnant I would get pictures of her painting various rooms in the house and even using a chain saw to do yard work.  I pleaded with her to hire the labor and help as I was scared something was going to happen.  She was simply not a sit on the couch woman.  She was on the go all the time.

With our second daughter, my wife fell out of the car 10 days before the scheduled C-section and shattered her left 5th metatarsal. Ten days after breaking her foot, she had the c-section, then 2 weeks later she was in a car and we were moving from Washington State to California and into temporary housing, headed to our next California duty station.  She had a cast on her foot for 4 months. This experience was painful both emotionally and physically.  Now, 8000 miles away, I was afraid something similar might happen but even worse since I would not be there to help.

“Preparing her mind and body for a successful VBAC”

Simultaneously while my wife traveled with the kids, painted, and did yard work with chain saws, she took numerous steps to ensure that the VBAC would succeed.  Of her many objectives, one was to ensure that the baby would not be occiput posterior as her first and only vaginal birth yielded a decade earlier and a contributor to the 4th degree tear. She also contacted and connected with various people who gave her more information on how to best prepare for a VBAC.  She had chiropractic appointments to help loosen up her hips and to prepare her body for natural labor.  She read more medical data, communicated and worked with people like our doula, who volunteered her services free to military members.  The doula could be instrumental in helping many women and seems to be an underutilized service.  Our doula volunteered with Operation Special Delivery for families of deployed military members, free of charge.  Free expert doula care is something that does not exist and therefore we were fortunate to be in the right part of the country at the right time when a humble, caring and experienced woman was offering her doula services free to military spouses.  This too was a unique windfall and something that feels more like a blessing than pure luck.

Through my wife’s various connections, proactive appointments, nightly stretching rituals, she was preparing her mind and body for a successful VBAC.  People such as our doula volunteered hours talking about the game plan for VBAC day.  There was a real possibility that my leave period could have been canceled or late, because anything in the military is possible. Therefore, our doula was necessary to coach and represent my wife’s interest in the event that I couldn’t get home.  With both me and our doula in the room with my wife we were able to support her and time share in helping her along.  Fortunately, we both shared the same objectives and wanted the birthing room to be sterile of negativity and only wanted supportive hospital staff to interface with my wife.  This was a critical aspect of the successful VBAC.  The doula’s warrior like spirit and endurance meant that I had help and an advocate by my side the entire time.  By the time the baby arrived, all three of us, the doula, my wife and I had been up for almost 36 hours since we never got to sleep the night contractions started. My wife text messaged our doula when the contractions got bad and she stayed up on standby until my wife told her that we were headed into the hospital.  Our doula arrived shortly after we arrived at the hospital and stayed through the entire experience.

“What was important was her health and the baby’s, not my convenience of being home”

Thankfully, my wife’s pregnancy was just about as perfect as one could hope for.  She had terrible heart burn, the normal stuffy nose and difficulty sleeping at night, due to the physiological challenge of having a baby grow against the bladder, making nightly trips to the bathroom routine.  All this was normal and when I finally arrived in Los Angeles on October 7, we were ready to have a baby.  There were no indications that the pregnancy could not continue into normal labor.  Now, the next step was simply getting my wife into labor.  She tried acupuncture, lots of walks and when I arrived, we tried the husband-wife techniques that usually help stimulate labor.  But, after a few days home, there were no signs of labor and my wife was getting frustrated.  She so desperately wanted me to experience this with her and my window home was short.  I told her what was important was her health and the baby’s, not my convenience of being home.  The strict military protocol didn’t have flexibility in the return schedule: unless it was a major medical emergency, I was slated to leave on the 16th day after I arrived home.  So if the baby came late, then I would have very little time with the baby.  If the baby had to be delivered via yet another c-section, my wife would be in dire need of help because she’d be hard down with NO family scheduled to be around after I left. This iteration of the various scenarios had me the most concerned. I was sick to my stomach thinking about this situation; leaving my wife days after a c-section with a house full of kids was unthinkable.  I knew I’d have to come up with some creative way to get her immediate help at home.

Another scenario that had me concerned was the baby being 7-9 days late, as was the case with a friend during the same period.  The reality of me coming home and then leaving with no baby was a possibility and then having to deliver just hours or days after I left to return to Afghanistan was a horrible thought too. In this scenario, the probability of complications increased because the possibility of the baby growing too big and then again requiring a c-section increased significantly.  When my wife began to panic a little about having no signs of labor, I tried my best to reassure her that everything would work out.  In my statistically oriented mind, I knew the odds were against us.

“Contractions were coming about 4-5 minutes apart and they were getting stronger”

Lying in bed on the 8th of October, my wife was upset at the possibility of our grand plan not working out and I assured her that this baby was coming and it would come on the due date.  Early in the afternoon on October 10, my wife started to have small contractions.  By around 10 pm they were getting more significant.  Just after midnight on October 11, the baby’s due date, the contractions were coming about 4-5 minutes apart and they were getting stronger.  Then with the first real sign of labor, the bloody show, we decided to leave for the hospital, which was about a half hour drive from our hotel.

My father had flown into town a few days before I arrived from Afghanistan.  He was the cat herder; he took care of our 4 and 2 yr old.  My father at 68 years old has the amazing stamina to handle two energetic kids. We left at around 0130 in the morning on October 11 and left my father to pack up the entire little cottage we were renting at a local air force base in LA.  When we got to the hospital, my wife’s contractions became very strong and painful. I remember my wife saying labor will be hard for me because I’ve never seen her in real pain and I’m not good with seeing her in pain.  I didn’t know what she meant until she started to go into active labor.  Our doula met us at the hospital.  Between the doula and me, we helped coach my wife through 17 hours of painfully slow labor.

My wife’s labor pains came strong and painful.  She was right; I’d never seen her in that much pain before.  She had painful contractions for hours and hours.  Her first cervical check revealed she was only 1-2 centimeters.  She became frustrated again – after all that work and pain we assumed she would have been considerably further along. Since my wife had two c-sections previously, the staff was trigger happy to react to any anomalies seen in my wife or the baby.  Their threshold for pregnancy challenges was low.  If the monitors weren’t on at all times, they’d come into the room quickly and impatiently.  Our doula and I had to tell the staff to stop over-reacting.  They settled down a bit, but they reminded me that there wasn’t much wiggle room for the monitor rules.  The previous night, a woman’s uterus ruptured just after birth and she almost died in a room next to ours.  So the staff was even more on edge than usual.

Therefore, we had additional pressure to ensure my wife was relaxed but yet progressing.  After 13 hours of labor, she was exhausted and the pain was beginning to take its toll.  Her dilating slowed at around 6 centimeters.  The anesthesiologist recommended an epidural in case my wife needed a c-section.  They could put one in without administering medicine.  We did not want an epidural to prevent my wife from being able to position on all fours or sitting on the port-a-potty they brought in for her to labor on.  But, the pain was so bad, that it was preventing her from relaxing and she was simply running out of energy.

At 8 cm the epidural was in, we made the decision to administer a very low amount of pain relief, just enough to take the edge off.  This technique worked and the small amount of pain relief helped my wife regain some confidence as it reduced her pain level. They put in enough pain meds for 1 hour of relief.  The doctor said the water bag needed to be broken to further progress.  Several hours after the water broke the doctor came in and checked her.  She was 10 centimeters now, the magic number to begin the delivery.

After 15 hours of labor, the baby had to be delivered now.  The doctor recognized how tired my wife was and he ensured no more epidural medicine was administered because he needed her strength to push the baby out if we were to do this naturally.  He pulled me aside and told me the baby’s threshold heart rate was down 30%, something I had observed and was concerned about. Dr. W told me that it was time to get the baby out and it was coming out one of two ways.  He said when he comes back, we’re having the baby.  He couldn’t let the heart rate deteriorate any further and said the baby is plus 1 and not happy about being stuck in that position.

“The natural urge to push wasn’t happening”

I went immediately to my wife, who was exhausted and told her when Dr. W comes back in, it’s time to push.  I calmly gave my wife a pep talk, but she was too tired to respond and her lack of response had me worried.  But, she listened.  Both our doula and I could tell that my wife was having a hard time pushing. The pain was difficult to push through and for some reason the natural urge to push wasn’t happening like my wife envisioned it would happen.  Her body made it to 10cm, slowly, but wasn’t sure what to do now.  The natural urge to push wasn’t occurring.  But, it was time to push anyway.

I didn’t want to seem panicked, but I told my wife several times when the good doctor comes back, he’s either taking you to the OR or you’re going to have to push this baby out.  A delivery nurse came in first and she wanted to observe my wife push and immediately gave her some corrective technique.  Then Dr. W came in and did the same assessment and recognized some technique issues and then he turned into an assertive drill instructor, telling my wife to push.  Both the labor nurse and the doctor’s quick technique advice were key.

“Is that the baby’s head?”

After one of my wife’s strong pushes and while I was holding her right leg back I noticed something unusual looking next to the doctors finger that was positioned about a half inch inside my wife’s vagina. I couldn’t make out the object initially but once my tired brain thought of all the possibilities I realized that it looked like a mat of wet hair.  I asked the doctor, “Is that the baby’s head?” He said yes it is. I was filled with energy and excitement that I hoped would jump to my wife when I told her the news of what I had just witnessed.  I couldn’t believe I was staring at the top of our child’s head.  We made it I thought!  I told my wife I could see the baby’s head.   She pushed harder and after about 3-4 good pushes, our baby came right out.  It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Once the baby was out, they placed her on my wife’s bare chest. After several minutes we realized that we never checked to see what the sex was.  My wife lifted her up, moved the umbilical cord and I think we were both surprised to see a little girl part.  We did not want to know the sex of the baby until he or she was born.  We assumed we were having a boy because of how strong the baby was during the pregnancy and how much the baby looked like our son from the 3-d ultra sounds.

“She felt so good that we requested to leave the hospital at the absolute minimum stay period.”

Lucy Rose was born at 7:47pm on October 11, 2012.  She was 7 pounds 1 ounce.  My wife had no tearing and her uterus showed no signs of trauma from the VBAC.  She felt so good that we requested to leave the hospital at the absolute minimum stay period.  The baby was born at 7:47 pm and we told the hospital we’d stay exactly the required 24 hour monitoring period. By 8pm, 24 hours later, we were loading up the car and heading back to our desert home, 2.5 hours from the hospital.  We arrived at our home around 11:30pm.

This was the first time I had been home since April 7th and it was so nice to be back.  No hospital nurses checking vitals every 2 hours and the comfort of our own nest.  The next 10 days at home with the baby, my wife and kids were absolutely wonderful.  Due to the natural birth, my wife was immediately mobile.  Unlike the previous two births, it was great seeing my wife smile, happy and glowing and able to move without pain.  She loathed the c-section and dreaded the possibility of having to go through that again, especially without the help of her husband.  Thankfully, we were able to have a successful VBAC preventing my wife from having to relive another c-section.

“She came in and began lecturing us on the dangers of a VBAC.”

When we arrived at the hospital, the birthing process started out badly.  The first nurse we dealt with was what I would consider bluntly, an idiot.  She came in and began lecturing us on the dangers of a VBAC.  I quickly told her to stop and leave. This same nurse came in again and tried to make more negative commentaries and this time our doula rolled in and told her to essentially shut up and do her job.  I pulled this nurse out and told her that we weren’t going to have any negativity in the room.  I told her that we weren’t 16 year old idiots; we were well informed and educated people who most likely knew more about the risks than she did.  I had thoughts of leaving the hospital due to the initial behavior of the nurses.  In all honesty the staff on duty when we arrived was absolutely horrible. They were unfriendly and unprofessional.

But at shift change, something wonderful occurred.  The next shift yielded very competent, supportive and professional nurses who understood that our path through this experience was going to be nothing but positive and supportive.  Two of our nurses were also doulas.  We had great health care providers through the rest of the stay at the hospital.  No more myopic lectures about the risks but instead an all out effort to support my wife through this delivery.  There is no way we could have made it through this experience without the help and support of true and knowledgeable nurses who understood compassion and realized that the patient is first and foremost.

“My initial thought was that this hospital was going to be a disaster but I was happy to be wrong.”

My initial thought was that this hospital was going to be a disaster but I was happy to be wrong. We fortunately experienced a well organized and supportive hospital where our experience was wonderful and our dream of a natural birth and of a successful VBAC was realized.  The ability to have a natural birth allowed my wife to function immediately after the birth, something that would be crucial when I left again for another 5 months.  My 9 days at home after Lucy was born, allowed my wife to rest and regain her strength.  Then when I left, she would be able to successfully handle the newly expanded family.  If she had had a c-section, our lives would have been even more complicated and challenging.  Alleviating this variable was crucial and it was extremely important in allowing my wife the choice and freedom to labor as she desired.

“Having hospital protocol tell you what you can do with your body is a crime.”

Having hospital protocol tell you what you can do with your body is a crime.  It was a crime with our second baby and one that I unfortunately did nothing to stop.  I was guilty of not recognizing the deep and complicatedly emotional desire and need to have that choice.  I was guilty for not carefully listening to my wife.

But, I was fortunate to have had a second opportunity to ensure she was able to have that choice.  When I saw and finally understood my wife’s deep desire and passion to have a VBAC, something that I can’t really explain, but instead felt – I knew she could in fact do it and that I needed to help pave the way to ensuring it was possible. That meant I needed to knock down the obstacles that got in our way, like doctors saying no or nurses trying to convince us that our decision was dangerous and risky.  I listened to my wife, and we thank God that we found a doctor who trusted us.

Ultimately, faith, education and research, proper planning, incredible support that we received from people like Dr. W and our doula, and the great nurses who helped make this a success were critical to the successful VBAC.   We heard it before “you’ve had one, so now you need to have them all c-section.” This we now know is myth and one myth that removes the woman’s choice to attempt a VBAC.  Our hope is that other women and couples will have the same support and success as we experienced.

You need to talk to the doctor/midwife face-to-face

Trying to find a VBAC supportive health care provider can be (very, very) difficult process.  Understandably, some women choose to call various providers rather than meet with them face to face. This woman’s experience illustrates the pitfalls of this method.

While VBAC is not a household term, it should be a familiar one among an OB’s front office staff.  Perhaps this will prompt more providers to have a quick discussion with their staff about VBAC and maybe even pass out a copy of the Quick Facts page (high res PDF) so that everyone who interacts with patients has a basic working knowledge of the topic.

Of course, this is the experience of one mom at one OB’s office and certainly doesn’t reflect on all the dedicated and intelligent individuals who work at OB’s offices throughout the world… simply this one.

For tips on interviewing care providers, including how to present yourself and specific questions to ask, go here.

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Well, GREAT little anecdote for you all… In my search for an OB who will at least consider a VBA2C I ended up talking to a lady office assistant via phone yesterday. It went as follows:

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Me: “Hi! *general convo* Is the doctor VBAC friendly?”

Lady: “Is she friendly?”

M: “No, will she consider a VBAC?”

L: “Um, what’s a VBAC?”

*I hear another nurse in the background, say ‘Yes, we do VBAC’*

M: “Wait, did she say you guys will do a VBAC?”

*Nurse in the background says to lady on the phone, ‘Wait, has she had a c-section?’*

L: “Um, have you had a c-section?”

M: “Yes, of course.”

L: “Oh, the other nurse said if you’ve had a c-section we can’t give you a VBAC.”

M: “Ok, I think you need to know, VBAC stands for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. It would be impossible to have a VBAC without previously having had a c-section.”

L: “Oh! I didn’t know that!”

*general pleasantries and I hung up*

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When you called your local health providers, what information did the front office staff share with you?  One mom said, “We’ve done surveys in Orlando by calling all the OB offices in town (I know, huuuge undertaking, right?!). We have been told vbac is illegal, that there is a 50% chance a baby will die, and all kinds of other outrageous statements, all from the person *answering the phone*.”

Thoughts on VBA3+C (VBAC after three or more prior cesareans)

Note regarding “TOLAC.”  When reading from medical texts, remember that you are no longer in the land of emotion and warm fuzzies.  Rather, envision that you have been transported to another world, a clinical world, where terms like TOLAC/TOLAMC, or trial of labor after (multiple) cesareans, are used.  I don’t think that most care providers understand the emotional sting that many women seeking VBAC associate with the term TOLAC.  It’s important for women to understand the language care providers use so that they can translate TOLAC into “planning a VBAC” and not feel slighted.  You might want to read this article which describes what the term TOLAC means, how it’s used in medical research, and why it’s not synonymous with VBAC.

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A mom recently asked, “Does anyone have some facts on VBA3C?”

I provided this collection of info…

Who makes a good VBAC/VBAMC candidate?

ACOG’s 2010 VBAC recommendations affirm that VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) is reasonable in “some” women.  But they remain silent on VBAMC (VBAC after multiple cesareans.)

Some have interpreted that silence to mean that ACOG does not recommend VBAMC, yet ACOG is clear that women shouldn’t be forced to have cesareans.

Between what they say about VBA2C and who is a good VBAC candidate, we might be able to discern who might be a good VBAMC candidate.

A couple things to keep in mind while reading…

Reason for prior cesarean/history of vaginal birth.  Research has shown that women who have had cesareans for malpresentation (breech, transverse lie, etc) and/or a history of a prior vaginal delivery would have the highest VBAMC success rates.

Scar type.  Low transverse incisions (also called bikini cuts) carry the lowest risk of rupture in comparison to classical, high vertical and T/J incisions.  With the likely increased risk of uterine rupture in a VBAMC, having low transverse scars is a way to minimize that risk as much as possible.

What does ACOG say about VBAC?

In ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines, it describes the qualities of a good VBAC candidate:

The preponderance of evidence suggests that most women with one previous cesarean delivery with a low transverse incision are candidates for and should be counseled about VBAC and offered TOLAC.  Conversely, those at high risk for complications (eg, those with previous classical or T-incision, prior uterine rupture, or extensive transfundal uterine surgery) and those in whom vaginal delivery is otherwise contraindicated are not generally candidates for planned TOLAC.  Individual circumstances must be considered in all cases, and if, for example, a patient who may not otherwise be a candidate for TOLAC presents in advanced labor, the patient and her health care providers may judge it best to proceed with TOLAC.

What does ACOG say about VBA2C?

In those same guidelines, ACOG specifically addresses VBA2C:

Given the overall data, it is reasonable to consider women with two previous low transverse cesarean deliveries to be candidates for TOLAC, and to counsel them based on the combination of other factors that affect their probability of achieving a successful VBAC.  Data regarding the risk for women undergoing TOLAC with more than two previous cesarean deliveries are limited (69).

The power of context and training

How a provider approaches VBAMC depends a lot on their training as well as the support of their hospital administration. In the video below, Dr. Craig Klose discusses the merits of vaginal birth after cesarean and the various factors that may impede women obtaining VBAC.

One thing that stood out to me was Dr. Klose’s comments on VBAC after multiple prior low transverse cesareans (TLC). To sum, he says that he was taught that multiple LTCs were “no biggie” and he has attended up to VBA5C. This is the power of training and context!

ACOG guidelines, your legal rights, and “forced” cesareans

As attorney Lisa Pratt asserts, “ACOG guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are not law; while it is nice when they put out a guideline that supports your factual situation, falling outside of their recommendation does not mean you must consent to something you do not want.”  You can read in the article, “VBAC bans, exercising your rights, and when to contact an attorney.”

Further, ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines also says that women cannot be forced to have cesareans even if there is a VBAC ban in place:

Respect for patient autonomy also argues that even if a center does not offer TOLAC, such a policy cannot be used to force women to have cesarean delivery or to deny care to women in labor who decline to have a repeat cesarean delivery.

You may also wish to review your options when encountering a VBAC ban and the story of a mom seeking VBA2C who was threatened with a “forced” cesarean when her OB group withdrew support at 38 weeks.

Making a plan and moving forward

Your best bet is to review your medical records with several VBAC supportive care providers and get their opinion.  Obtain a copy of your medical records and operative reports from each prior cesarean, get the names of VBAC supportive providers, and ask the right questions.

If you want to get up to speed quick on VBAC, repeat cesarean, hospital birth, home birth, and VBAC bans, the best way is via my online program, “The Truth About VBAC.”

Emotional healing from traumatic births

When I posted this on Facebook, I was surprise how many women felt alone with their emotions. I decided to share this via the website so women will know they are not alone on this journey.

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Here at VBAC Facts, I focus primarily on facts, research, and logic. But as any mom preparing for birth can tell you, information is only part of the equation. Knowing the facts is important, but it’s not the whole enchilada.

Many women are carrying the emotional baggage of their traumatic vaginal or cesarean births. How we feel about our past pregnancies and deliveries influences our outlook for our future labors. This unprocessed anger and disappointment can negatively impact how future births unfold.

I interact with post-cesarean women on a daily basis and can personally attest to how important this work is. Women often feel betrayed and lied to by the medical establishment while simultaneously wondering if their bodies are broken and incapable of birth. Without trust in our care providers and confidence in our bodies, how can we birth?

At the 2012 VBAC Summit, Christy Farr of Seeds and Weeds Coaching offered practical and easy first steps for identifying and rectifying these emotional roadblocks.

For women who care to dig a little deeper, working within a compassionate, direct, and supportive framework like Christy’s can help free them from their past and pave the way to an unhindered birth.

Connect with Christy via her website or Facebook.

Get a flavor for how Christy communicates via her session, “Towards Healing: Unpacking the Baggage of a Traumatic Birth” which is available for download.

VBAC bans, exercising your rights, and when to contact an attorney

legal-gavel-booksA mom recently left this comment and I thought many other women likely have the same question. Keep in mind that this article does discuss America law which may not be applicable to other countries.

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Jen,

First thank you for your site!

I’m under the care of an OB who practices at a hospital that does not “allow VBACs” but has stated the only way to deliver at said hospital is to show up in labor & pushing.

Quoting from your site quoting the ACOG bulletin:

The College says that restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will if, for example, a woman in labor presents for care and declines a repeat cesarean delivery at a center that does not support TOLAC.

If a patient (Me 3 prior sections), presents one’s self in labor at said hospital and declines a section, the hospital then has to heed the wishes of the patient? Am I understanding this correctly? Does the hospital have the right to stop contractions and section the patient? This is what I’m hearing in my birthing community and I really cannot believe a hospital would/could do that.

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Hi Thia!

Many women believe that all one must do to prevent an unwanted cesarean is declare, “I do not consent!” While technically true, you are entitled to control what happens to your body, the reality is, it often doesn’t play out that way. A hospital does not have a legal right to perform a cesarean on you without your consent. However, it still happens either by coercion or lies and even more rarely, by court order.

I think part of the problem is, many women are not familiar with ACOG’s guidelines. As a result, they don’t understand what ACOG recommends and discourages. (For example, many women believe that VBACs should never be induced. That is false.) Women frequently take their OB’s word as the truth. However, ACOG’s recommendations are often obscured by unsupportive care providers to mimic what the care provider wants the mom to think ACOG says. In other words, unsupportive care providers want moms to think that their options are limited per ACOG and that is just not the case.

The fact that you are doing your research gives you a massive advantage over women who just take their OB’s word for it. I highly recommend you review the article I wrote about a mom who was threatened with a forced cesarean after her OB withdrew support of her planned VBA2C at 37 weeks. It includes legal and media contacts. Through the help of the ACLU, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, National Birth Policy Coalition, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the mom was granted a trial of labor. I use the (demonized) term TOL because the mom ultimately did have a medically necessary cesarean during labor due to a placental abruption. However, the mom was still happy that she had the opportunity to labor.

That is as much as I can say as a non-attorney. I consulted with the brilliant Lisa Pratt who is an attorney specializing in the legal issues that uniquely affect women during pregnancy and childbirth. She said,

This answer is true for all women, not just this one. If she needs legal advice specific for her situation then she should consult an attorney. You have the right to refuse any treatment you do not want. I am sure that what she is hearing is the same horror stories that we hear of a mom being harassed by the doctor and staff to consent to a c/s or threatening to seek a court order or call CPS. I know this is a scary thought to have to deal with any of these scenarios, but fear of something happening should not keep you from exerting your legal rights, unless you really are okay with what you are consenting to. You cannot assume that the staff is not going to honor your refusal. They are people just like us, some are jerks and some are ethical and will follow your refusal, but you won’t know what you are dealing with until you are in the moment. ACOG guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are not law; while it is nice when they put out a guideline that supports your factual situation, falling outside of their recommendation does not mean you must consent to something you do not want.

You can learn more about Lisa, and schedule a phone consultation if you have further questions, via her website.

Lisa presented at the 2012 VBAC Summit in Miami. Her session, “A Legal Guide to VBAC,” is available for download.

Warmly,

Jen

Myth: VBACs should never be induced

Note: When I refer to a spontaneous labor, I mean a non-induced/augmented labor. Also, given that the risk of rupture increases with induction, a hospital is the best location for an induction.

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Many of the comments left at the Forced Cesarean mom story questioned the safety of inducing a VBAC mom. Many people believe that is it excessively dangerous and that VBACs should never been induced or augmented. This is just not the case.

Spontaneous labor is always preferable to induced or augmented labor but there are medical conditions that can necessitate the immediate birth of a baby. It’s nice for those women for whom vaginal birth is still an option to have a choice: gentle induction/ augmentation or repeat cesarean. Of course, reviewing the risks and benefits of available options, including doing nothing, is essential. Some women might be more comfortable scheduling a cesarean whereas others might want to give a gentle Pitocin and/or Foley catheter induction a go.

ACOG’s stance on inducing VBACs

The latest 2010 VBAC Practice Bulletin No. 115 produced by the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) asserts:

Induction of labor for maternal or fetal indications remains an option in women undergoing TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean]… However, the potential increased risk of uterine rupture associated with any induction, and the potential decreased possibility of achieving VBAC, should be discussed… Misoprostol [Cytotec] should not be used for third trimester cervical ripening or labor induction in patients who have had a cesarean delivery or major uterine surgery.

Stuart Fischbein MD, a vaginal breech/twins and VBAC supportive Southern California OB, recently shared this on my Facebook page,

According to ACOG, prior low transverse c/section is not a contraindication to induction (other than the use of Misoprostol [Cytotec]) so a Foley balloon or Pitocin may be used safely in these women. The problem arises when a practitioner does not believe in doing inductions on women with prior c/section. Despite the evidence and the ACOG clinical guideline the reality is that many doctors will just not want to deal with it.

“Many doctors will just not want to deal with it” for a variety of reasons including experiencing a recent uterine rupture or lawsuit and pressure from hospital administrators or other OBs in their practice. It’s good to know from the beginning if your care provider is open to a gentle VBAC induction and under what conditions they would recommend induction. (See below for the Mayo Clinic’s reasons for induction.) This is why I suggest asking care providers when you first meet with them: “Under what circumstances would you induce a VBAC?” and “What induction methods do you use?”

Medical reasons for induction

While many women are induced for non-medical reasons, such as being pregnant for 40 weeks and one day, there are many medical conditions where induction is a reasonable option. According to the Mayo Clinic’s article Inducing labor: when to wait, when to induce dated July 23, 2011:

Your health care provider might recommend inducing labor for various reasons, primarily when there’s concern for your health or your baby’s health. For example:

  • You’re approaching two weeks beyond your due date, and labor hasn’t started naturally
  • Your water has broken, but you’re not having contractions
  • There’s an infection in your uterus
  • Your baby has stopped growing at the expected pace
  • There’s not enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby (oligohydramnios)
  • Your placenta has begun to deteriorate
  • The placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely (placental abruption)
  • You have a medical condition that might put you or your baby at risk, such as high blood pressure or diabetes

ACOG’s 2009 recommendations on induction lists the following reasons:

  • Abruptio placentae [placental abruption]
  • Chorioamnionitis [infection in your uterus]
  • Fetal demise [baby has passed away]
  • Gestational hypertension
  • Preeclampsia, eclampsia
  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Postterm pregnancy [after 42 weeks]
  • Maternal medical conditions (eg, diabetes, mellitus, renal [kidney] disease, chronic pulmonary disease, chronic hypertension, antiphospholipid syndrome)
  • Fetal compromise (eg, severe fetal growth restriction, isoimmunization, oligohydramnios)

Big babies & going overdue

ACOG’s latest VBAC Pratice Bulletin No. 115 states that going over 40 weeks or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC. I suggest asking your care provider at your first appointment about what they would recommend doing if you go past 40 weeks, past 42 weeks, or if they believe your baby is large. They may suggest a cesarean, a gentle induction, or they be open to waiting for spontaneous labor. Then you decide how you feel about their answer. If you decide that their answer is not a good fit for you, you can weigh that against the responses of other VBAC supportive care providers in your area.

Uterine rupture rates in induced/augmented labors

There are two primary factors when looking at uterine rupture during an induction: the drug and the dose. Keep in mind that while the risk of rupture generally increases as the dosage increases, two women can respond very differently to the same dose of the same drug. According to JHP Pharmaceuticals, LLC, the manufacturer of Pitocin,

Oxytocin has specific receptors in the myometrium and the receptor concentration increases greatly during pregnancy, reaching a maximum in early labor at term. The response to a given dose of oxytocin is very individualized and depends on the sensitivity of the uterus, which is determined by the oxytocin receptor concentration.

Additionally, they assert that Pitocin should not be used for induction without medical indication:

Elective induction of labor is defined as the initiation of labor in a pregnant individual who has no medical indications for induction. Since the available data are inadequate to evaluate the benefits-to-risks considerations, Pitocin is not indicated for elective induction of labor.

Many women point to the fact that the Pitocin drug insert states, “Except in unusual circumstances, oxytocin should not be administered in the following conditions” and then lists “previous major surgery on the cervix or uterus including cesarean section.” However, a prior cesarean is not listed under contraindications and the drug insert is clear:

The decision [to use Pitocin in a woman with a prior cesarean] can be made only by carefully weighing the potential benefits which oxytocin can provide in a given case against rare but definite potential for the drug to produce hypertonicity or tetanic spasm.

The elevated risk of rupture due to induction has been documented in several studies. Landon (2004) found that spontaneous labors had a 0.4% rate of rupture. That increased 2.5 times for induced labors (1.0%) and 2.25 times for augmented labors (0.9%).

Landon further broke out rupture rates by type of induction:

  • 1.4% (N = 13) with any prostaglandins (with or without oxytocin)
  • 0% with prostaglandins alone
  • 0.9% (n = 15) with no prostaglandins (includes mechanical dilation with a foley catheter with or without oxytocin), and
  • 1.1% (N = 20) with oxytocin alone.

Overall, they found 0.7% of women experienced an uterine rupture with an additional 0.7% experiencing a dehiscence.

Landon (2004) did a great job in providing rates of rupture per drug, but we don’t know the dose used in the induced/ augmented labors that ruptured versus those that didn’t rupture.

ACOG quotes a couple studies in their 2010 VBAC Practice Bulletin (emphasis mine):

One study of 20,095 women who had undergone prior cesarean delivery (81) found a rate of uterine rupture of 0.52% for spontaneous labor, 0.77% for labor induced without prostaglandins, and 2.24% for prostaglandin induced labor. This study was limited by reliance on the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision coding for diagnosis of uterine rupture and the inability to determine whether prostaglandin use itself or the context of its use (eg, unfavorable cervix, need for multiple induction agents) was associated with uterine rupture.

In a multicenter study of 33,699 women undergoing TOLAC, augmentation or induction of labor also was associated with an increased risk of uterine rupture compared with spontaneous labor (0.4 % for spontaneous labor, 0.9% for augmented labor, 1.1% for oxytocin alone, and 1.4% for induction with prostaglandins with or without oxytocin) (4). A secondary analysis of 11,778 women from this study with one prior low transverse cesarean delivery showed an increase in uterine rupture only in women undergoing induction who had no prior vaginal delivery (1.5% versus 0.8%, P=.02). Additionally, uterine rupture was no more likely to occur when labor induction was initiated with an unfavorable cervix than with a favorable cervix (91). Another secondary analysis examined the association between maximum oxytocin dose and the risk of uterine rupture (94). They noted a dose response effect with increasing risk of uterine rupture with higher maximum doses of oxytocin. Because studies have not identified a clear threshold for rupture, an upper limit for oxytocin dosing with TOLAC has not been established.

Induced labor is less likely to result in VBAC than spontaneous labor (44, 47, 92, 99). There is some evidence that this is the case regardless of whether the cervix is favorable or unfavorable, although an unfavorable cervix decreases the chance of success to the greatest extent (91, 100, 101). These factors may affect patient and health care provider decisions as they consider the risks and benefits of TOLAC associated with labor induction.

Given the lack of compelling data suggesting increased risk with mechanical dilation and transcervical catheters, such interventions may be an option for TOLAC candidates with an unfavorable cervix.

The Guise 2010 Evidence Report is another excellent resource that reviewed VBAC research published to date. It talks extensively about uterine rupture in induced births on pages 58 – 69 and concluded (emphasis mine):

The strength of evidence on the risk of uterine rupture with pharmacologic IOL [induction of labor] methods was low due to lack of precision in estimates and inconsistency in findings. The overall risk of rupture with any IOL method at term was 1.5 percent [1 in 67] and 1.0 percent [1 in 100] when any GA [gestational age] is considered. Among women with GA greater than 40 weeks, the rate was highest at 3.2 percent [1 in 31]. Evaluation of the evidence on specific methods of IOL reveal that the lowest rate occurs with oxytocin [Pitocin] at 1.1 percent [1 in 91], then PGE2 [prostaglandin E2] at 2 percent [1 in 50], and the highest rate with misoprostol [Cytotec] at 6 percent [1 in 17]. These findings should be interpreted with caution as there was imprecision and inconsistency in the results among these studies. The risk of uterine rupture with mechanical methods of IOL is understudied. Other harms were inadequately reported to make conclusions. Relative to women with spontaneous labor, there was no increase in risk of rupture among those induced at term. However, the available evidence on women with induced labor after 40 weeks GA indicates an increased risk compared with spontaneous labor (risk difference 1.8 percent; 95 percent CI: 0.1 to 3.5 percent). The NNH [number needed to harm] in this group is 56 (for every 56 women greater than 40 weeks GA with IOL during a TOL [trial of labor], one additional rupture will occur compared with having spontaneous labor).

So the bottom line is: more large, good quality studies that control for induction are needed.

What is too risky?

As ACOG (2010) states in their latest Practice Bulletin:

Respect for patient autonomy supports the concept that patients should be allowed to accept increased levels of risk, however, patients should be clearly informed of such potential increase in risk and management alternatives.

I agree and believe that each individual woman has the right to informed consent and, together with her care provider, can make the best decision for her individual situation. I think it’s hard to argue that women seeking VBA2C, home birth, or unassisted birth should have the right to accept the elevated levels of risk that come with those decisions and yet say that the elevated risk that comes with induced VBACs is unacceptable.

Keep in mind that while the risk of rupture is higher in an induced VBAC, the risk is similar to the risk of rupture in a VBA2C (0.9% per Landon 2006). So it’s hard for one to support VBA2C and yet demonize a VBA1C induced for medical indication by saying the risk of rupture is to high.

It is also important to note that 90 out of 91 Pitocin induced TOLACs do not rupture (Landon, 2004 & Guise, 2010). So while the risk is generally higher in induced/ augmented labors, the overall risk is still low and occurs at a rate comparable to other obstetrical emergencies.

Myth: Most ruptures occur in induced/augmented labors

It’s imperative that women seeking VBAC understand that the single factor that increases their risk of uterine rupture the most is their prior cesarean section. And while having your labor induced/augmented does increase your risk of rupture, please do not believe the myth that a spontaneous labor provides complete protection from uterine rupture.

To disprove this myth, I direct you to “the largest prospective report of uterine rupture in women without a previous cesarean in a Western country” which found that most ruptures occur in spontaneous labors (Zwart, 2009). Zwart differentiated between uterine rupture and dehiscence and found (emphasis mine):

of the 208 scarred and unscarred uterine ruptures, 130 (62.5%) occurred during spontaneous labor reflecting 72% of scarred ruptures and 56% of unscarred ruptures.

It is interesting to note that 16% of unscarred ruptures (representing 4 unscarred women) and 9% of scarred ruptures (representing 16 scarred women) happened before the onset of labor (Zwart, 2009).

What I would do

If there was a medical reason for my baby to born (as detailed by the Mayo Clinic above), and it was the difference between a VBAC and a repeat cesarean, and I had a favorable Bishop’s score (download the app), I would consent to a foley catheter and/or low-dose Pitocin induction (not Cytotec or Cervidil).

If I was induced or augmented with Pitocin, I would be comfortable with continuous external fetal monitoring. Some hospitals do offer telemetry which is wireless monitoring giving you more freedom of movement. I’ve even seen telemetry in tube tops (naturally I can’t find a link to it now, if you have a link, can you leave a comment?) and units that can be worn in birth tubs. It’s good to call the hospital beforehand to determine what kind of telemetry monitoring units they offer and to confirm that it’s not lost in a closet.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that Pitocin is overused in America and often results in unnecessary emergency cesareans. However, it’s important not to cloud the two issues: medically unnecessary inductions and inductions with medical indication. There are situations where induction/ augmentation are reasonable and can give the mom one last option before having a cesarean. Thankfully, a low-dose Pitocin and/or foley catheter induction “remains an option” in women planning a VBAC according to ACOG. I think that is a good thing.

Further reading

The best compilation of VBAC/ERCS research to date

“There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” – Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM, March 2010

In terms of VBAC, “your risk is really, really quite low” – George Macones MD, MSCE, March 2010

Both Drs. Macones and Lyndon-Rochelle are medical professionals and researchers who made these statements at the 2010 NIH [National Institutes of Health] VBAC Conference. Now you may think, “Wait a sec. Everything I’ve heard from my family, friends, and medical provider is how risky VBAC is and how cesareans are the conservative, prudent, and safest choice.” Why the discrepancy between the statements of these two prominent care provider researchers and the conventional wisdom prevalent in America?

It’s likely that your family, friends, and even your medical provider are not familiar with the latest and best compilation of VBAC research that was released in March 2010. It’s also possible that they are not familiar with the latest VBAC recommendations published in July 2010 by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Additionally, there are often legal and non-medical factors at play that influence how care providers counsel women on VBAC, including pressure from hospital administrators.

When I come across any VBAC study, I always wonder if it made the cut to be included in the 400 page Guise 2010 Evidence Report that was the basis for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. Guise 2010 reviewed each published VBAC study, performed a quality assessment, and assembled an excellent review of the VBAC literature to date:

Quality assessment is an assessment of a study’s internal validity (the study’s ability to measure what it intends to measure). If a study is not conducted properly, the results that they produce are unlikely to represent the truth and thus are worthless (the old adage garbage in garbage out). If however, a study is structurally and analytically sound, then the results are valuable. A systematic review, is intended to evaluate the entire literature and distill those studies which are of the highest possible quality and therefore likely to be sound and defensible to affect practice.

Guise focused on these key questions: “1) a chain of evidence about factors that may influence VBAC, 2) maternal and infant benefits and harms of attempting a VBAC versus an elective repeat cesarean delivery (ERCD), and 3) factors that may influence maternal and infant outcomes.” Ultimately, this 400 page document was distilled into the 48 page VBAC Final Statement produced by the NIH VBAC Conference.

This is wonderful because people who want the big picture, can read the VBAC Final Statement whereas those who want to know the exact figures, how studies were included/excluded, and the strength of the data available, can read the Guise 2010 Evidence Report.

You can get a feel for the topics presented at the NIH VBAC Conference by reading the Programs & Abstracts document. If you want more detail, you can watch the individual presentations. I was there for the three day conference and it was eye opening. I wish more medical professionals and moms were aware of this information as they are excellent resources for anyone looking to learn more about VBAC.

Everyone wants to know the bottom line: what is the risk of death or major injury to mom and baby. Here is an overview of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity per Guise (2010). It’s important to remember that the quality of data relating to perinatal mortality was low to moderate due to the high range of rates reported by the strongest studies conducted thus far. Guise reports the high end of the range when they discuss perinatal mortality which was 6% for all gestational ages and 2.8% when limited to term studies. This is a long way of saying, we still don’t have a good picture of how many babies die due to uterine rupture.

It’s also important to remember that the statistics shared in Guise (2010) are for all VBACs. They include all scar types, women who have had multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways as we know we can reduce the risk of rupture (and thus perinatal mortality) through spontaneous labor.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor after cesarean] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death. Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The occurrence of maternal and infant mortality for women with prior cesarean is not significantly elevated when compared with national rates overall of mortality in childbirth. The majority of women who have TOL will have a VBAC, and they and their infants will be healthy. However, there is a minority of women who will suffer serious adverse consequences of both TOL and ERCD. While TOL rates have decreased over the last decade, VBAC rates and adverse outcomes have not changed suggesting that the reduction is not reflecting improved patient selection.

Women are entitled to accurate, honest, and high quality data. They don’t deserve to have the risks exaggerated by an OB who wishes to coerce them into a repeat cesarean nor do they deserve to have risks sugar-coated or minimized by a midwife or birth advocate who may not understand the risk or whose zealous desire for everyone to VBAC clouds their judgement. Sometimes it can be hard to find good data on VBAC which is why I’m so thankful for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and all the excellent data that became available to the public as a result. There are real risks and benefits to VBAC and repeat cesarean and once women have access to good data, they can individually choose which set of risks and benefits they want. I think the links I have provided above represents the best data we have to date.

Confusing fact: Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic

It is important to note that the information shared in Guise (2010), the 400 page Evidence Report on which the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference was based, collected the best data we have available on trial of labor after cesarean.  That said, they reported, “Overall, the strength of evidence on perinatal mortality was low to moderate” due to the wide range of perinatal mortality rates reported by the studies included in the report.  Bottom line: We still don’t have an accurate idea of how deadly uterine rupture is to babies.  This is a topic on which Guise recommended future researchers focus.  I highly recommend that anyone interested in TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean), especially those who blog or share information on social networking sites, review this very important document as it is a fascinating analysis of the best research we have to date on TOLAC.


How many times have you heard, “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” or “Uterine rupture not only happens less that one percent of the time, but the vast majority of ruptures are non-catastrophic?” But what does that mean? Does that mean only 6% of uterine ruptures are “complete” ruptures? Result in maternal death? Infant death? Serious injury to mom or baby? This article will explain to you the difference between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence as well as explain the source and meaning of the 6% statistic.

Distinguishing between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence

First, it’s important to understand what a uterine rupture is and how that differs from a uterine dehiscence. Uterine rupture, also called true, complete, or even (to further add to the confusion) catastrophic rupture, is a opening through all the layers of the uterus. Per a Medscape article on Uterine Rupture in Pregnancy:

Uterine rupture is defined as a full-thickness separation of the uterine wall and the overlying serosa. Uterine rupture is associated with (1) clinically significant uterine bleeding; (2) fetal distress; (3) expulsion or protrusion of the fetus, placenta, or both into the abdominal cavity; and (4) the need for prompt cesarean delivery and uterine repair or hysterectomy.

Whereas a uterine dehiscence, also called a incomplete rupture or a uterine window, is not a full-thickness separation. It’s often asymptomatic, does not pose any risk to mom or baby, and does not require repair. Again, I refer to Medscape:

Uterine scar dehiscence is a more common event that seldom results in major maternal or fetal complications. By definition, uterine scar dehiscence constitutes separation of a preexisting scar that does not disrupt the overlying visceral peritoneum (uterine serosa) and that does not significantly bleed from its edges. In addition, the fetus, placenta, and umbilical cord must be contained within the uterine cavity, without a need for cesarean delivery due to fetal distress.

When reading medical studies, look for how they define uterine rupture in the “Methods” section. While some medical studies combine the statistics for rupture and dehiscence, ultimately reporting an inflated rate of rupture, other studies distinguish between the two events.

So, what does the 6% statistic mean and where did it come from?

The statistic “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” is from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) which was the basis of the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and it refers to the rate of infant death due to uterine rupture. Here is the exact quote:

The overall risk of perinatal death due to uterine rupture was 6.2 percent. The two studies of women delivering at term that reported perinatal death rates report that 0 to 2.8 percent of all uterine ruptures resulted in a perinatal death (Guise 2010).

In other words, of the women who had uterine ruptures, 6.2% (1 in 16) resulted in infant deaths. When we limited the data to women delivering at term, as opposed to babies of all gestational ages, the risk was as high as 2.8 (1 in 36)%.

When we look at the overall risk of an infant death during a trial of labor after cesarean, the NIH reported the rate of 0.13%, which works out to be one infant death per 769 trials of labor.

The source of the confusion

The problem with this statistic is that some people have misinterpreted it to mean that only 6% of ruptures are true, complete uterine ruptures. In other words, if we take the 0.4% (1 in 240) uterine rupture rate (Landon, 2004), they believe that only 6% of those ruptures or 0.024% (1 in 4166) are true, complete ruptures. This is false. The 0.4% uterine rupture statistic measured true, complete, uterine ruptures in spontaneous labors after one prior low, transverse (“bikini cut”) cesarean.

So how many dehiscences did Landon (2004) detect? Landon reported a 0.7% uterine rupture rate and a 0.7% dehiscence rate. (Note that these statistics include a variety of scar types as well spontaneous, augmented, and induced labors.) So Landon found that dehiscence occurs at the same rate as uterine rupture.

I think the best way to avoid confusion is to use very clear language: 6.2% (1 in 16) of uterine ruptures result in an infant death. Put another way, for every 16 uterine ruptures, there will be one baby that dies.

Elapsed time and infant death

What determines if a baby dies or has brain damage? Some research on infant cord blood gases has suggested that if the baby isn’t delivered (almost always by CS) within 16 – 17 minutes of a uterine rupture, there can be serious brain damage or death to baby. You can watch a presentation from the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference entitled “The Immediately Available Physician Standard” by Howard Minkoff, M.D. for more information or read his presentation abstract.

Now you know the difference between uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and the meaning of the 6% statistic. It’s helpful to understand the terminology used in relation to uterine rupture otherwise it can be very confusing as you wade your way through the statistics! It’s also very important for people to use specific words whose definitions are clear instead of words such as “catastrophic” that could mean multiple things.

Afterward – The big picture

The following are excerpts from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) , the 400 page evidence report assembled for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. The limitation of Guise (2010) is that these stats are for all VBACs – all scar types, multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death.” Perinatal death due to UR from term studies was 2.8%. “Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The occurrence of maternal and infant mortality for women with prior cesarean is not significantly elevated when compared with national rates overall of mortality in childbirth. The majority of women who have TOL will have a VBAC, and they and their infants will be healthy. However, there is a minority of women who will suffer serious adverse consequences of both TOL and ERCD. While TOL rates have decreased over the last decade, VBAC rates and adverse outcomes have not changed suggesting that the reduction is not reflecting improved patient selection.

A systematic review strives to be patient-centered and to provide both patients and clinicians with meaningful numbers or estimates so they can make informed decisions. Often, however, the data do not allow a direct estimate to calculate the numbers that people desire such as the number of cesareans needed to avoid one uterine rupture related death. The assumptions that are required to make such estimates from the available data introduce additional uncertainty that cannot be quantified. If we make a simplistic assumption that 6 percent of all uterine ruptures result in perinatal death (as found from the summary estimate), the range of estimated numbers of cesareans needed to be performed to prevent one uterine rupture related perinatal death would be 2,400 from the largest study,204 and 3,900-6,100 from the other three studies of uterine rupture for TOL and ERCD.10, 97, 205 Taken in aggregate, the evidence suggests that the approximate risks and benefits that would be expected for a hypothetical group of 100,000 women at term gestational age (GA) who plan VBAC rather than ERCD include: 10 fewer maternal deaths, 650 additional uterine ruptures, and 50 additional neonatal deaths. Additionally, it is important to consider the morbidity in future pregnancies that would be averted from multiple cesareans particularly in association with placental abnormalities.

Placenta problems in VBAMC/ after multiple repeat cesareans

I thought that I would take the data from the Silver (2006) that I’ve previously discussed and share it in a different way that would be helpful to women with multiple prior cesareans.  (You might find it worthwhile to read this article specifically, where you can view the data below in graphs, as well as other articles on placental abnormalities first.)  Remember that accreta is when the placenta abnormality deeply attaches into the uterus requiring surgical removal.  There is a 7% maternal mortality rate with accreta as well as a high rate of hemorrhage and hysterectomy.   One of the factors that determines your risk of accreta or previa is your number of prior cesareans.

Whether a mom has a repeat cesarean or a VBA1C, her risk of accreta (including increta and percreta) and previa in that pregnancy are:

risk of accreta: 0.31% (1 in 323)
risk of previa: 1.3% (1 in 77)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 11% (1 in 9)

Whether a mom plans a third cesarean or a VBA2C, her risk of accreta and previa in that pregnancy are:<

risk of accreta: 0.57% (1 in 175)
risk of previa: 1.14% (1 in 88)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 40% (1 in 2.5)

If a mom plans a fourth cesarean or a VBA3C, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.13% (1 in 47)
risk of previa: 2.27% (1 in 44)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 61% (1 in 1.6)

The jump in risk from two prior cesareans to three prior cesareans is pretty huge…

If mom plans a fifth cesarean or a VBA4C, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.33% (1 in 43)
risk of previa: 2.3% (1 in 43)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 67% (1 in 1.5)

If mom plans a sixth cesarean or a VBA5c, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 6.74% (1 in 15)
risk of previa: 3.4% (1 in 29)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 67% (1 in 1.5)

Here are some stats to consider:

Silver (2006) found the following rates of accreta (including increta and percreta), during the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cesareans: 0.24%, 0.31%, 0.57%, 2.13%, 2.33%, 6.74%.  (View a graph of this data.)

In other words, your risk of placenta accreta increases from first to sixth cesarean delivery:
1 in 417,
1 in 323,
1 in 175,
1 in 47,
1 in 43,
1 in 15.

Read more about accreta.

The studies that have been conducted (that I’m aware of) on uterine rupture in VBAMC are kind of small (including hundreds, not thousands of women).  So I don’t think we have an accurate idea of VBA3C rupture risk.  This site is a great resource.

Update:  When I posted a link to this article on Facebook, a mom left this comment:

Thank you for posting. My friend had 2 previous c-sections, and with her 3rd pregnancy had the bad luck of having both placenta accreta and placenta previa (both risks of repeat c-section). Her pregnancy was awful..lots of bleeding, hospitalizations, steriods and other drugs to help hold onto the pregnancy and bedrest at 20 weeks. They couldn’t do cerclage because of the placenta previa). In the end she had a healthy baby, but a 5 hour c-section surgery where she lost a lot of blood and needed a blood transfusion of 6 units of blood. She had to have a hysterectomy and also they removed part of her bladder because her placenta had embedded so far it was attached to her bladder! She was pissed that her doctor never warned her of the risks of repeat c-sections. She is 39 years old.

[and]

yes, you can share my comment. again, my friend ultimately is ok bec she was planning on having her tubes tied after this 3rd unplanned pregnancy — but she was upset initially bec her OB never shared with her any of these risks of repeat c-section…and she said “had I known, I would have really pushed for a vbac with #2”

These are the complication rates that Silver 2006 found in 30,000
women during multiple cesareans.The rates quoted were what he found during the third CS but, I think
the accreta and previa rates illustrate the risks that are present
during a third pregnancy after two prior CS.In other words, whether a mom has a third CS or a VBA2C, her risk of
accreta and previa in that third pregnancy are:

risk of accreta: 0.57% (1 in 175)
risk of previa: 1.14% (1 in 88)
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 40% (1 in 2.5)

If she has a third CS and becomes pregnant again, the risk during that
fourth pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.13% (1 in 47)
risk of previa: 2.27% (1 in 44)
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 61% (1 in 1.6)

Compare that to the risks in a first pregnancy:

risk of accreta: 0.24% (1 in 417)
risk of previa: 6.4% (1 in 16) [yes, that figure is correct, previa was the reason for many of these women’s primary CS]
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 3% (1 in 33)

That means the risk of accreta increases 887% from the first pregnancy – a huge jump.

So, if it was me, getting that ultrasound and knowing I didn’t have these complications would give me huge peace of mind.

Options when threatened with a “forced” cesarean

3/26/12- The ACLU has posted an article on their blog regarding this case where they released the letter they faxed to the OB group on behalf of the “forced CS” mom. This letter is an excellent resource for any person who works with pregnant women as it reviews the case law and illustrates that “a pregnant woman, like all other persons, has the right to refuse any and all medical interventions that she does not want, even if her doctor disagrees.  In a case called In Re A.C., brought by the ACLU 25 years ago on behalf of a woman forced by court order to undergo a life-threatening C-section, the judge explained: ‘[I]n virtually all cases the question of what is to be done is decided by the patient – the pregnant woman – on behalf of herself and her fetus.'”

A Little Background

On March 2, 2012, a doula contacted me because a GBS positive client was seeking a VBA2C. Her OB group was supportive until they withdrew support of her VBA2C plans at 37 weeks due to factors that had nothing to do with her. I suspect that the OB group – who was known to be VBAC & VBA2C supportive – had a lawsuit/ uterine rupture/ bad outcome that made them so abruptly change their VBAC policy. Nothing developed during the mom’s pregnancy that suddenly made her a poor candidate for VBA2C.

With the mom’s permission, her doula contacted me to help them determine their options. (Below you will find the initial email I received from the doula.) I’m not an attorney or a medical professional, so I could not advise them. I turned to Facebook to collect options and opinions. Through those posts, I was directed to people who could help them – OBs, midwives, reporters, legal organizations, and attorneys. Now it was up to the mom whether she wanted to contact those people/orgs to get their opinions and advice.

Her name and her doula’s name were not made public so that the mom could make this decision without the public eye directly on her and all that comes with that.

What follows below is a brief timeline of the events and then there are emails that follow sharing more detail.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women becomes involved

Update 3/3/12 12:08 PST- I contacted the National Advocates for Pregnant Women last night and the Executive Director Lynn Paltrow replied early this morning with lawyer referrals and a review of the case law. I have included her email below with her permission. This is good information for anyone who works with pregnant women.

1:01 PST- Mie Lewis of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project recently expressed interest in taking on cases like these. Mie Lewis is in New York city and would be an excellent resource for any other women who experience similar situations.

For women in South Carolina, you can contact your state chapter of the ACLU:

Susan K. Dunn
Legal Director
ACLU, South Carolina
P.O. Box 20998
Charleston, SC 29413-0998
843-720-1425

Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent for CNN and CNN’s Sabriya Rice are two reporters who have written about birth and might be worth contacting if you find yourself in a similar situation. Check out “Mom defies doctor, has baby her way” dated December 16, 2010 to get a feel for their writing.

3/5/12 6:40 PST – I learned last night that the mom was able to get her cesarean rescheduled two days later for March 7th.

ACLU, NAPW, & NBPC fax a letter to the OB group, mom has preoperative appointment

3/6/12 4:15 PST – The mom’s doula contacted me with an update. Today the mom and the doula attended the mom’s preoperative appointment for her scheduled cesarean on March 7, 2012. Early this morning, a letter composed by members of the ACLU, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, National Birth Policy Coalition, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women was faxed to the OB group. (You can read the letter here.) The mom and doula also brought a copy of the letter to the appointment. From the doula’s statement: “[The OB] said that this was clearly a misunderstanding and miscommunication and that it didn’t deserve legal attention. That right there tells me that the point and purpose of the letter had worked!!”

When the OB referenced ACOG’s VBAC recommendations and the fact that they do not support VBA2C, the mom asked for the date of the recommendations the OB was using. Turns out he was not aware, and was shocked to learn, that ACOG released a new VBAC Practice Bulletin in 2010 stating, VBAC is a “safe and appropriate choice for most women” with one prior cesarean and for “some women” with two prior cesareans.

This is why it is crucial for women to be informed and resourceful! What if this mom was like most moms who choose whatever mode of delivery their OB recommends without understanding the risk and benefits of their options? She would have had a cesarean at 40 weeks per an outdated ACOG VBAC Practice Bulletin.

Instead, the cesarean date has been moved back to 41 weeks (March 17th) and if mom doesn’t go into labor before that, she is OK with having a cesarean on that date. You can read the full letter from the doula detailing the pre-operative appointment below.

Mom goes into labor

3/7/12 – I’m informed that the mom’s water broke and am in communication with the doula throughout the day. Several hours after spontaneous rupture of membranes, contractions start and labor progressed, but then fizzled out. “Dr S. decided that because she had come this far only to hit a wall that wasn’t moving after trying all natural approaches, he would start a very, very, very low dose of Pitocin [starting at 2 milliunits/hour with a maximum of 4 milliunits/hour] through her IV.” Things start picking up again, but then some fetal distress was detected and Pit was backed off and finally turned off completely. Fetal heart tones stabilized but at a lower baseline than before.

Suddenly fetal heart tones drop and then disappear. A STAT cesarean is called, mom was put under general anesthesia, and within TEN MINUTES, the baby is born. Mom was fine as well.

A placental abruption was diagnosed during surgery. An abruption is when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before the baby is born. This deprives the baby of oxygen and mom is at risk for hemorrhage. Full abruption is very dire for baby. While there is about a 6% chance of infant death or oxygen deprivation after an uterine rupture (Landon, 2004), there is a 12% risk of infant death after a placental abruption (Ananth, 1999). That is a grim statistic.

I am extremely thankful that this mom birthed where she felt safest which was in the hospital despite the many who suggested she plan a last minute home birth.  While I am supportive of home birth and I myself had a home birth, that doesn’t mean that I think all complications can be easily managed at home.  There are complications that are better served in the hospital environment.  Had she planned a home birth, she could have been totally fine, transferred in time, or she could have had a bad outcome.  The fact is, we don’t know.   I do think women who have placental abruptions have better odds in the hospital.

As the doula said of the mom,

She is very thankful she didn’t take the suggestions of some – to call in an underground midwife, to have a home birth, to go to another state and deliver, to labor at home until she was feeling pushy. Any of those suggestions could have had deadly consequences for Emily and her baby. She is thankful that she was given the opportunity to attempt a vaginal delivery, and she is thankful that her body tried to labor. Ultimately though, she is so very thankful that there was an amazing medical team who jumped right into action and essentially saved the lives of both her and her sweet baby girl. She let me know that if she could go back in time, there is nothing she would have changed.

In the mom’s own words:

I don’t think I would have done anything different. I might have said hey lets keep it [the pitocin] at two [milliunits] but hey it [the abruption] would have happened either way. It was God’s way of saying, hey this baby needs out and isn’t coming out the normal way. I let you try it now it is time for you to go ahead and meet her.

Mom is up and around the day after surgery and not needing pain medication! Hopefully this means she will have one of those easy cesarean recoveries of which I am forever jealous! Baby is breastfeeding well. I wish this mom and baby a quick recovery and a happy, happy babymoon!

You can read the doula’s full account of the birth here.

Follow Up

I’ve received a few comments questioning the use of Pitocin in a VBAC and even some comments suggesting that if the mom was at home, the abruption wouldn’t have happened because she wouldn’t have had the Pitocin.

In terms of Pitocin in VBAC moms: 99% of VBAC induced/augmented labors do NOT rupture (Landon, 2004). I haven’t seen rupture rates in VBA2C induced/augmented labors. With induction or augmentation, the increased risk of rupture comes from the drug and the dose. I do not know if the dose given to the mom is in the “danger zone.” I’d appreciate any studies that have measured Pitocin augmented uterine rupture rates and abruption rates by dose in VBAC labors.

But please know, that most ruptures occur in spontaneous labors. Zwart (2009) is a Netherlands based study that included 358,874 total deliveries, making it “the largest prospective report of uterine rupture in women without a previous cesarean in a Western country.” It also differentiated between uterine rupture and dehiscence. Zwart (2009) “found of the 208 scarred and unscarred uterine ruptures, 130 (62.5%) occurred during spontaneous labor reflecting 72% of scarred ruptures and 56% of unscarred ruptures. 28 (13.5%) ruptures occurred during cervical prostaglandin induction. 22 (10.6%) ruptures occurred during oxytocin (Pitocin) induction.” 40% of scarred ruptures occurred during prostaglandin induction. Read more here.

In terms of Pit causing the abruption, none of us know whether that is true to not.  Certainly most women who have Pitocin do not abrupt.  Further, people said that if she was at home, she wouldn’t have been augmented, and she wouldn’t have abrupted.  None of us know that.  Some people believe the myth that nothing can go wrong in a spontaneous “unmessed with” birth.  That is a dangerous and false belief.  All complications are not the result of “interventions gone wrong.”  Sometimes you can do everything “right” and still have a complication/ bad outcome.  Here is one mom’s story of her placental abruption at home (trigger warning).  She survived, her baby girl Aquila did not.  I share this story solely to illustrate the severity of placental abruption and how having a competent care provider and immediate access to operating rooms, surgeons, and blood products can literally make the difference between life and death.  Abruption can be a very serious complication.  Most women who have home births will not have a placental abruption or any other complication that requires immediate access to surgery, but those who do will greatly benefit from a qualified care provide who can facilitate immediate transfer to a hospital.

A quick google search found this study which found a slight increase of abruption risk per mode of delivery: 1.06% during the third cesarean vs 0.91% during the third vaginal delivery. I’d be interested in reading other studies people have handy. It did not control for induction or augmentation, so if you have a study that does control by drug and dose, please share.

The OB suggested the Pit and the mom consented.  I do think that is the point.  I do think women should be given the option of augmentation/induction rather than just “required” to have another cesarean as many OBs do. As Dr. Stuart Fischbein, a breech & VBAC supportive Southern California OB, recently shared on my Facebook page,

According to ACOG, prior low transverse c/section is not a contraindication to induction (other than the use of misoprostol [Cytotec]) so a foley balloon or pitocin may be used safely in these women. The problem arises when a practitioner does not believe in doing inductions on women with prior c/section. Despite the evidence and the ACOG clinical guideline the reality is that many doctors will just not want to deal with it.

I actually was impressed that the OB gave the mom the option of a gentle augmentation. It’s certainly better than just saying, “Your time in up.” I don’t know if I would have made a different choice being in this mom’s position: VBA2C, GBS+, contractions sputtering out… It’s really hard for me to say what I would have done. Yet it has seemed very easy for people  sitting at their computer the morning after to make judgements as they do not have to deal with the real risks or consequences. Sometimes you can do everything “right” and still have a bad outcome. Fortunately, the abruption was detected, surgery was performed, and everyone survived.

———————————

3/2/12 – [This is what I wrote upon receiving the doula’s initial email.] I just received this email tonight and need ideas quick. This term mom seeking VBA2C is in the the Columbia area of South Carolina. Her OB was supportive until 37 weeks. Her cesarean is scheduled for March 7, 2012. She was told that if she shows up in labor, she will be “forced” to have a cesarean. Does anyone know of a care provider in her area that would be willing to accept a new client this late in pregnancy? What other options does she have? Additionally, I’m looking for information on the legality of a hospital/OB “forcing” a c/s? What happens if she shows up at the current hospital and refuses to sign the c/s consent form? What exactly CAN they do??

Jen,

I need some quick help with a client of mine and was wondering if you’d lend an ear and offer up any words of wisdom as I know you are an amazing resource to VBAC.

I have a client who is due today. She had a primary c/s 4 years ago exactly on her EDD for a breech baby. She had a RCS 15 months ago because she was carrying twins.

She is seeing the same practice who did her first two c/s, so they are well versed in her medical history. She had double layer sutures both times, good space between deliveries, deliveries were due to breech & twins and not FTP, CPD, ect… She was deemed a good candidate for VBA2C and has been planning once since.

At her 37wk check-up, the OB told her that the staff had changed their minds and could no longer offer her a VBAC. She questioned the reasoning and he said it was just too risky. She was completely blindsided by this and broke down crying – the OB left the room.

Back to her 38wk appointment and she found out the OB had scheduled her RCS for 2 days after her EDD. She confronted the OB (this time a different one than she saw the week prior) and the OB said she didn’t see any reason why she couldn’t be offered a TOLAC. Relieved, my client went on about her business. Pregnancy has been great. Minimal weight gain, no GD, BP always great. She is GBS +. She received a phone call two days later and the OB said each OB on staff had met and it was decided that a VBA2C was too risky and she wouldn’t be allowed to have a TOLAC. My client was furious, and rightly so. She tried to get in touch with the OB but played phone tag back and forth.

Her 39wk appointment came – this time with a different OB yet again. He was a total jerk. Laughed when she told him she wanted a chance to labor. She showed him the current ACOG guidelines which support VBA2C with the right circumstances (which she has) and he disregarded it and showed her a paper on the risk of VBAC. She argued yet again and said she wouldn’t consent to a c/s unless she or the baby were in danger. He told her that if she showed up to L&D in labor they would “force” her to have a c/s. Yes, he actually told her they’d “force” her. She left a crying, hurt, furious mess.

The next day she called to request her records and the OB told her again – if she delivered with their practice, it would be VIA c/s – end of story. If she didn’t want to comply, they’d (legally) find another practice to take her (HIGHLY unlikely considering she’s due today)…

She hasn’t been back since but has a section scheduled for the 5th that she intends to cancel. I am virtually her only support. Her MIL has 2 c/s, her mother had 3 c/s and thinks she’ll die if she attempts a vaginal birth. Her husband says he has to know when the baby is coming so he can plan to get off of work – so he is fine with the section and not supportive or helpful much.

We have had massively long talks over the past few days and what it boils down to is that she has two choices essentially.

#1 – Show up in labor at her current hospital and have to fight like hell to be able to labor. Almost certainly have the OB on call make the process very difficult. She voiced a concern that the OB may be so pissed off that she’s refusing a c.s that they’ll find some reason to section – “fetal distress”, baby too big, baby not fitting, failure to progress, ect… She also worries exactly what they truly mean by they’ll “force” her to have a c/s. She worries they’ll do something extreme like call DSS/CPS. She’s heard a horror story of a court-ordered c/s. I told her that all that worry, stress, and anxiety during labor will do absolutely nothing good for her well being and progress.

#2. Show up at a different hospital and deliver with the hospital OB. Problem here is she has no record of prenatal care, no surgical records to show suture status, time between sections, ect… She requested her records from the current OBs office, but no one is getting back to her (and I doubt they will…). I know they’ll look down on that and potentially try to coerce into a section due to that. She feels she’d face the least opposition going this route, but has concerns.

I’m exhausted and so is this mama. She is still firm in her choice that a VBAC is the best and safest option for her and her child and I fully support that. I’m not even sure what the right option is at this point or where to turn or what to do. I’m trying to let the mama guide but she’s looking to me as if I can somehow make this entire situation go away… I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

I was just wondering if you had any information on the legality of a hospital/OB “forcing” a c/s? What happens if she shows up at the current hospital and refuses to sign the c/s consent form? What exactly CAN they do?? Have you had any experience in with cases like this?? What option do you feel would be best (#1 or #2) and how should I direct the mama to handle the staff? What is my role here? I’m just at a loss and felt I needed to seek counsel…

Thank you for listening, I know it was so long..

3/3/12 – I receive an email from Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for the National Advocates of Pregnant Women:

Dear Jen:

By this email,I am cc’ing two lawyers in South Carolina, Susan Dunn and C. Rauch “Rock” Wise, and SC activist Sally Hebert as well as other people out of state who may have useful suggestions, including Farah on our staff who is especially knowledgeable about cases involving threats of forced cesarean surgery. I know a great deal about the law in South Carolina but am not admitted to practice there, so any legal questions should be directed to lawyers admitted to the bar in South Carolina.

I can, however, share with you some general background. As a matter of constitutional law, medical ethics, and human rights, doctors may not force their patients — including pregnant ones — to undergo procedures they do not consent to.

As a policy matter, both the American Medical Association and the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have taken express positions opposing court ordered interventions against pregnant women and against effort by hospitals and doctors to seek such orders. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a formal opinion stating that “actions of coercion to obtain consent or force a course of action limit maternal freedom of choice, threaten the doctor/patient relationships, and violate the principles underlying the informed consent process.” See American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion No. 55, Patient Choice: Ma­ternal-Fetal Conflict (1987) (And more recent opinions 2005); Report of American Medical Association Board of Trustees, Legal Interventions During Pregnancy, 264 JAMA 2663, 267 (1990) (“Judicial intervention is inappropriate when a woman has made an informed refusal of a medical treatment designed to benefit her fetus.”)

Appellate cases decided on full records and addressing the issue of court ordered interventions on pregnant women have held that the medical and constitutional principles of informed consent, bodily integrity, and patient privacy and autonomy require that pregnant women have the right under the common law and the constitution to accept or refuse medical treatment, like all other patients. See In re A.C., 573 A.2d 1235, 1253 (D.C. 1990) (en banc) (vacating a court-ordered cesarean section that was listed as a contributing factor to the mother’s death on her death certificate); In re Fetus Brown, 689 N.E.2d 397, 400 (Ill. App. Ct. 1997) (overturning a court-ordered blood transfusion of a pregnant woman); In re Baby Boy Doe, 632 N.E.2d 326 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994) (holding that courts may not balance whatever rights a fetus may have against the rights of a competent woman, whose choice to refuse medical treatment as invasive as a cesarean section must be honored even if the choice may be harmful to the fetus). Cf. Stallman v. Youngquist, 531 N.E.2d 355, 359-61 (Ill. 1988) (refusing to recognize the tort of maternal prenatal negligence, holding that granting fetuses legal rights in this manner “would involve an unprecedented intrusion into the privacy and autonomy of the [state’s female] citizens”).

Nevertheless, South Carolina stands out in the nation for having judicially created law that treats viable fetuses as if they are separate persons. As a result, certain women have been found guilty of child abuse for risking harm to their unborn children. None of these cases in South Carolina, so far, involve women who have refused cesarean surgery. These decisions, do apparently embolden doctors to believe they can impose their view of what is best on their patients.

Theoretically, it might be possible to go to court to get a Temporary Restraining Order –ordering the hospital not to do as they have threatened. If Susan or Rauch or another South Carolina attorney and the client wish to and are able to go this route, our office may have some draft/model papers that would help with such an effort and we would be happy to consult with/advise/share information with that lawyer.

Regardless, however, of what rights this woman has on paper, she has to deal with the stress of this situation and ensuring that she has access to the health care she does need and want. I cannot advise on what medical course she should take.

I can say though that, however she proceeds NAPW would be very interested in also exploring how we could help if she wishes to challenge these actions after the birth or bring them to public attention. Similarly, if child welfare is called,(something else that would not be supported by constitutional law etc– but is a scary, if remote, possibility) NAPW would be interested in helping her local counsel.

I will be on a plane this morning, but my cell phone is below in the signature block. When it gets a bit later, I will try and reach some of the South Carolina folks by phone to give them the heads up about your email.

Please, in any event, let us know what happens. We will be worrying about this Mom.

Sincerely,

Lynn M. Paltrow
Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
15 West 36th Street, Suite 901
New York, New York 10018
212-255-9252
212-255-9253 (fax)
917-921-7421 (cell)
lmp@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org
www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org
Be a “Fan” of NAPW on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter.Mel

3/6/12 4:15 PST – Update from mom’s doula:

Thank you everyone – especially Jen – for uplifting this mother in your thoughts and prayers and helping us join together as a community to help this wonderful mother out!

Last night, four wonderful women got together and composed a letter to the mama’s OB/GYN practice. These women were members of ACLU, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, National Birth Policy Coalition, and National Advocates for Pregnant women. Thank you so much Jen for contacting these women on the behalf of my client and myself. The letter was absolutely wonderful and explained in detail the things the practice were doing were wrong among many other things – it was very detailed!!! The letter was faxed to the practice first things this morning and a copy was sent to myself and my client.

When we arrived at the consultation, the practice had already received and read the letter and it was in my client’s chart. We were ushered directly to the OB’s office instead of an exam room. We sat down and began to discuss the issues at hand. I was providing moral support while my client took the lead. The OB explained that he believed this was all simply miscommunication. He said that while they have very strong feelings on things such as this, they could not and would not force her to do anything and that no one would come and drag her out of bed tomorrow for her scheduled cesarean. He said that this was clearly a misunderstanding and miscommunication and that it didn’t deserve legal attention. That right there tells me that the point and purpose of the letter had worked!! I knew when I read the letter that it was either going to upset the practice tremendously and they would seek a court order for a cesarean, call DSS/CPS for her endangering her child’s life since SC is a personhood state, or something similar. Alternatively, the letter may shake them into reality and make them realize they are dealing with a mother who is fully informed of her rights and ready to take action and they would back down. Thankfully, the second option ended up happening!! You could tell it was obvious he was shocked that someone went to such lengths to get their attention and fight for what they wanted.

He had the ACOG guidelines book on his desk bookmarked to the VBAC policy and showed us that VBAC after two or more cesareans is contraindicated and the ACOG doesn’t support it. He explained the risk of rupture was 1-2.6% after 2 cesarean section. He explained the risk and that if my client were his wife, he would advise she have a RCS. He was very calm and we remained very calm as well. He said that now the ball was in her court. When he was done explaining his position, my client began to explain hers. Her first question was the publication date for the VBAC ACOG guidelines he had looked up because she believed they were out of date. He looked surprised to be challenged and we took out my binder that had the most recent, revamped ACOG recommendation that is to allow a TOLAC in mothers with two prior low transverse uterine incisions. He was shocked and had no idea that the guidelines had changed…. No wonder our system is so in need of VBAC support – the doctors don’t even know their own governing body’s recommendation!! She explained that she understood the risk involved, but she also understood the risk of a 3rd cesarean section and all she wanted was their blessing to have a trial of labor. She explained that she wouldn’t hesitate to agree to a cesarean section should there arise a true need. They talked further and agreed that she would be allowed to be left alone until 41 weeks – March 17th (they have her EDD as March 11th) to go into labor and be allowed a TOLAC. No induction methods would be used. If no labor and no changing cervix by March 17th, a cesarean will be scheduled and the mom is ok with this.

Everything looks great at her appointment – she’s had no cervical change and the baby is very high still – baby is floating according to the doctor. She’s going to work to bring her baby down and prepare her body for labor. She feels as if a weight has been lifted from her shoulders and she can finally relax. We both agree that being stress-free will do a world of good and we pray she goes into labor on her own before the 17th. Send her good thoughts and prayers that her body kicks into gear and decides it is time to have a baby!!

I am elated that this took such a wonderful turn!! It was such a dark time for quite awhile! Thank you everyone for the continued support and I will keep everyone updated with the mother’s permission!! Hopefully she has a wonderful story to tell very soon!

Study finds that women choose the mode of delivery preferred by their doctor

Update: Metz (2013) came to the same conclusion of Bernstein (2012).  Metz concluded, “Less than one third of the good candidates for TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] chose TOLAC. Managing provider influences this decision.”  Read more here.

______________________________

The findings of “Trial of labor after previous cesarean section versus repeat cesarean section: are patients making an informed decision?” presented at the February 9, 2012 annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s, The Pregnancy Meeting ™, in Dallas, Texas is not surprising.  Doctors have so much influence over patients and apparently, patients are making medical decisions without a basic understanding the benefits and risks of their options.

“Even though most women can achieve a vaginal delivery with trial of labor, less than 10 percent of them attempt to do so,” said Sarah Bernstein, MD, with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Obstetrics and Gynecology, in New York, and one of the study’s authors. “In fact, when patients perceived that their doctor preferred a repeat cesarean, very few chose to undergo trial of labor, whereas the majority chose trial of labor if that was their doctor’s preference.”

The study was a survey provided to women upon admission for their elective repeat cesarean section (ERCS) or trial of labor after cesarean section (TOLAC).  I am really shocked at the level of knowledge most of the women had. 73% of the women admitted for a ERCS did not know the chances of a successful VBAC and 64% did not know the risk of uterine rupture.  54% of women choosing a TOLAC did not know the chances of a successful VBAC and 45% did not know the risk of rupture!  WOW!!

Women in both groups demonstrated lack of knowledge on the risks and benefits of TOLAC and ERCS, particularly women in the ERCS group. Specifically, patients were not familiar with the chances of a successful TOLAC, the effect of indication for previous CS on success, the risk of uterine rupture, and the increase in risk with each successive CS.  Only 13% of TOLAC patients and 4% of ERCS patients knew the chances for a successful TOLAC, while the majority in both groups stated that they “did not know”.  The majority (64%)of ERCS patients did not know the risk of uterine rupture during TOLAC and 52% did not know which delivery mode had a faster recovery time.

This is why, even if you are on the fence about VBAC vs. repeat cesarean, selecting a care provider who is genuinely supportive of VBAC gives you the power of choice.  Read more on what makes a supportive care provider here.

Read the press release and a news article.  The abstract is available on page 3 of this PDF.

Quickly and easily provide the resources for VBAC information with the FAQ card.

Sources

Bernstein, S., Matalon-Grazi, S., & Rosenn, B. (2012). Trial of labor after previous cesarean section versus repeat cesarean section: are patients making an informed decision? Supplement to JANUARY 2012 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, S21. Retrieved from http://www.smfmnewsroom.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Abstracts-27-35.pdf

What can you do when your hospital bans VBAC?

Amber recently left this comment on the Quick Facts page:

i am pregnant for the second time my first child was delivered by c-section my goal is to have my second child natural but the obgyns in my area will not allow someone who has had a c-section to have a natural birth they said it is hospital policy what would you recommend?

And here is what people recommended: 

1. Let hospital administrators and the board of directors know.

Mamas that are passing on a hospital because of their VBAC policy, need to then write the hospital administrators and the boards of directors to tell them that they birthed at XXX Hospital instead of theirs because of their VBAC policy. Hospitals need to hear that they are losing births (aka $$$) because of their policies.

2. Find an ICAN chapter near you.

She needs to get in touch with her closest local ICAN chapter TODAY. They will know details on the exact situation in her area. She should not put stock in what one person tells her- there is a lot of misinformation and myth out there. She can find both a local chapter and information about fighting a VBAC ban at www.ican-online.org

3. Sign a waiver and exercise your legal right to refuse surgery.

I had a VBAC at a hospital where no doctor staff supported it but low and behold all the nurses were amazing! I went in at 5 cm and 3 hours later baby was in my arms. Strong support is a must – I had a midwife, my husband, mom and sister. Stay focused. Don’t sign anything- except the refusal of c/section form- get in there and push your baby out!

and . . .

I would encourage her to ask to see this policy & ask if she would be allowed to sign a waiver. Ask friends if anyone they know has VBAC’d there or at another area facility. I had an experience in my last VBAC where I was told of a “policy” that didn’t really exist except in that person’s mind.

and . . .

Under the right to informed decision making she has the right to say “no thank you”. Absent a court order for a cesarean they cant force her. I’m not a huge fan of the “show up pushing” crowd, but it may appeal to her. Or she could labor in a nearby hotel with a midwife or montrice to monitor the baby and then go in to the hospital at the last minute. Again, not a fan but we’re looking at options here.

and . . .

Regarding stories of VBAC-ban hospitals. I don’t have experience myself, as my VBAC was done with a CNM at a supportive facility – but I’ve attended a VBAC at a local hospital with a VBAC ban. Mama had a RCS [repeat cesarean section] scheduled (though she didn’t intend on going in) but went into spontaneous labor 6 days prior. She labored at home several hours until contractions were about 3 minutes apart. When we arrived and they realized she had a previous c/s, they began calling in a team to prep the OR.

The mama was beyond calm – and in the middle of labor – requested to speak with the staff. The nurses (there were maybe 4 in there?), the attending OB, and the anesthesiologist (who had already been paged for the spinal for surgery) were in her room (ready to wheel her to the OR). Between contractions, she quickly and quietly explained that she was aware it wasn’t typical policy to attend a VBAC, but she was there and it was their legal duty to treat her and she was exercising her legal right to refuse unnecessary surgery.

The nurses looked shocked, the anesthesiologist said something about he was clearly not needed, and the OB (who I swear was VBAC accepting but just was staffed at a VBAC-ban hospital) told her that she was correct, they had to treat her and couldn’t force her to do anything unless her baby was in danger but she’d need to sign quite a bit of paperwork documenting the situation. He had the most odd grin/smirk on his face while he said that as if to somehow thank her for having the nerve to stand up for herself. He left the room and we didn’t see him again until she was crowning.

I in no way, shape, or form feel that that scenario is typical of a VBAC-ban situation, but it was certainly enjoyable and entertaining to have experienced that with my client.

and . . .

I just refused the c-section at a VBAC ban hospital. With my first, I pushed for 4 hours, and he didn’t get past the 0 station (he was presenting transverse) — We lived too far away from the hospital for a homebirth at our own home, but I hired the homebirth midwife for concurrent care. She was going to monitor us at a hotel near the hospital for labor, but thankfully everything went so fast we just met her at the hospital. She served as doula there. I found out from an OB nurse that one of the OBs did support a woman’s right to refuse (though not enthusiastically). I knew I needed care I could trust, so that the only c-section I got was medically necessary. You can read where my midwife tells our story here.

You have every right to refuse an unnecessary c-section, I’d just HIGHLY recommend laboring out of the hospital, and having a doula or knowledgeable advocate with you!

and . . .

This is my advice for VBACing at a banned hospital –

– Sign your informed refusal ahead of time, and be aware that when presented with the risks of VBAC, it will majorly underplay RCS risks; it might be a good idea not to bring your husband to this appointment if he’s feeling nervous about VBAC. [Or have your husband read this article beforehand.]

– Don’t let them give you a late term ultrasound for anything other than a medical problem (in other words — refuse the late ultrasound for size)

– Plan to labor out of the hospital; use a monitrice if you are nervous about that, or a good doula

– Have a smart advocate with you at the hospital so you don’t have to fight any battles yourself and can just focus on laboring

– Get good prenatal care — I did acupuncture and chiropractic, and both of those people had offered to help me in labor if I needed; having that support and belief was very empowering, because my OB absolutely didn’t think we “could” VBAC

– Own your decision; don’t be wishy-washy… be stubborn… this is YOUR BODY. I had a personal mantra that I repeated to myself over and over, “I will only have a medically necessary c-section.”

– Learn ways to get through labor naturally; I really liked the strategies in “Birthing from Within” — even more than hypno or Bradley techniques

– Show up in advanced labor (I was complete when we got to the hospital)

– Know your personal hang-ups — I pushed for 4 hours with my son and am SO GLAD that I labored down in a small bathroom until my urge to push was really strong and spontaneous; I am so glad I wasn’t on the bed pushing for a long time, because this would have brought back too many bad memories and made me feel panicky, tired, and out of control. When I got on the bed to push, I was practically crowning. THAT was very empowering for a “failure to descend” mama

To bottom line – do what you have to to get the care you need, even with limited options; own your body and decision, and give yourself every advantage and tool that you can to help ensure success.

and a VBAC supportive OB who worked in a VBAC ban hospital says:

I’m supposed to tell patients that they have to go elsewhere if they want a VBAC, that they can’t stay in their own community, that they have to drive 50 miles. … I’m not supposed to tell them that they have the option of showing up in labor and refusing surgery. The hospital actually put in writing that I should avoid telling them that. They’re telling me to skew my counseling, and they have no shame in doing so.

4. Ask a different person at the hospital.

Remember that not everyone is knowledgeable about VBAC or a specific hospital’s VBAC policy, even if they work at that hospital.

I have heard an OB tell a mother that her only option was repeat cesarean because the hospital didn’t allow VBAC. The director of Maternal Child Health said it absolutely wasn’t true and gave her the names of VBAC friendly providers.

5. Find another hospital via the VBAC Policies by US Hospitals database compiled by ICAN.

Remember you are buying a service. Why pay for something you don’t want. Shop elsewhere.

6. Find another provider and ask these questions.

7. Birth in another city, county, or state.

Know what you’re comfortable with, hire a doula as well as a midwife or doctor especially if you have a hospital birth, and do your research so you know your rights and options. I’m currently about to “relocate” to Seattle at 37 weeks, from Juneau, AK where there is a hospital VBAC ban at our one hospital in town so I can try to have a VBAC in a more supportive environment. I didn’t think I wanted to fight the VBAC ban while in labor, I’d rather do my political activism in a clearer state of mind! It has been a stressful journey but I know I’m doing what’s right for me so I’m feeling really good about things now. I know this isn’t an option for many and a few women since the beginning of 2011 have refused repeat c/s at our hospital. Good luck!

and . . .

Go somewhere else. . . I traveled 40 mins for my vbac in 2010 because the 6 hospitals around here wouldn’t let them either.

and . . .

I even know a family who crossed state lines to have her baby the way she desired because her states laws wouldn’t allow her.

Joy Szabo said

I found a sane doctor 5 hours away. I got slightly famous for it, too.

and I’ve heard of women traveling to Mexico to VBAC at Plenitude with Dr. José Luis.

8. Consider a homebirth.

Fighting the hospital system while trying to push out a baby is not a simple task. Yes, a support team can be a big help. Personally, I felt more comfortable staying home than going to the hospital with my boxing gloves. It’s a personal choice and she’ll have to see what she’s most comfortable with. At the end of the day, I played out both options in my mind and went with the one that I felt most at peace with.

and. . .

Hello, my personal story in a nutshell… iatrogenically necessitated c/s with my first. For #2, it was a last minute change of plans… I’m a physician and I discovered through the grapevine that OB was planning to resection me without medical indication so #2 turned into planned HBAC. Homebirth VBAC successful with my second. The second was so beautiful, so peaceful, so uncomplicated!

9. Connect with resources for more ideas.

Stratton, B. (2006). 50 Ways to Protest a VBAC Denial. Retrieved from Midwifery Today: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/50ways_vbac.asp

A good closing thought:

The term “will not allow” always bothers me. Perhaps they “won’t attend a VBAC” but they definitely can not stop you. Stand up for your rights. Show them the ACOG recommendation which is to allow a trial of labor! Seek out support. Call every OB you can think of. Look into a midwife. Hire a doula. You can do this.

Do you have more ideas?

Did you deliver at a VBAC ban hospital?

What was your strategy?

Are you a health care provider at a VBAC ban hospital and have some insight?

Myth: Risk of uterine rupture doesn’t change much after a cesarean

1/18/12 – The difference in uterine rupture (UR) rates between unscarred and scarred uteri is significant: 1 in 14,286 in an unscarred uterus and 1 in 156 in a scarred uterus.  Another way to express this is: 0.7 in 10,000 (0.007%) in an unscarred uterus and 64 in 10,000 (0.64%) in a scarred uterus.  This 91 times greater risk does not mean that the risk of UR is so large in a scarred mom, it’s that it’s so very, very small in an unscarred mom.

________________________________________

I came across a couple different bits of (mis)information the past day that have really concerned me. In both situations, people, one of whom is a certified professional midwife (CPM), give false information regarding how a cesarean affects one’s risk of uterine rupture in future pregnancies.

First, a women with a prior cesarean asks for uterine rupture rates after a cesarean, “preferable one with stats” on Facebook. One woman gives this reply:

… almost all cases the risk of rupture is less than one percent, even after multiple sections, or special scars such as an inverted T. The risk is roughly double what it is for an unscarred uterus, but considering the tiny numbers it doesn’t really make a difference, especially since the vast majority of ruptures are not catastrophic in nature, something that is not differentiated in study results.

(There are several things that are false in this statement, but I’ll save those for another post.) Then later in the day, I came across this comment from a CPM’s website:

Will you do a vaginal birth after cesarean?
Yes. Studies have shown that there isn’t much of a difference in uterine rupture rates in someone that has had a previous cesarean and someone who has never had one. A lot of my clients are VBAC’s or attempted VBAC’s. I am completely comfortable with this.

Both of these representations of uterine rupture after a cesarean are erroneous. It’s especially disturbing that a midwife who is counseling VBAC moms and attending their births at home, is giving her clients grossly incorrect information. The risk of a uterine rupture does much more than double after a cesarean as the risk in an unscarred uterus is infinitesimal in comparison to a scarred uterus.

Comparing the risk of uterine rupture: Prior cesarean vs. no prior cesarean

I started looking around and quickly found Uterine rupture in the Netherlands: a nationwide population-based cohort study (Zwart, 2009) which contains the data I needed to compare the rates of rupture in unscarred vs. scarred uteri. You can read the study in its entirety here.

This study included 358,874 total deliveries, making it “the largest prospective report of uterine rupture in women without a previous cesarean in a Western country.” It also differentiates between uterine rupture and dehiscence which is really important because we want to measure the rate of complete rupture. (Remember how the lady from Facebook made the statement, ” the vast majority of ruptures are not catastrophic in nature, something that is not differentiated in study results.” That portion of her statement was also false.)

Zwart (2009) looked at 25,989 deliveries after a cesarean and found 183 ruptures giving us a 0.64% uterine rupture rate or 64 per 10,000 deliveries. 72% of those ruptures occurred in spontaneous labors. Of the 183 ruptures, 7.7% resulted in infant deaths representing 14 babies dying. This gives us a rate of infant mortality due to uterine rupture after a cesarean of 0.05% or 5 in 10,000 deliveries.

Zwart also looked at 332,885 deliveries with no prior cesarean resulting in 25 ruptures giving us a 0.007% uterine rupture rate or .7 per 10,000 deliveries. 56% of ruptures occurred in spontaneous labors. Of the 25 ruptures, 24% resulted in infant deaths representing 6 babies dying. This gives us a rate of infant mortality due to uterine rupture in an unscarred uterus of 0.0018% or 0.18 in 10,000 deliveries.

This study found that the risk of uterine rupture is 91 times greater in a woman with a prior cesarean vs. a woman without a prior cesarean. Not double, not similar, but 91 times greater.

It is important to note that, “severe maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality were clearly more often observed among women with an unscarred uterine rupture as compared to uterine scar rupture.” Meaning, if an unscarred mom ruptures, her baby is more likely to die than a scarred mom. We see this when we compare the 24% of unscarred ruptures that resulted in an infant death vs. the 7.7% of scarred ruptures that resulted in an infant death which represents a 3 fold greater risk.

However, due to the fact that uterine rupture occurs more frequently in a scarred uterus, the risk of infant mortality due to uterine rupture after a previous cesarean was 27.8 times greater than the risk of infant mortality after a rupture in an unscarred uterus.

In other words, while ruptures in unscarred uteri are more deadly to infants, more infants die due to ruptures in scarred uteri because they occur more frequently.

OBs are often vilified (rightfully so) for giving women inflated rates of uterine rupture and I’ve documented several examples here: Another VBAC Consult Misinforms, Scare tactics vs. informed consent, Hospital VBAC turned CS due to constant scare tactics, and A father says, Why invite the risk of VBAC?.

As a result, women seek out midwives thinking that they will be a source of accurate information and judicious support. But what happens when your midwife tells you that your risk of uterine rupture has not increased as a result of your prior cesarean section? If you have done your homework, hopefully you find another midwife fast. I would really question the skills and knowledge of a midwife who is so unknowledgeable on the risks of VBAC and yet attends VBAC births in an out-of-hospital setting.

But suppose your haven’t done your homework, you trust your midwife, and you move forward with your plan to have a VBAC at home based on the incorrect statistics she supplies. I can’t begin to imagine the rage I would feel if I decided to have a home VBAC based on false information provided by my care provider, and then the unimaginable happened, and I ruptured, and then I learned the truth: that my risk of uterine rupture increased 91 times as a result of my prior cesarean. I would be beyond angry. I would feel so betrayed.

It’s unfortunate when a woman chooses a mode of delivery based on false information. Whether it’s a a woman deciding to have a repeat cesarean due to the exaggerated risk of uterine rupture provided by her OB or a woman deciding to have a (home) VBAC due to her midwife playing down and underestimating the risk of uterine rupture. It is just as bad to minimize the risk of uterine rupture as it is to inflate the risk.

While the risk of rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low transverse cesarean is comparable to other obstetrical emergencies, it is important for women weighting their post-cesarean birth options to know that their risk increased substantially due to their prior cesarean. It is important for them to understand the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean. It is important for them to have access to accurate information and be able to differentiate between a midwife’s/blogger’s/doula’s/birth advocate’s/person on Facebook’s hopeful opinion vs. documented statistics.

I implore those who interact with, and have impact on, women weighing their birth options: do not pass along information, no matter how great it sounds, if you don’t have a well-designed scientific study supporting it. If you hear a statistic you would love to use and share, just ask the person who gave you this information,”What is the source?” and use the citation anytime you quote the statistic. But if the person doesn’t have a well-designed scientific study, be wary and don’t use the stat. This way, we can reduce the rumor and increase the amount of good information on the Internet. I know, a lofty goal.

Read more birth myths debunked including Lightning strikes, shark bites, and uterine rupture and Myth: Unscarred mom induced (with Pit) as likely as VBAC mom to rupture.

__________________________________

Zwart, J. J., Richters, J. M., Ory, F., de Vries, J., Bloemenkamp, K., & van Roosmalen, J. (2009, July). Uterine rupture in the Netherlands: a nationwide population-based cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 116(8), pp. 1069-1080. Retrieved January 15, 2012, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02136.x/full

rutpures in scarred uteri

Do intrauterine pressure catheters make VBAC safer?

A mom planning a VBA1C (vaginal birth after one cesarean) at a Southern California Kaiser recently emailed me. She discovered while interviewing her care provider and asking how they treat VBAC labors differently than non-VBAC labors (an excellent question), that they require intrauterine pressure catheters (IUPC) in all VBAC labors. She wanted to know what I thought of their policy.

As I read more and more about IUPCs, I was increasingly curious why they would be required.  The evidence for their ability to predict uterine rupture is lacking and as a result major OB/GYN associations do not endorse their use in VBAC labors.  Below you will find the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG aka Canada’s ACOG), abstracts of the studies they reference, as well as questions to ask your care provider if they require IUPCs.  As I find more info, I’ll update this page.

What is an IUPC?

WebMD describes it as “a small catheter that is placed along side the baby [that] measures the strength and duration of contractions.”

In order for the IUPC to be inserted next to the baby in the uterus, the fetal membranes must be ruptured and the cervix dilated to at least 1-2cm (UptoDate, 2011).  I suspect that this greatly, if not entirely, limits mom’s ability to move during labor depending on the policies of the hospital and care provider. This also increases the risk of infection and puts mom on the clock in terms of how long her care provider/hospital permits her to labor once her water has been broken.

Do professional obstetrical associations recommend IUPCs in VBACs?

While trying to find if IUPCs were helpful in labor, particularly in diagnosing uterine ruptures, the National Guideline Clearinghouse (2011) gave me a good starting point:

With regard to intrauterine pressure catheters, RCOG notes that their routine use in the early detection of uterine scar rupture is not recommended. ACOG similarly states that no data suggest that intrauterine pressure catheters are superior to external forms of monitoring, and there is evidence that their use does not assist in the diagnosis of uterine rupture.

What does ACOG say about IUPCs?

As I was interested in the exact language used in ACOG’s (2010) VBAC guidelines, I looked it up and found this:

No data suggest that intrauterine pressure catheters or fetal scalp electrodes are superior to external forms of monitoring, and there is evidence that the use of intrauterine pressure catheters does not assist in the diagnosis of uterine rupture.

What IUPC VBAC studies does ACOG reference?

ACOG cites only two studies in that paragraph. The first was published 18 years before ACOG’s recommendations where released and the second, 21 years before. If these are the best studies ACOG can find, then I’m left thinking that there are not many high quality studies on IUPC through 2010.

The first study cited was Devoe (1992) which concluded (emphasis mine),

Though intrauterine monitoring was brief, this model allows a unique view of ‘controlled’ uterine rupture. Spontaneous uterine rupture may evolve more gradually; however, neither catheter type [fluid-filled or solid] would be likely to aid its early recognition.

The second study was Rodriguez (1989) which found (emphasis mine):

The usefulness of the intrauterine pressure catheter in the diagnosis of uterine rupture was assessed by review of 76 cases of uterine rupture, 39 of which were monitored with an intrauterine pressure catheter. The classic description of a loss of intrauterine pressure or cessation of labor was not observed in any of the patients. However, an increase in baseline intrauterine pressure was observed in four patients with an intrauterine pressure catheter. The increase in pressure was associated with severe variable decelerations such that by itself the intrauterine pressure catheter added little to the diagnosis of uterine rupture.

What does RCOG say about IUPCs?

Then I looked up RCOG’s (2007) VBAC guidelines and it stated (emphasis mine):

The routine use of intrauterine pressure catheters in the early detection of uterine scar rupture is not recommended. Observational studies, with varying methodology and case mix, have shown that intrauterine pressure catheters may not always be reliable and are unlikely to add significant additional ability to predict uterine rupture over clinical and CTG surveillance. Intrauterine catheter insertion may also be associated with risk. Some clinicians may prefer to use intrauterine pressure catheters in special circumstances (such as in women who are obese, to limit the risk of uterine hyperstimulation); this should be a consultant-led decision.

What IUPC VBAC studies does RCOG reference?

RCOG cites four studies in that paragraph. Again, it’s surprising that these studies were published 15 – 25 years before the 2007 RCOG guidelines.

First, Arulkumaran (1992) which I found so interesting, I included the entire abstract (emphasis mine):

To evaluate the symptoms and signs of scar rupture with special reference to intrauterine pressure measurement a retrospective analysis of labour records of those women who had trial of labour with a previous Caesarean scar in the National University Hospital over a period of 6 years (1985-1990) was carried out. Known symptoms and signs associated with scar rupture, cardiotocographic tracings and fetal and maternal outcome in these patients were studied. Of the 1,018 women with previous Caesarean scar (4.2% of our pregnant population at term) 722 (70.9%) had trial of labour; 70% delivered vaginally. There were 4 (0.55%) incomplete and 5 (0.69%) complete scar ruptures. All 9 women had an oxytocin infusion; 3 were diagnosed postdelivery (all 3 had complete ruptures); 3 of the 6 who had rupture prior to delivery had sudden reduction in uterine activity, 1 had scar pain and prolonged bradycardia and 2 had no symptoms or signs. Continuous cardiotocography with intrauterine pressure measurements may help to identify scar rupture early and may be of value especially in those who have an oxytocin infusion.

Second, Beckley(1991) whose abstract doesn’t give us much information:

A series of 12 trials of scar associated with scar rupture is reviewed. Uterine activity patterns were assessable in 10 of them. Clinical features and characteristics of the intrauterine pressure waveform and uterine activity are discussed in relation to the integrity of the scar.

The third study RCOG cited was Rodriguez (1989) which ACOG also cited and I previously shared.

Fourth, Madanes (1982) whose abstract also is lacking any conclusions or major findings:

A case of uterine perforation by an intrauterine pressure catheter is described. Five similar cases from the literature are reviewed. A revision of the pressure catheter insertion technique is discussed.

Do IUPCs pose any risks to the baby?

I was very disappointed in the overall lack of published research on IUPCs in VBACs. I was further disappointed that there was very little discussion on the specific risks of IUPCs to mom or baby and at what rate these complications occur. I found Wilmink (2008) which discusses the IUPC related complications in two labors resulting in one infant death:

CASES: We describe the placement of an IUPC during induction of labor with oxytocin in two cases, one presenting with a singleton pregnancy and the other a twin pregnancy. After introduction of the IUPC, both cases were complicated by blood loss and signs of fetal distress on cardiotocography. An emergency cesarean section was performed in both cases. In the first case, extramembranous placement of the IUPC was observed, whereas in the second case, the IUPC had lacerated an arteriovenous anastomosis in the membranes, resulting in perinatal [infant] death. CONCLUSION: Placement of an intrauterine pressure catheter instead of external tocodynamometry has a small risk for serious fetal complications.

It would be helpful to have a large scale study on IUPCs conducted so we know how frequently complications like this occur.  It’s very difficult to weigh the pros and cons of IUPCs if we don’t fully understand the risks that they pose.  Is it worth mandating the use of IUPCs in VBAC labors if it means that the misplacement of the IUPC could sever the blood, and thus oxygen, supply to baby?

If your care provider requires IUPCs, what questions should you ask?

I posted on my Facebook page requesting the opinion of various midwives and OB/GYNs I know on the use of IUPCs in VBAC labors. Barbara Herrera provided this excellent list of questions:

  1. How will you know if there is a UR [uterine rupture]? What signs are you looking for?
  2. What is the process you go through to know it is a UR and not the IUPC misplacement or falling out?
  3. Who puts the IUPC in? The RN? Or you (the doc)? Who has more experience putting it in?
  4. How do we assure its proper placement?
  5. Will I be able to move about the bed and beside the bed once the IUPC is placed?
  6. If the IUPC registers something is amiss, as long as the FHR [fetal heart rate] is still okay, can I trust those around me not to freak out until we know if it is dislodged or misplaced? (Most women are much more able to move around with the IUPC than the external monitors.)
  7. Will using the IUPC mean I am going to have pitocin augmentation at some point?

The take away message

In light of the fact that

  • ACOG and RCOG do not recommend the use of IUPCs in VBACs as
  • IUPCs have not been proven effective in predicting uterine rupture and as
  • IUPCs can pose risks to babies (including blood loss and signs of fetal distress resulting in emergency cesareans and infant death) at a rate that we do not yet know while
  • requiring the (premature) breaking of fetal membranes (“breaking your water”),
  • increasing the risk of infection, and
  • possibly restricting mom to bed for her labor,

I can’t imagine why any hospital or OB would require their use.*

Elizabeth Allemann, MD left this comment on my Facebook page which I think summed up the issue well:

If a woman has decided to labor and birth with a uterine scar, she’s made her decision. If she wants to be successful, she’ll need what every woman needs to give birth: privacy, love, good nutrition, time, patience, touch, and care by a team that trusts her to give birth. And she’ll need that even more because she’s been scarred–in her heart and soul, not just on her uterus. And we need things to come down and out. An IUPC isn’t going to give her any of that. It’s a sad state of affairs when we can’t provide any of that in the hospital (generally) for any women and we end up forcing women to birth at home, just to get a chance to birth at all. Not that there’s anything wrong with home birth, but if a woman wants to give birth in the hospital, we should be able to provide that for her without a Niagara Falls of interventions waiting to pounce on her.

_____________________________________

* I had a conversation with a friend who teaches Bradley childbirth classes recently. She said that OBs/hospitals use IUPCs because then they can show that they “did everything” to protect the mom from uterine rupture and in the event that a UR did occur and they were taken to court, they could bring that information with them. But I responded with the fact that IUPCs have not been proven effective in predicting UR and ACOG/RCOG don’t recommend their use, so I don’t believe that would be a strong enough argument hold up in court.  I’m not an attorney, so I could be completely wrong, but that is what makes sense to my non-legal mind.

_____________________________________

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Vaginal birth after previous cesarean delivery. Washington (DC): American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG); 2010 Aug. 14 p. (ACOG practice bulletin; no. 115).

Arulkumaran S, Chua S, Ratnam SS. Symptoms and signs with scar rupture: value of uterine activity measurements. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 1992;32:208–12.

Beckley S, Gee H, Newton JR. Scar rupture in labour after previous lower uterine segment caesarean section: the role of uterine activity measurement. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 1991;98: 265–9.

Devoe LD, Croom CS, Youssef AA, Murray C. The prediction of “controlled” uterine rupture by the use of intrauterine pressure catheters. Obstet Gynecol 1992; 80:626-9. (Level II-2)

Lucidi RS, Chez RA, Creasy RK. The clinical use of intrauterine pressure catheters. J Matern Fetal Med. 2001 Dec;10(6):420-2. Review. PubMed PMID: 11798454.

Madanes AE, David D, Cetrulo C. Major complications associated with intrauterine pressure monitoring. Obstet Gynecol 1982;59: 389–91.

National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). Guideline synthesis: Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). In: National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC) [Web site]. Rockville (MD): 2011 Jan. [cited YYYY Mon DD]. Available: http://www.guideline.gov.

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). Birth after previous caesarean birth. London (UK): Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG); 2007 Feb. 17 p. (Green-top guideline; no. 45).

Rodriguez MH, Masaki DI, Phelan JP, Diaz FG. Uterine rupture: are intrauterine pressure catheters useful in the diagnosis? Am J Obstet Gynecol 1989; 161:666-9. (Level III)

Wilmink FA, Wilms FF, Heydanus R, Mol BW, Papatsonis DN. Fetal complications after placement of an intrauterine pressure catheter: a report of two cases and review of the literature. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2008 Dec;21(12):880-3.

Two-Thirds of OB-GYN Guidelines Have No Basis in Science

PushNews from The Big Push for Midwives Campaign
CONTACT: Katherine Prown, (414) 550-8025, katie@pushformidwives.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 15, 2011
Study: Two-Thirds of OB-GYN Clinical Guidelines Have No Basis in Science
Majority of ACOG Recommendations for Patient Care Found to Be Based on Opinion and Inconsistent Evidence
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 15, 2011)—A study published this month in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found that barely one-third of the organization’s clinical guidelines for OB/GYN practice meet the Level A standard of “good and consistent scientific evidence.” The authors of the study found instead that the majority of ACOG recommendations for patient care rank at Levels B and C, based on research that relies on “limited or inconsistent evidence” and on “expert opinion,” both of which are known to be inadequate predictors of safety or efficacy.

“The fact that so few of the guidelines that govern routine OB/GYN care in this country are supported by solid scientific evidence—and worse, are far more likely to be based on anecdote and opinion—is a sobering reminder that our maternity care system is in urgent need of reform,” said Katherine Prown, PhD, Campaign Manager of The Big Push for Midwives. “As the authors of the study remind us, guidelines are only as good as the evidence that supports them.”

ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 22 on the management of fetal macrosomia—infants weighing roughly 8 ½ lbs or more at birth—illustrates the possible risks to mothers and babies of relying on unscientific clinical guidelines. The only Level A evidence-based recommendation on the delivery of large-sized babies the Bulletin makes is to caution providers that the methods for detection are imprecise and unreliable. Yet at the same time, the Bulletin makes a Level C opinion-based recommendation that, despite the lack of a reliable diagnosis, women with “suspected” large babies should be offered potentially unnecessary cesarean sections as a precaution, putting mothers at risk of surgical complications and babies at risk of being born too early.

“It’s no wonder that the cesarean rate is going through the roof and women are seeking alternatives to hospital-based OB/GYN care in unprecedented numbers,” said Susan M. Jenkins, Legal Counsel of The Big Push for Midwives. “ACOG’s very own recommendations give its members permission to follow opinion-based practice guidelines that have far more to do with avoiding litigation than with adhering to scientific, evidence-based principles about what’s best for mothers and babies.”

The Big Push for Midwives Campaign represents tens of thousands of grassroots advocates in the United States who support expanding access to Certified Professional Midwives and out-of-hospital maternity care. The mission of The Big Push for Midwives is to educate state and national policymakers and the general public about the reduced costs and improved outcomes associated with out-of-hospital maternity care and to advocate for expanding access to the services of Certified Professional Midwives, who are specially trained to provide it.

Media inquiries: Katherine Prown (414) 550-8025, katie@pushformidwives.org

A reader asks, Am I making the right choice?

Isha recently left this comment:

I am pregnant and plan on having a VBAC. As my due date gets closer, I get more nervous about it. I hope I am making the right choice in having the VBAC.

Hi Isha!

I too wondered if it was unreasonable to plan a VBAC and that is when I started researching.  I found that learning more about the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean gave me a lot of peace.  Check out the Quick Facts page for a brief overview and for more information, check out the information made available by the 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference.

There is about a 0.4% risk of having a uterine rupture with one prior low transverse cesarean in a spontaneous labor (meaning you weren’t induced or given pitocin or other similar drugs during your labor) (Landon, 2004).  One would think that with all the hoopla about uterine rupture, that this rate would be significantly higher than other obstetrical complications.

So I was really surprised to learn that uterine rupture occurs at a similar rate to other obstetrical complications such as shoulder dystocia, cord prolapse or placental abruption!  And when we look at infant outcomes, there is about a 6% chance of infant death or oxygen deprivation after an uterine rupture (Landon, 2004) compared to the 12% risk of infant death after a placental abruption (Ananth, 1999).

Yet how many of us as first time moms worried our entire pregnancies about any of those complications? How many of us considered an elective primary cesarean in an attempt to circumvent them? How many of us were offered, or even strongly pressured, to consider an elective cesarean by our friends, family, or OB?  How many of us where made to feel selfish over our desire to plan a vaginal birth?

Yet moms planning a VBAC are often made to feel that having a repeat cesarean is the most prudent, conservative choice whereas only selfish women who wish to experience vaginal birth plan a VBAC.  Only people who do not understand the statistics would make such a bold claim.

Just looking at the risks of VBAC isn’t enough when considering your options.  One must also consider the risks of a repeat cesarean.

I also suggest reading Another VBAC Consult Misinforms and Scare Tactics vs. Informed Consent for more discussion on how women are subtley, and sometimes not so subtley, coerced into repeat cesareans by their care providers.  Additionally, check out VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational for why the much often quoted “24/7 anesthesia requirement” doesn’t make laboring women or hospitals safer.

Most people are not aware of these facts and thus rely on the conventional wisdom and persistent rumor that VBAC is so risky and cesareans are so safe. Neither are true. Both have risks and benefits.

But when comparing the risks and benefits, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010) and the National Institutes of Health (2010) have deemed VBAC a “reasonable option” for “most women” with one prior cesarean and “some women” with two prior cesareans.  Most people don’t know that either.

I hope this information gives you some peace.  While it’s not terribly soothing to learn that there are major, rare complications that can occur with either option, it’s also good to know that VBAC is not an excessively risky choice.

Warmly,

Jen

_________________________________

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010, July 21). Ob-Gyns Issue Less Restrictive VBAC Guidelines. Retrieved July 21, 2010, from ACOG: http://www.acog.org/from_home/publications/press_releases/nr07-21-10-1.cfm

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Washington DC.

Ananth, C. V., Berkowitz, G. S., Savitz, D. A., & Lapinski, R. H. (1999). Placental abruption and adverse perinatal outcomes. JAMA , 282 (17), 1646-1651.

Goer, H. (n.d.). When Research is Flawed: The Safety of Planned Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from Lamaze International: http://www.lamaze.org/Research/WhenResearchisFlawed/VBACLandon/tabid/175/Default.aspx

Landon, M. B., Hauth, J. C., & Leveno, K. J. (2004). Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Associated with a Trial of Labor after Prior Cesarean Delivery. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 2581-2589.

National Institutes of Health. (2010, June). Final Statement. Retrieved from NIH Consensus Development Conference on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights: http://consensus.nih.gov/2010/vbacstatement.htm

ACOG issues less restrictive VBAC guidelines

Wow, Practice Bulletin No. 115, replacing No. 45 is a breath of fresh air.  No. 45 included the infamous “immediately available” phrase resulting in a fire of VBAC bans to rage around the country, but primarily in rural areas.  Surely No. 115 is in response to the NIH’s March 2010 VBAC conference and the VBAC Statement it produced.

In short, VBAC is a “safe and appropriate choice for most women” with one prior cesarean and for “some women” with two prior cesareans.  Being pregnant with twins, going over 40 weeks, having an unknown or low vertical scar, or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC (ACOG, 2010).

What follows is a brief overview of these new guidelines.

They express support for VBAC after one and two prior cesareans:

Attempting a VBAC is a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had a prior cesarean delivery including for some women who have had two previous cesareans.

They express support for VBAC with twins or unknown scars:

The College guidelines now clearly say that women with two previous low-transverse cesarean incisions, women carrying twins, and women with an unknown type of uterine scar are considered appropriate candidates for a TOLAC.

They say a Pitocin induction remains an option:

Induction of labor for maternal or fetal indications remains an option in women undergoing TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean…Misoprostol [Cytotec] should not be used for third trimester cervical ripening or labor induction in patients who have had a cesarean delivery or major uterine surgery.

They detail the risks that can come with multiple cesareans which are often not listed in your standard “informed consent” document:

[VBAC] may also help women avoid the possible future risks of having multiple cesareans such as hysterectomy, bowel and bladder injury, transfusion, infection, and abnormal placenta conditions (placenta previa and placenta accreta).

But what will have the most impact on the most women is the lifting of the “immediately available” recommendation turned requirement as suggested by the NIH VBAC Conference:

The [American] College [of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] maintains that a TOLAC is most safely undertaken where staff can immediately provide an emergency cesarean, but recognizes that such resources may not be universally available.

They acknowledged how the phrase “immediately available” in their last recommendation were used to support VBAC bans:

“Given the onerous medical liability climate for ob-gyns, interpretation of The College’s earlier guidelines led many hospitals to refuse allowing VBACs altogether,” said Dr. Waldman. “Our primary goal is to promote the safest environment for labor and delivery, not to restrict women’s access to VBAC.”

And they now support hospitals who do not meet the “immediately available” standard attending VBACs:

Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC in situations where there may not be “immediately available” staff to handle emergencies, but it requires a thorough discussion of the local health care system, the available resources, and the potential for incremental risk.

Finally, they assert how women should not be force to have a repeat cesarean against their will and that women should be referred out to VBAC supportive practitioners if their current care provider would rather not attend a VBAC:

The College says that restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will if, for example, a woman in labor presents for care and declines a repeat cesarean delivery at a center that does not support TOLAC. On the other hand, if, during prenatal care, a physician is uncomfortable with a patient’s desire to undergo VBAC, it is appropriate to refer her to another physician or center.

Removing the “immediately available” standard while supporting VBAC with twins, after two prior cesareans, and with unknown scars is a huge step in the right direction.  It seems that the option of VBAC is now available to hundreds of thousands of women, many of whom, up to this point, were left with no choice at all.

Read the whole press release dated July 21, 2010: Ob-Gyns Issue Less Restrictive VBAC Guidelines.

Download the PDF: Practice Bulletin #115, “Vaginal Birth after Previous Cesarean Delivery,” is published in the August 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The College maintains that a TOLAC is most safely undertaken where staff can immediately provide an emergency cesarean, but recognizes that such resources may not be universally available. “Given the onerous medical liability climate for ob-gyns, interpretation of The College’s earlier guidelines led many hospitals to refuse allowing VBACs altogether,” said Dr. Waldman. “Our primary goal is to promote the safest environment for labor and delivery, not to restrict women’s access to VBAC.” Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC in situations where there may not be “immediately available” staff to handle emergencies, but it requires a thorough discussion of the local health care system, the available resources, and the potential for incremental risk. “It is absolutely critical that a woman and her physician discuss VBAC early in the prenatal care period so that logistical plans can be made well in advance,” said Dr. Grobman. And those hospitals that lack “immediately available” staff should develop a clear process for gathering them quickly and all hospitals should have a plan in place for managing emergency uterine ruptures, however rarely they may occur, Dr. Grobman added. The College says that restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will if, for example, a woman in labor presents for care and declines a repeat cesarean delivery at a center that does not support TOLAC. On the other hand, if, during prenatal care, a physician is uncomfortable with a patient’s desire to undergo VBAC, it is appropriate to refer her to another physician or center.

Another VBAC consult misinforms

At the NIH VBAC Conference, I was happy to hear the draft Consensus Statement acknowledge that there were non-medical factors that affect women’s access to VBAC:

We are concerned about the barriers that women face in accessing clinicians and facilities that are able and willing to offer TOL [trial of labor after cesarean]. . . We are concerned that medico-legal considerations add to, as well as exacerbate, these barriers.

Many women assume that their local hospital has banned VBAC, or their OB doesn’t attend them, because VBAC is excessively dangerous.  Most women are unaware of the many non-medical factors that play into VBAC accessibility.

What disappointed me, however, was the panel’s surprise at the misinformation and bait & switch tactics to which many women are subjected.  I think when you are a VBAC supportive practitioner, it may be hard to believe that your colleagues practice in a manner like I describe below.

To give you an idea of the kind of advice that many, many moms seeking VBAC receive, here are excerpts of an email from Brooke Addley of northeastern Pennsylvania.  She decided to ask her OB about VBAC at her annual exam in March 2010.  This is what happened:

Once I brought the subject up stating that I really would not be open to a c-section unless it was medically necessary he said “they are all medically necessary” and then went on to mention that just within this last month there were two major ruptures at the local hospital.  From there he just talked about the risk of VBAC and how catastrophic it could be if there was a rupture.

A uterine rupture can be catastrophic, but it is rare and the incidence of uterine rupture is comparable to other obstetrical emergencies such as placental abruption which has a worldwide rate of 1%.  As Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM said at the NIH VBAC conference, “There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” and George Macones MD who stated in terms of VBAC, “Your risk is really, really quite low.”  Additionally, the risk of infant death during a VBAC attempt is “similar to the risk” of infant death during the labor of a first time mom (Smith, 2002).

One of the factors discussed at the NIH VBAC conference is that a practitioner is less likely to offer VBAC if they have experienced a uterine rupture, particularly if there is a bad outcome.  However, that ethically should not interfere with him providing his client with accurate information on the rate of uterine rupture as well as studies that substantiate the rate provided.

When I cited the low rate of uterine rupture [of 0.5% – 2% after one prior low transverse cesarean] he said “that information is incorrect and the rate is actually higher.”  Yet when I asked him to lead me in the direction of the study or studies where he found that out he said there isn’t any because many women have repeat [cesareans] and once in the OR it is discovered that they have a thin window in their uterus and if they labored/pushed it would have ruptured for sure.

The rate of rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low transverse incision is 0.4% (Landon, 2004). So not only did he give her an inaccurate picture about the rate of rupture, but he led her to believe that there are no studies on VBAC.  (I always wonder in situations like these: Is the OB really actively trying to mislead the patient or is he really so misinformed?)  This OB should read the NIH VBAC conference Program & Abstracts, or my VBAC Class bibliography, to see that in fact there are many studies on VBAC.

Then the OB gives her inaccurate information on VBAC success rates:

I asked the VBAC success rate and he said that most fail.

VBACs have a success rate of about 75% which has been the conclusion of many studies  (Coassolo, 2005; Huang, 2002; Landon, 2005; Landon, 2006; Macones, 2005).  Success rates vary based on a variety of factors, but to say that ‘most fail’ is absolutely false.  What this OB should say is, “Most women who attempt a VBAC with me as their care provider fail,” which is probably 100% true.

And then the OB gives her the line that many women fall for:

He did however say that although he really does not recommend it . . . he would allow me to try.

And there is the hook.  So many women are satisfied to simply be given the opportunity to VBAC.  Unfortunately, from what this OB has said already, I do not believe Brooke would have a genuine opportunity to VBAC.  Surely this OB would come up with some “valid medical reason” that she needs a cesarean sometime during her pregnancy or labor.  Here come the requirements to be granted a trail of labor:

…yet there are many things that would have to be taken into consideration, including my unproven pelvis. He mentioned that in the hospital I would have to have continuous monitoring and 18 hours after my water broke, if I was not progressing, they would want to use Pitocin to advance the labor.  He also mentioned that he does not allow any woman under his care to go past 40 weeks.

The unproven pelvis standard is bizarre.  Don’t all women pregnant with their first child have an unproven pelvis?  Do we offer them all of them an elective primary cesarean to prevent a “failed vaginal delivery?”

No stereotypical VBAC consult full of misinformation is complete without a healthy helping of repeat cesarean risk minimization:

He did not mention risks to repeat c-sections.  When I brought it up he said there aren’t any except the obvious risks that come with any surgery.

False, false, false.  According to Silver (2006), a four year study of up to six repeat cesareans in 30,000 women:

Increased risks of placenta accreta, hysterectomy, transfusion of 4 units or more of packed red blood cells, [bladder injury], bowel injury, urethral injury, ileus [absence of muscular contractions of the intestine which normally move the food through the system], ICU admission, and longer operative time were seen with an increasing number of cesarean deliveries…. After the first cesarean, increased risk of placenta previa, need for postoperative (maternal) ventilator support, and more hospital days were seen with increasing number of cesarean deliveries…Because serious maternal morbidity increases progressively with increasing number of cesarean deliveries, the number of intended pregnancies should be considered during counseling regarding elective repeat cesarean operation versus a trial of labor and when debating the merits of elective primary cesarean delivery.

It is quite typical for a woman to receive inflated rates of uterine rupture while the practitioner minimizes the risks of repeat cesarean.  This OB goes one step further and claims there are no risks at all besides the general risks associated with surgery.

It is no wonder that most women ‘chose’ repeat cesareans and only 45% of American women are interested in the option of a VBAC (Declercq, 2006).  What kind of choice is it when you make major medical decisions without even a fraction of accurate information?

There is much discussion and debate about what constitutes informed consent.  However, there is no debate that informed consent fundamentally consists of understanding the risks and benefits of your options.  When a woman only hears the (inflated) risks of option one and the (inaccurate) nonexistent risks of option two, it is clear that her practitioner is trying to influence her final decision by skewing the information provided.

Finally, the OB suggests that the desire to have a vaginal birth and avoid medically unnecessary surgery warrants psychological help:

I flat out said to him that I just cannot have another c-section [without medical indication] and he told me that I need to see a therapist, [that] it’s not that big of a deal and it is the safest way to go!

It might be helpful for this OB, and others who think like him, to learn more about how women are impacted by their cesareans.  Cesareans performed on otherwise healthy babies and healthy moms are absolutely a big deal to many women.  Even when cesareans are medically indicated, there are women who still mourn the loss of a vaginal birth even as they celebrate their healthy baby and the technology that made their entrance into the world safe.  Read American Women Speak About VBAC for more personal stories.

Then the OB makes it sound like he’s the only game in town:

Oh and then at the very end he said I could always go with another provider but he is pretty much the most open to VBAC.  I flat out told him that he is not VBAC friendly at all and that if he is the most open in town I have quite the battle ahead of me.

The emotional fallout of the appointment:

The entire visit I just had to hold back tears and once I hit the street I lost it.  I just want to hit my head against a wall!! I’m just sad, sad that it has to be this way – sad that, as much as I want to have another baby, I dread getting pregnant.  Sad that women are told this shit and forced to believe it.  I’m just in such a funk now…..just a sad, sad funk.

But it’s not just Brooke.

Michelle was told by her OB that uterine rupture rates increase with each VBAC which contradicts a 2008 study that concluded the risk of uterine rupture drops 50% after the first VBAC (Mercer, 2008).  One of the women who attended the VBAC class this past Sunday said that her OB quoted a uterine rupture rate of 6-10% after one prior low transverse cesarean. Sarah was quoted a rate of 10% “after the first section.”  Karla was also quoted 10% and called “selfish” by her OB who was “appalled that [she] would risk the life of [her] baby.”  Once again, the correct rate for uterine rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low transverse cesarean is 0.4% (Landon, 2004) and these women are quoted rates 15 – 25 times higher.

Another way doctors lie is by circumventing the risk of VBAC issue entirely.  A friend told me that her doctor said her medical insurance wouldn’t pay for a VBAC.  So believing her doctor and thinking she didn’t have any other option, she had a scheduled repeat cesarean. Turns out, my friend had the same medical insurance as me and that same insurance reimbursed me for my homebirth VBAC.

And who can forget the irate mom who left a comment on the VBACfacts Facebook fan page expressing her disbelief that any “selfish idiot” would pursue a VBAC.  Her OB told her that there was a 10% infant and maternal mortality rate with trials of labor after cesarean.  When I emailed her with the correct rates of 0.02% for maternal mortality and 0.05% for infant death or brain damage (Landon, 2004) and requested she forward any studies supporting a 10% mortality rate, she didn’t reply.

VBAC consults that misinform are all to common and help contribute to the 90% repeat cesarean rate in American (Hamilton, 2009).  If you are a VBAC supportive practitioner, and would like to make it easier for women in your community to find you, please read: How to best connect moms with VBAC supportive practitioners?

Learn more about finding a supportive care provider:

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Coassolo, K. M., Stamilio, D. M., Pare, E., Peipert, J. F., Stevens, E., Nelson, D., et al. (2005). Safety and Efficacy of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Attempts at or Beyond 40 Weeks Gestation. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 106, 700-6.

Declercq, E. R., & Sakala, C. (2006). Listening to Mothers II: Reports of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection.

Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. (2009, March 18). Births: Preliminary Data for 2007. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_12.pdf

Huang, W. H., Nakashima, D. K., Rumney, P. J., Keegan, K. A., & Chan, K. (2002). Interdelivery Interval and the Success of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 99, 41-44.

Landon, M. B., Hauth, J. C., & Leveno, K. J. (2004). Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Associated with a Trial of Labor after Prior Cesarean Delivery. The New England Journal of Medicine , 351, 2581-2589.

Landon, M. B., Leindecker, S., Spong, C., Hauth, J., Bloom, S., Varner, M., et al. (2005). The MFMU Cesarean Registry: Factors affecting the success of trial of labor after previous cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology , 193, 1016-1023.

Landon, M. B., Spong, C. Y., & Tom, E. (2006). Risk of Uterine Rupture With a Trial of Labor in Women with Multiple and Single Prior Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 108, 12-20.

Macones, G. A., Cahill, A., Pare, E., Stamilio, D. M., Ratcliffe, S., Stevens, E., et al. (2005). Obstetric outcomes in women with two prior cesarean deliveries: Is vaginal birth after cesarean delivery a viable option? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology , 192, 1223-9.

Mercer, B. M., Gilbert, S., Landon, M. B., & Spong, C. Y. (2008). Labor Outcomes With Increasing Number of Prior Vaginal Births After Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 11, 285-91.

Silver, R. M., Landon, M. B., Rouse, D. J., & Leveno, K. J. (2006). Maternal Morbidity Associated with Multiple Repeat Cesarean Deliveries. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 107, 1226-32.

Smith, G. C., Pell, J. P., Cameron, A. D., & Dobbie, R. (2002). Risk of perinatal death associated with labor after previous cesarean delivery in uncomplicated term pregnancies. Journal of the American Medical Association , 287 (20), 2684-2690.

Finding VBAC statistics for your hospital and state

Update 3/25/16: Another excellent resource for California residents is California Quality Care.

Update 4/11/12: Since I wrote this article, the brilliant Jill Arnold from the Unnecesarean started a new website where she shares cesarean rates by hospital: CesareanRates.com.  I would recommend checking this resource first before trying out the strategies I describe below.

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Jeri left this comment at I’m pregnant and want a VBAC, what do I do?:

I want to plan for a VBAC I am not pregnant as of yet but will be ttc in 2 months. I am from La Crosse WI area and they have two hospitals Gunderson Lutheran and Franciscan Skemp..when I called them to get there statistics about VBACs they told me they didn’t have any. So how should I choose which hospital to go to for the better chance of succeeding with my VBAC. I also do not have any doulas in the area is it necessary to have a doula for a successful VBAC? Any thoughts or suggestions would be great. Thank you.

Hi Jeri!

It’s ironic that the person you spoke with at the hospital said that they didn’t have any VBAC statistics, because when I googled “Gundersen Lutheran VBAC,” I found a page entitled “Births by Cesarean and Vaginal Births After Cesarean” on Gundersen Lutheran’s very own website where they state:

A vaginal delivery is the preferred, naturally-designed way to have a baby but when needed, delivery by Cesarean section is a second option. At Gundersen Lutheran, efforts are made to choose a vaginal birth, even after a previous C-section unless there are reasons that would put mother or baby at risk.

“Generally, successful VBAC is associated with shorter maternal hospitalizations, less blood loss and fewer transfusions, fewer infections, and fewer thromboembolic events than cesarean delivery.” [ACOG Practice Bulletin #54 2004)

AIMS
1. To have a cesarean section rate below the national rate
2. To have a VBAC rate higher than the national rate

They have succeeded in their goals as Gundersen Lutheran boasted a 27.3% VBAC rate in 2006.  That is exceptional considering that the national average is 9.2% (CDC 2006) and the Wisconsin state average is 12% (Wisconsin: Infant Births and Deaths 2006).

Ted Peck, M.D. is named “activity leader” on that page so I would contact him and ask for the top three VBAC doctors at Gunderson Lutheran.  I would also check out the resources here for additional referrals and to see if any of the names overlap.  Keep in mind that just because the hospital has a great VBAC rate doesn’t mean that all the OBs are supportive of VBAC.  You will still want to ask the same questions and interview a couple different doctors, just like you would get more than one quote if you wanted work done on your house.  You are the consumer, you have the power to chose who you will hire!  It’s important for you to understand the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean to you, your baby, as well as your future children and health, but be on the look out for scare tactics masquerading as informed consent.

I also googled “Franciscan Skemp VBAC” and was directed to ICAN’s VBAC Hospital Policy Information where Franciscan Skemp is listed as a de facto VBAC ban hospital.  This means that while there is no formal ban in place, the hospital does not attend VBACs.  They could give you a whole list of reasons like, “Our OBs don’t want to do them” or “Our anesthesiologists don’t want to sit in the hospital during a VBAC labor,” but Dr. Stuart Fischbein gives us another perspective:

[Hospitals] ban VBACs under the guise of patient safety. But patient safety is a euphemism for “we don’t have a good evidence-based reason to do it, other than we don’t want to get sued, it’s more expedient, and we make more money from c-sections—the hospital does, not necessarily the physician, but the hospital does—so we’re going to ban it because it’s easier for us, and we’re going to say it’s for patient safety because of the risk of rupturing the uterus.” But you know what? That risk should be something that the patient decides. Patients have a right to be given informed consent, free from misinformation or coercion, free from skewing information that benefits the practitioner or the hospital. And they have the right to consent or refuse to accept the treatment that’s offered. That right is frequently being denied.

(To read more of this interview with Dr. Fischbein, please go to: An Inside Look at Hospitals & VBAC Bans.)

If I was unable to easily find this information by googling, I would have gone to Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services and just start searching for VBAC, birth, cesarean, and hospital statistics to see what I could find.  Sometimes this data is so deep within a website, it can be tricky to locate.  You could also call the Department of Health Services and ask them if they maintain hospital birth statistics.  The state of California maintains this data, but I don’t know if all states do and if they make that information available to the public.

In terms of a doula, yes, I think it’s very important for any woman laboring in a hospital, especially women seeking a VBAC, to have a doula.  (Here is more information on what a doula is and the many benefits of having one: DONA’s Birth Doula FAQs.)  Some practices are not supportive of doulas, even going so far as to post a sign in the waiting room detailing their anti-doula policy.  Switch providers immediately if you read a similar sign or if you discover that your provider is not doula friendly.  A great way to find out is to ask your OB or midwife if they have any doulas they can recommend.  Their response will quickly tell you if this care provider and you have the same vision for your birth.

I went to findadoula.com, and found there was one doula listed for La Cross, WI:

Renee Plunkett

Telephone: 608-786-4466

Location: West Salem Wisconsin United States

I also cover the following geographic areas:
La Crosse, WI

Hopefully you two will be a good fit and if not, the list of resources I provide for finding a supportive OB or midwife can also be used for finding a doula.  I would add DONA and toLabor (formally ALACE) which are Doula credentialing organizations as additional resources.  DONA lists 64 birth doulas and toLabor lists 10 birth doulas in Wisconsin.

You can find more VBAC statistics by going to the The Birth Survey’s State Resources page which provides links to each state’s birth statistics.

For Wisconsin, we have Wisconsin: Infant Births and Deaths, 2006 where we are given the following statistics on page 30:

Delivery Method Number Percentage
Vaginal (no previous C-section) 52,713 72.9%
Primary C-Section 10,342 14.3%
Repeat C-Section 7,418 10.3%
VBAC 1,017 1.4%
Forceps 812 1.1%
Other 0 0.0%
Total Births 72,302 100%

We can determine the VBAC rate by adding the number of Repeat C-Sections (7,418) and VBACs (1,017) together to get a total number of births after cesarean in 2006 (8,435).

By dividing the total number of VBACs (1,017) by the number of births after cesarean (8,435), and multiplying that number by 100, we get the VBAC rate of 12.06%.  This means that 87.9% of women in Wisconsin have repeat cesareans.

Here’s hoping you are in that 12%!

Warmly,

Jen from vbacfacts.com

Response to OB: Scare tactics vs. informed consent aka why I started this website

I receive this comment on the post Hospital VBAC turned CS due to constant scare tactics:

I am very disheartened by the tone of this website. I am a board certified Ob/gyn and a very strong advocate for VBACs, IF a patient chooses one within the hospital guidelines. I DO believe and say to my patients my goal is “a healthy mom and a healthy baby” because I truly believe this statement. You would not believe the number of patients who believe that I want to do XYZ to go home to my family, go shopping or improve my golf game. A vaginal delivery is easier for me in the long run because I have less paper work, less rounding and have avoided performing a major surgery on a patient. I have no desire to perform a patient’s 6th c-section!

But each patient who chooses a VBAC has to realize there ARE risks associated with the procedure. I would be committing malpractice if I did not inform each patient of the risks and benefits of both options. The risk of uterine rupture is [less] than 1 percent, but if it happens to my patient she will be upset that I did not inform her of the risks. The “seeds of doubt” you discuss are all things that I have told patients considering a VBAC. I prefer to stretch the informed consent process over the entire course of the prenatal visits versus just one 5 or 10 minute conversation. If I have discussed all the options ahead of a patient’s actual labor, if I come in and say that I need to perform a repeat c-section for XYZ reason, I am not having that discussion for the first time in the LDR, but rather we have discussed the possibility months ago. I use my prenatal visits to build a repoir [sic] with my patients and to educate her/her family about the scenarios we may face in the delivery room.

In an ideal world, every patient would be presented with the option to have a VBAC if she desires. Unfortunately due to the malpractice climate some doctors and hospitals no longer feel comfortable giving patients this choice. The rhetoric in this article does nothing healthy to advance the cause  of ensuring this happens. It only serves to create mistrust between patients and doctors who are true advocates for patients.

Dear VBAC Supportive OB/GYN,

I’m very happy that you left this comment and hope that you stick around and read some more.  We need more OBs who are supportive of VBAC and vaginal birth.  (I’m curious about your hospital’s guidelines.  Would you share?)

The unfortunate reality is that there is a huge segment of OBs who perform surgery under the guise of maternal/fetal health when in reality it is for their personal convenience.  I have had the opportunity to hear that directly from OBs.  Often the “healthy mom/healthy baby” reason is used in the midst of a repeat cesarean recommendation and I believe that is true in the birth story featured in Hospital VBAC turned CS due to constant scare tactics.

If you look over on the category list and click on ‘uterine rupture’ you will see that it is a common topic on this site.  I cite specific rates as well as sources so people can independently verify what I write.  I absolutely agree that women need to understand the risks of VBAC, but they need the accurate numbers, not some inflated risk provided by an unsupportive OB and not some understated risk provided by well-meaning, but misinformed, birth advocates.  (Check out my article Lightning strikes, shark bites & uterine rupture for more on this.)

Here’s how I make the distinction between informed consent and scare tactics.

Informed consent is understanding the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean.

Scare tactics are just talking about the risks of VBAC without mentioning the risks of a repeat cesarean.

Informed consent includes accurate statistics.  Women write me all the time telling me that their OB quoted a uterine rupture rate of 5% or 10% or even 25%!  A woman just recently contacted me and said that women seeking VBACs are “selfish, unbelievable IDIOTs.”  Naturally she would say this as her OB told her that she and her baby had a 10% chance of dying if she attempted a trial of labor after cesarean.

If the doctor tells you there is a 10% chance of you and your baby dieing [sic] and you do this any way…you are a selfish, unbelievable IDIOT…I have two perfect babies and I wouldn’t have my 1st if it wasn’t for a c-section…why on earth would I risk the life of my 2nd child to say I had a ‘v-back’…do you psychos want a metal [sic]…go away and get off your freakin’ soap boxes…you are all scary and creapy [sic]!

This is why I started the website.  Women are lied to all the time.  They contact me either via angry emails like the one above or really sad depressed emails because they were fed these falsehoods, consented to surgery, and then learned the truth.

So, this is how I responded:

I completely understand why you were happy to have a repeat cesarean given that you were told the risk of mortality was 10%. I’m sorry to tell you that you have been misled. The risk of maternal mortality with repeat cesarean and VBAC is very low, but the risk is higher with a repeat cesarean: 0.04% vs. 0.02% per a National Institute of Health Study of 18,000 women. (Landon 2004: http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/351/25/2581) This is 500 times smaller than the risk you were quoted of 10% maternal mortality. That same study found the rate of infant death to be 0.01% and they did a review of 880 uterine ruptures in a 20 year period resulting in 40 infant deaths in 91,039 VBACs which is a rate of 0.04%. They found the combined risk of infant death or brain damage to be 0.05% or 1 in every 2000 VBAC labors which is a 200 times smaller than the risk you quoted of 10%. If you or your OB have a large VBAC study showing a 10% mortality rate, please email me.

Needless to say, she did not respond as there is not one large VBAC study showing maternal or infant mortality rates anywhere near 10%.  This woman was lied to.  Why do you suppose her OB would tell her that?

Informed consent also includes asking how many more children the woman wishes to have.  We know that the risk of uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and other peripartum complications decrease after the first VBAC, (Mercer 2008) whereas the risk of “placenta accreta, hysterectomy, transfusion of 4 units or more of packed red blood cells, [bladder injury], bowel injury, urethral injury, ileus [absence of muscular contractions of the intestine which normally move the food through the system], ICU admission, and longer operative time were seen with an increasing number of cesarean deliveries.  [In addition] after the first cesarean, increased risk of placenta previa, need for postoperative (maternal) ventilator support, and more hospital days were seen with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.” (Silver 2006)

How many VBAC consent forms include the risks of cesarean?  Not just the risks to mom and baby in the current pregnancy but the downstream consequences for future pregnancies?  I’ve never seen it.  Does your VBAC consent form include this information?

It’s one thing to understand the risks of VBAC, but they must be countered with the risks of repeat cesarean, otherwise the patient is left with the false notion that repeat cesareans are risk free.  This does not benefit the patient and I believe it’s only because women haven’t started suing over complications resulting from repeat cesareans that this erroneous philosophy on informed consent continues to thrive.

Informed consent is putting the risk of uterine rupture into perspective by comparing the risk to other obstetric complications as Larry Leeman MD MPH and Eve Espey MD MPH do when expressing their concern over the rising cesarean rates in Native American populations due to hospital VBAC bans.  They say:

Should you offer vaginal birth after cesarean delivery at your facility?

Should your referral facility be offering VBAC?

Let’s put some of the above issues into perspective.

What are just a few of the risks that you should currently handle very well:

[Note from me: I used the chart they provided here and combined it with uterine rupture & infant mortality/morbidity stats for use in the VBAC Class I teach.]

Slide 103

Taken on their own individual merit, most of the above common urgencies and emergencies occur more frequently than 0.5 percent. Taken as an aggregate, the risks above far outweigh the risks of VBAC. Now seeing the above risks, if you feel you need to re-evaluate offering obstetric intrapartum care because the above risks, then please contact me as soon as possible.

Scare tactics are simply saying, “VBAC is dangerous” or “Is it worth your baby’s life?”

Informed consent is having a thoughtful thorough conversation where you ascertain if this is the first time the woman has heard about the risks of uterine rupture, or if she is an informed patient who is well aware of her risks, benefits, and options.

I do believe that coming back to the risks of VBAC again and again during a pregnancy conveys to the patient that you really think this is a considerable risk, and not one worth undertaking.

Lisa Allee, CNM, wrote this in response to a hospital that instituted a VBAC ban.  The hospital said that their ban wouldn’t impact many since only 2 patients a year perused VBAC after the VBAC counsel.  She recommended:

Re-evaluate how VBAC counseling is done. To provide true informed consent the numbers need to be presented clearly. The data consistently shows a uterine rupture rate of 0.5-3%–it is important to explain that this means 97-99.5 women out of 100 will not have a uterine rupture and out of the few that do, not all will have problems. It is, of course, important to discuss the risk of uterine rupture to mother and baby, but to put it in this perspective of being rare and review the high-quality, careful care we provide to women who are VBACing to help prevent problems. It is also very important to review the differences in postpartum morbidity and risk between a vaginal birth and cesarean delivery, (be sure to include the oft ignored higher rates of breastfeeding and orgasm difficulties post cesarean delivery.) If, in contrast, providers only make a recommendation of repeat cesarean delivery and an institution has a policy that only allows for repeat cesarean delivery, then they have effectively negated a woman’s right to make an informed decision in a situation where there is a choice.

And she suggests that women be given an accurate picture of what a cesarean is like:

Review the postpartum morbidity and risk differences for women post vaginal birth vs. post cesarean delivery. This will help to dispel the delusion that a woman who has had a cesarean delivery is walking out of the hospital “healthy” and bring a more accurate sense of respect for what is really happening for that woman. She has just had major abdominal surgery and is in recovery from that surgery. She is in pain and is at risk for a number of post-surgical complications. Her future pregnancies have also now taken on a longer list of potential risks. Along with all this she is also a new mother with a newborn to care for and feed every 1-2 hours with an abdominal incision that she is fully aware of each time she moves. This human perspective of the implications of a cesarean delivery might help providers to be concerned with their personal and institutional cesarean delivery rates.

I did not get the feel from the birth story relayed in Hospital VBAC turned CS due to constant scare tactics that the OB was really supportive of VBAC, did you?  Would you classify this OB as a “true advocate for patients?”

  • OB only talks about the risks of VBAC.
  • OB required a VBAC consent form that only lists the risks of VBAC.
  • OB wants to schedule a cesarean at 38 weeks.
  • OB “did not seem very please” when the patient expressed her desire to VBAC.
  • OB began NST at 37 weeks.  Patient lists no reason for this.
  • OB does not put the process and significance of dilation into context.  Patient seems to believe that no dilation at 37 weeks and no change till 40 weeks is a bad sign.  Patient does not understand that dilation is not a hard sign of labor.
  • OB tries to scare patient by telling her that her baby was big and it “could be a very hard delivery” for her.  It is this scare tactic, and the subsequent recommendation for cesarean based on suspected macrosomia  that convinces patient to schedule a cesarean.  Baby ends up weighing 7lbs 2oz.  ACOG does not recommend cesarean for suspected imagemacrosomia unless the baby is 11lbs (ACOG’s Practice Bulletin No. 22 on Guidelines for Fetal Macrosomia published in the November 2000 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology).
  • OB makes a “threatening call” to patient upon her spontaneous labor and lies by saying that if patient doesn’t have the “C-sec at the decided time, [OB] was not going to be available for the entire week and that some random doctor from the hospital” would perform her surgery.
  • OB gets caught in this lie when the nurse tells patient that OB “has asked to be informed about your progress [and] will continue to be there for you.”
  • OB then has a colleague tell patient that “she was sure it was going to be a very tough delivery” because of “baby’s head was big” and would weight “at least 8 lbs.”
  • OB who said she wouldn’t be available after 11:45am, suddenly becomes available and is present to perform the surgery.

You stated in your comment that my article “only serves to create mistrust between patients and doctors who are true advocates for patients.”

Here is my sole goal with that article and this website: To implore women to put as much effort into interviewing and hiring an OB as they would for someone to install a pool.  Educate yourself.  Get referrals.  Ask questions.  Don’t just stay with your current GYN because they do a great pap smear and you enjoy the small talk.  Hire someone who has a birth philosophy similar to yours.  Hire someone who is supportive of vaginal birth!  And look for the red flags!  There were so many in this woman’s story.  I know we disagree on that.  Maybe that is because you are a VBAC supportive OB who doesn’t see stories just like this one every day.

While there are OBs who are truly supportive of VBAC, I personally know three, most are not.  Most behave exactly like this OB.  And I don’t believe for a second that this OB ever intended to give this patient a genuine opportunity to VBAC. I really wish the OB would have just said that upfront to the patient so she could have had the opportunity to hire a truly supportive practitioner.  At the very least, this OB can post a sign in their waiting room, like this one above from a Provo, Utah practice, so women know their birth philosophy as soon as they walk in the door.  As unappealing as it is, this practice is providing their patients with informed consent on the type of birth they provide.  What is shocking to me, is that there are enough patients who are so ill-informed that they would continue care with a practice like this.

And this site will be there for the women who had cesareans under the care of OBs, like this Provo practice, to provide them with accurate, easily verifiable information for them to make an informed decision on what kind of birth they want the next time.

Warmly,

Jen

Interview with Dr. Fischbein: An Inside Look at Hospitals and VBAC Bans

Stand and Deliver recently conducted an excellent interview with Dr. Stuart Fischbein, a Southern California VBAC and breech supportive OB.  It’s an excellent read and I’m including my favorite parts below.  You can read the entire article here: Stand and Deliver: Interview with Dr. Stuart J. Fischbein.

First, let’s do  quick review of ACOG’s Practice Bulletin #54, published in July 2004 and the reason why some American hospitals have banned VBAC, recommends, “a physician [be] immediately available throughout active [VBAC] labor who is capable of monitoring labor and performing an emergency cesarean delivery.”

Now that we are all on the same page, here are excerpts from Dr. Fischebin’s interview:

Don’t hospitals ban VBAC because it is dangerous?

They ban VBACs under the guise of patient safety. But patient safety is a euphemism for “we don’t have a good evidence-based reason to do it, other than we don’t want to get sued, it’s more expedient, and we make more money from c-sections—the hospital does, not necessarily the physician, but the hospital does—so we’re going to ban it because it’s easier for us, and we’re going to say it’s for patient safety because of the risk of rupturing the uterus.” But you know what? That risk should be something that the patient decides. Patients have a right to be given informed consent, free from misinformation or coercion, free from skewing information that benefits the practitioner or the hospital. And they have the right to consent or refuse to accept the treatment that’s offered. That right is frequently being denied.

What role does malpractice insurance play in VBAC availability?

The reason that a lot of hospitals ban VBACs anyway [despite meeting ACOG’s “immediately available” recommendation] —and this isn’t very well known to most people—is because their insurance carrier will tell them that if they allow VBACs, their premium will be much higher. Rather than pay higher premiums, they just ban VBACs and do so under the guise of patient safety. The hospital lawyers, the insurance company lawyers, the insurance company executives, and the hospital administrators are making decisions for patients and then lying about why they’re doing it.

Aren’t uterine ruptures the primary reason for repeat cesareans in women with a prior cesarean?

Most emergency c-sections, the ones that occur suddenly, have nothing to do with a uterine rupture.  They are for placental abruption, prolapsed cord, or prolonged fetal heart rate decelerations.  Far more often, it’s something unrelated to the VBAC that causes an emergency.  And somehow the hospital can manage to take care of those situations. If hospitals can take care of those things, why can they not take care of VBACs?

ACOG’s latest VBAC recommendation was based on consensus opinion, not scientific evidence.  Doesn’t that matter to hospitals when implementing VBAC bans?

Ultimately it won’t matter to the hospital. It’s not about evidence-based medicine. It’s very clear to me in discussing this with the committees that they don’t care. They’re being told by the risk managers, the lawyers, and the insurance companies that they cannot do VBACs. And that’s the final word. The anesthesia departments are also often behind VBAC bans. They talk about patient safety, but really it is that reimbursement is so bad and they don’t want to have to sit around in the hospital all day long and they are fearful of being sued.

Do hospital administrators impact how an OB counsels a woman on VBAC?

I’m supposed to tell patients that they have to go elsewhere if they want a VBAC, that they can’t stay in their own community, that they have to drive 50 miles. … I’m not supposed to tell them that they have the option of showing up in labor and refusing surgery. The hospital actually put in writing that I should avoid telling them that. They’re telling me to skew my counseling, and they have no shame in doing so.

How do OBs feel about working in hospitals with VBAC/breech bans?

For physicians who are not really committed to doing VBACs or breeches, it’s a lot easier to do a section. You get paid about the same. With a section, you can do the surgery at 7:30 am and you’re in the office by 9 am. If you have a breech or a VBAC, you have to cancel your day or spend the night at the hospital. It’s a lot more work, and you don’t get paid any more for it. So you really have to be either dedicated or crazy or somewhere in between. You have to keep your ethical feet well-grounded.

How do VBAC bans impact hospital revenues?

For hospitals, it’s easy. Does a hospital make more money off a practice that has a 5% c-section rate or a 25% c-section rate? That’s an easy question. Although they will never admit that; [the official reason for VBAC bans] will always be patient safety. Clearly, there’s no incentive for them to offer a VBAC to anybody.

How do VBAC bans impact women seeking VBAC?

A successful VBAC occurs about 73% of the time. If a hospital bans VBAC, they’re basically telling 73% of women that they have to undergo a surgical procedure that carries more morbidity than if they had a vaginal birth.

How could tort reform impact VBAC supportive OBs and birthing women?

[With] tort reform, you might be able to make changes by improving competition. If you get rid of some of the restrictions on businesses, you might see more competition start up. You might see more birth centers open, or birth centers that actually have operating rooms, little maternity hospitals. Just like we’ve seen specialty surgery centers open up recently. For years hospitals tried to squelch these things because they know they can’t compete with them. Some day, maybe the major hospital model will go out of business. And would that be so terrible? We have specialty hospitals that do heart surgeries, gastric bypass, or plastic surgery. Why not specialty hospitals that just do maternity? Run by doctors and midwives.

Lightning strikes, shark bites & uterine rupture

When someone understates the risk of UR, I think it’s just as important the clarify as it is when someone overstates the risk. How else are women to make an informed decision? Just as it’s plain wrong for an OB to tell a woman with one prior low transverse cesarean that she has a 20% risk of rupture, it’s equally wrong when VBAC advocates say the risk is virtually non-existent.

Over the years, I have heard the statement: “You are more likely to be struck by lightning or bitten by a shark than experience uterine rupture!”

Today I’m going to get the statistics and run the numbers so you can see for yourself how the risk of these events compare.

Uterine Rupture

For this exercise, we will use the uterine rupture (UR) rate based on one prior low transverse (bikini) cut cesarean in a spontaneous labor determined by Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Associated with a Trial of Labor after Prior Cesarean Delivery (Landon 2004):

Risk of uterine rupture: 1/240 or 0.4%
Risk of infant death or oxygen deprivation: 1/2000 or 0.05%

Lightning Strikes

Using the faulty theory I’m going to calculate the number of Floridians, since it is the “lightning strike state,” who would be struck by lightning.

Let’s assume that the risk of getting struck by lightning in Florida is the same as uterine rupture (even though the saying goes the risk is greater): 1 in 240 or 0.4%.

With 18,328,340 people living in Florida, that would mean that 76,368 people are struck by lightning every year in Florida. According to the CDC, that is more than the number of Americans who die annually from diabetes (72,449), Alzheimer’s disease (72,432), and influenza and pneumonia (56,326).

Using the National Weather Service stat that 10% of people struck by lightning die, we would have 7,636 people dying in Florida every year from lightning strikes. At that rate, you would have 209 people struck by lightning and 20 of those people dying every day in the state of Florida.

Now, I don’t live in Florida and I’m not an expert in lightning strikes, but that sounds like a lot of people dying.

Now let’s switch our assumptions and use the National Weather Service’s stats.

Odds of being struck by lightning in a given year (reported deaths + injuries) 1/700,000
Odds of being struck by lightning in a given year (estimated total deaths + injuries) 1/400,000

When we turn that fraction into a percentage, we get the following risk of being struck by lightening: 0.00025% – 0.00014%.

Using the National Weather Service’s statistics, we get 26 – 46 annual lightning strike related deaths or injuries in Florida.

Which sounds more reasonable to you? 26-46 Floridians struck annually by lightning or 76,368?

And that is assuming that the rate is the SAME as uterine rupture, but the rumor is that the rate of lightning strikes is HIGHER which means MORE than 76,368 Floridians are struck by lightning every year and more than 20 Floridians are dying daily from lightning strikes.

Now, does that pass the smell test? Does it seem reasonable in the least? It doesn’t to me.

Some would argue that in order to make the comparison, we need to eliminate the number of non-birthing people in Florida, but you really don’t because the lightning strike doesn’t know whether you are a man, woman, child, or menopausal. A Floridian women with one prior cesarean in spontaneous labor has the same risk as everyone else to be struck by lightning: 0.00025% – 0.00014%.

Shark Bites

From the Florida Museum of Natural History:

What are the chances of being attacked by a shark?

The chances of being attacked by a shark are very small compared to other animal attacks, natural disasters, and ocean-side dangers. Many more people drown in the ocean every year than are bitten by sharks. The few attacks that occur every year are an excellent indication that sharks do not feed on humans and that most attacks are simply due to mistaken identity. For more information on the relative risk of shark attacks to humans click HERE.

How many people are attacked each year by sharks?

Worldwide there is an average of 50-70 shark attacks every year. The number of attacks has been increasing over the decades as a result of increased human populations and the use of the oceans for recreational activity. As long as humans continue to enter the sharks’ environment, there will be shark attacks. For more information on shark attack statistics click HERE.

We have about 6.5 billion people on the world and 50-70 get bit by a shark annually which works out to 0.00000077% – 0.00000108%.

But this whole discussion is moot because it’s poor statistics to even compare these events (UR & lightning strikes or shark bites) because they are totally different types of occurrences.

The Actual Figures

This is a great chart from the Floria Museum of Natural History website entitled “A Comparison of Unprovoked Shark Attacks with the Number of Lightning Fatalities in Coastal United States: 1959-2008” where they show even in the state of Florida, over the past 49 years, there have been a mere 453 lightning fatalities and 585 shark bites. Remember that over 7,600 Floridans would be dying annually if the rate of uterine rupture was the same as the rate of lightning strikes.

Comparing Risks

There are some major problems when one is trying to compare risks of differing events.

One problem is when one uses a lifetime risk statistic as a means for comparison. You simply cannot take a statistic, like your lifetime risk of being struck by lightning (1 in 5000 which is significantly lower than one’s annual risk,) and compare that to your one-time risk of uterine rupture. If anything, using the annual risk of lightning strikes would be more accurate, but it still would be a false comparison.

An article by Andrew Pleasant entitled, Communicating statistics and risk, elaborates:

An oft-reported estimate is the lifetime breast cancer rate among women. This rate varies around the world from roughly three per cent to over 14 per cent.

In the United States, 12.7 per cent of women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. This statistic is often reported as, “one in eight women will get breast cancer”. But many readers will not understand their actual risk from this. For example, over 80 per cent of American women mistakenly believe that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Using the statistic ‘one in eight’ makes a strong headline but can dramatically misrepresent individual breast cancer risk.

Throughout her life, a woman’s actual risk of breast cancer varies for many reasons, and is rarely ever actually one in eight. For instance, in the United States 0.43 per cent of women aged 30–39 (1 in 233) are diagnosed with breast cancer. In women aged 60–69, the rate is 3.65 per cent (1 in 27).

Journalists may report only the aggregate lifetime risk of one in eight because they are short of space. But such reporting incorrectly assumes that readers are uninterested in, or can’t comprehend, the underlying statistics. It is critically important to find a way, through words or graphics, to report as complete a picture as possible.

Take away message: Be extra careful to ensure your readers understand that a general population estimate of risk, exposure or probability may not accurately describe individual situations. Also, provide the important information that explains variation in individual risk. This might include age, diet, literacy level, location, education level, income, race and ethnicity, and a host of other genetic and lifestyle factors.

The second major problem is often the two things you are comparing are so different that the comparison is worthless. Again, I defer to Mr. Pleasant:

Try not to compare unlike risks. For instance, the all-too-often-used comparison ‘you’re more likely to be hit by a bus / have a road accident than to…’ will generally fail to inform people about the risks they are facing because the situations being compared are so different. When people assess risks and make decisions, they usually consider how much control they have over the risk. Driving is a voluntary risk that people feel (correctly or not) that they can control. This is distinctly different from an invisible contamination of a food product or being bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito.

Comparing the risk of a non-communicable disease, for example diabetes or heart disease, to a communicable disease like HIV/AIDS or leprosy, is similarly inappropriate. The mechanisms of the diseases are different, and the varying social and cultural views of each makes the comparison a risky communication strategy.

Take away message: Compare different risks sparingly and with great caution because you cannot control how your audiences will interpret your use of metaphor.

Going Forward

It can be hard when wading through the (mis)information available on the internet about VBAC, but here are some tips to help you out.

1. Always find the source – If you find some great statistic, but there is no source referenced, be wary.

2. Verify the statistic – If there is a source listed, read through it. If there is no source listed, do a quick Google search. It didn’t take me long at all to find all the statistics in this article and run the math.

3. Leave a comment – If you find something on the internet that doesn’t pass the smell test, leave a comment on the blog or email the author asking for the source.

4. Be careful about forwarding things – There is so much misinformation on the internet, so do your friends a favor and don’t forward them emails or articles unless you have verified the information to be true. That is one way to quickly nip falsehoods in the bud!

For further reading on using statistics, check out, Correlation and Causation:Misuse and Misconception of Statistical Facts and Risk Communication, Risk Statistics, and Risk Comparisons: A Manual for Plant Managers

Shows the rates of placenta accreta in up to six cesareans (Silver 2006).

Risk of serious complications increase with each cesarean surgery

Yesterday I shared a Canadian article, and last year a letter from two OBs opposing a hospital VBAC ban, which discuss the risks of cesarean sections including placenta accreta and hysterectomy.

Definitions

Today I want to share a study that measured the increasing risks that come with multiple cesareans, but before I do so, lets do a quick review of definitions.

Placenta accreta (March of Dimes 2005):

In a normal pregnancy, the placenta attaches itself to the uterine wall, away from the cervix.

  • Placenta accreta is a placenta that attaches itself too deeply and too firmly into the wall of the uterus.
  • Placenta increta is a placenta that attaches itself even more deeply into the uterine wall.
  • Placenta percreta is a placenta that attaches itself through the uterus, sometimes extending to nearby organs, such as the bladder.

Hysterectomy (Women’s Health 2009):

A hysterectomy (his-tur-EK-tuh-mee) is a surgery to remove a woman’s uterus or womb. The uterus is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The whole uterus or just part of it may be removed. After a hysterectomy, you no longer have menstrual periods and cannot become pregnant.

Placenta previa (PubMedHealth 2011):

Placenta previa is a complication of pregnancy in which the placenta grows in the lowest part of the womb (uterus) and covers all or part of the opening to the cervix.

There are different forms of placenta previa:

  • Marginal: The placenta is next to cervix but does not cover the opening.
  • Partial: The placenta covers part of the cervical opening.
  • Complete: The placenta covers all of the cervical opening.

Increasing risks with multiple cesareans: Focusing on accreta

Today’s study is Maternal morbidity associated with multiple repeat cesarean deliveries (Silver 2006) which included over 30,000 women undergoing up to six cesareans over four years.  (Download the full text PDF.)  Silver measured the complication rates per cesarean number.  And their findings are important to every mom pregnant after a cesarean.  Keep in mind that all the cesareans included in the Silver (2006) study were schedule and performed without medical indication except for the first cesarean.  All the complications noted were a direct result of the surgery, not of any other medical complication.

Silver (2006) found:

The risks of placenta accreta, cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral [ureters are muscular ducts that propel urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder] injury, and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity], the need for postoperative ventilation, intensive care unit admission, hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units, and the duration of operative time and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.

Accreta was defined as the “placenta being adherent to the uterine wall without easy separation [and] included placenta accreta, increta, and percreta.”

Below are some slides from the VBAC Class I developed and teach illustrating the  rates of placenta accreta, previa, previa with accreta, and hysterectomy by number of cesareans (Silver 2006).   The number below the cesarean number indicate how many women were included in that category.

Remember as you look these over, the risk of uterine rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low horizontal (“bikini-cut”) cesarean is 0.4% (Landon 2004).  Risk of uterine rupture during one’s second cesarean is 0.9% (Landon 2006).

Shows the rates of placenta accreta in up to six cesareans (Silver 2006).

 Shows the rate of placenta previa by cesarean number (Silver 2006).

Accreta, previa, and cesarean hysterectomies

I was especially interested to see the relationship between previa and accreta.  Silver (2006) found that if you have previa, you are very likely to have accreta and that risk increases with each cesarean.  For example, if a woman has one cesarean and is diagnosed with previa in her next pregnancy, her risk of having accreta is 11%.  That risk jumps to 40% in the third pregnancy, 61% in the fourth pregnancy and 67% for the fifth and sixth pregnancy.

Shows the rate of placenta previa with accreta per Silver 2006.

Complications associated with accreta

Accreta is nothing to mess around with as it has a very high rate of maternal mortality (up to 7%) and morbidity including hemorrhage and hysterectomy.  Fang (2006) asserted, “abnormal adherent placentation [is] the primary indication leading to emergent peripartum hysterectomy…. As the number of prior cesarean deliveries rises, the risk of cesarean hysterectomy increases dramatically.”   In other words, all these primary cesareans and repeat cesareans are causing placentas to abnormally implant in subsequent pregnancies.  As a result, many women who have placenta accreta end up having hysterectomies as that is the best way to control the hemorrhaging that results from accreta.

Rate of hysterectomy by cesarean number (Silver 2006).

Women who had accreta also experienced the following complications:

  • 15.4% (1 in 6.5): surgical injury to bladder
  • 2.1%  (1 in 48): surgical injury to the ureters which are the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder and is the “most serious complication of gynecologic surgery
  • 2.1%  (1 in 48 ): blockage of an artery in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • 14% (1 in 7):  mom was put on a mechanical ventilator because she couldn’t breathe effectively
  • 26.6% (1 in 3.8): mom requires advanced monitoring and care so she is admitted to the intensive care unit
  • 5.6% (1 in 17.8): mom requires another operation
  • 3.5% (1 in 28.6): endometritis, “an inflammation or irritation of the lining of the uterus”

Because the risks of cesarean are so great, Silver (2006) concluded with the following statement,

Because serious maternal morbidity increases progressively with increasing number of cesarean deliveries, the number of intended pregnancies should be considered during counseling regarding elective repeat cesarean operation versus a trial of labor and when debating the merits of elective primary cesarean delivery.

Alternatives to cesarean hysterectomy

Non-hysterectomy options were discussed in a February 2006 Healthline article by Alison Stuebe, Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA:

In the majority of cases, hysterectomy is the most effective way to manage the potentially fatal consequences of placenta accreta. Unfortunately, however, most cases of placenta accreta are not discovered until the last minute. And, because a hysterectomy results in infertility, some women may want to consider more conservative options.

Conservative or alternate techniques for treating placenta accreta include:

  • curettage (scraping) of the uterus;
  • surgical repair of the part of the uterus where the placenta was attached;
  • clamping the blood vessels that nourish the pelvis (to control the bleeding); and
  • using x-ray guidance to inject gelatin sponge particles or spring coils into the blood vessels that nourish the uterus (this procedure usually is not feasible in emergency situations.) This procedure requires help from interventional radiologists, doctors who specialize in advanced treatments for bleeding.

Reported success rates of these procedures vary widely. In one recent study, 31 cases of placenta accreta were managed without hysterectomy; there were no reports of infertility or maternal death.

Using ultrasound and MRI to diagnose accreta

All the statistics I have shared above are from hospital based studies where women have access to operating rooms, surgeons, and blood products.  I suspect that the likelihood of a mother dying from hemorrhage due to placenta accreta is significantly higher in an OOH (out-of-hospital) birth.  This is why I think it is completely reasonable to have an ultrasound or MRI to try to diagnose accreta when planning a OOH birth.

Although second and third trimester bleeding can be a symptom for previa, I was surprised to read on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s website, “About 7% to 30% of women with placenta previa do not experience vaginal bleeding as a symptom before delivery.”   Thus one cannot rely on bleeding during pregnancy as a reliable symptom for previa which is why ruling it out via ultrasound appears to be a effective plan. (No citation was given, so if anyone has information to affirm or refute this stat, please leave a comment.)

There appears to be some controversy about the ability to accurately diagnose accreta during pregnancy.  According to a 2011 Medscape article byDr. Robert Resnik, “the diagnosis [of placenta accreta] can be made with accuracy, by very specific ultrasound findings, about 80% of the time, and can be confirmed with MRI findings.”

However, in a 2010 article published in the Journal Watch Women’s Health, Andrew M. Kaunitz, MD states, “If ultrasound findings [while looking for accreta] are not definitive, MRI evaluation is appropriate.  Unfortunately, the diagnostic precision of these two imaging modalities for placenta accreta can be suboptimal.”

I also highly recommend you read Dwyer (2008) which provides an excellent overview and compared the accuracy of the two methods:

Sonography correctly identified the presence of placenta accreta in 14 of 15 patients (93% sensitivity) and the absence of placenta accreta in 12 of 17 patients (71% specificity). Magnetic resonance imaging correctly identified the presence of placenta accreta in 12 of 15 patients (80% sensitivity) and the absence of placenta accreta in 11 of 17 patients (65% specificity). In 7 of 32 cases, sonography and MRI had discordant diagnoses: sonography was correct in 5 cases, and MRI was correct in 2.

Because of this high rate of maternal mortality and morbidity, some doctors suggest if accreta is diagnosed via ultrasound and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during pregnancy, a cesarean hysterectomy should to performed as early as 34 – 35 weeks.  (Read Does Antenatal Diagnosis of Placenta Accreta Improve Maternal Outcomes?, The maternal outcome in placenta accreta: the significance of antenatal diagnosis and non-separation of placenta at delivery and Placenta accreta: A dreaded and increasing complication for more information on early delivery via cesarean section.)

What difference does it make if you know you have accreta before delivery?

Because accreta has a high maternal mortality and morbidity rate, a hospital plans for a birth with accreta (usually a cesarean if diagnosed before labor) very differently than a birth (cesarean or vaginal) without known accreta.

One night during my endless random reading, I stumbled across the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ (the UK’s ACOG) clinical guidelines for placenta praevia, placenta praevia accreta and vasa praevia.  (Note that the Brits do spell previa/praevia differently than Americans.)  This document included a detailed description of how they recommend a hospital plan for a cesarean birth due to placenta accreta:

The six elements considered to be reflective of good care were:
1. consultant obstetrician planned and directly supervising delivery
2. consultant anaesthetist planned and directly supervising anaesthetic at delivery
3. blood and blood products available
4. multidisciplinary involvement in pre-op planning
5. discussion and consent includes possible interventions (such as hysterectomy, leaving the placenta in place, cell salvage and intervention radiology)
6. local availability of a level 2 critical care bed.

Taking this extensive preparation into account, I suspect that women fare better when accreta is diagnosed before delivery.

Evidence to suggest previa less likely to “move” in VBAC/VBAMC moms

RCOG’s clinical guidelines also included evidence that of women who were diagnosed with previa early in their pregnancy, women with a prior cesarean where less likely than an unscarred mom to have their placenta “move” enough to permit a vaginal delivery at term (50% vs. 11%).  Since the study in question included over 700 women with previa, this is a large enough study to give us good evidence.

Women with a previous caesarean section require a higher index of suspicion as there are two problems to exclude: placenta praevia and placenta accreta.  If the placenta lies anteriorly and reaches the cervical os at 20 weeks, a follow-up scan can help identify if it is implanted into the caesarean section scar.

Placental ‘apparent’ migration, owing to the development of the lower uterine segment, occurs during the second and third trimesters,52–54 but is less likely to occur if the placenta is posterior55 or if there has been a previous caesarean section.35  In one study, only five of 55 women with a placenta reaching or overlapping the cervical os at 18–23 weeks of gestation (diagnosed by TVS) had placenta praevia at birth and in all cases the edge of the placenta had overlapped 15 mm over the os at 20 weeks of gestation.56  A previous caesarean section influences this: a large retrospective review of 714 women with placenta praevia found that even with a partial ‘praevia’ at 20–23 weeks (i.e. the edge of the placenta reached the internal cervical os), the chance of persistence of the placenta praevia requiring abdominal delivery was 50% in women with a previous caesarean section compared with 11% in those with no uterine scar.53

Conversely, although significant migration to allow vaginal delivery is unlikely if the placenta substantially overlaps the internal os (by over 23 mm at 11–14 weeks of gestation in one study,54 by over 25 mm at 20–23 weeks of gestation in another52 and by over 20 mm at 26 weeks of gestation in a third study57), such migration is still possible and therefore follow-up scanning should be arranged.

I looked up source 53 and it’s Dashe (2002) which shared:  “The outcome of the study was persistent placenta previa resulting in cesarean delivery.  This diagnosis was based on clinical assessment and ultrasound at time of delivery.”  You can read Dashe in its entirety by clicking on this link and then looking for the “Article as PDF” link on the right hand side.

Considering your future fertility

Many women who don’t plan on having more children do not think these complications are applicable.  But I know many women, and I’m sure you do too, who were not planning on more children, but got pregnant nonetheless.  This is consistent with the CDC’s findings that 49% of pregnancies are unintentional.  Unless you or your partner get sterilized or practice abstinence (what fun!), the chance of you getting pregnant, and experiencing these downstream risks, are there.  It’s important when evaluating your current birth options to consider how that decision will impact the risks of your future pregnancies as well as your future delivery options.

Last updated 9/13/12.

Hospital’s Oxytocin Protocol Change Sharply Reduces Emergency C-Section Deliveries

This article published June 19, 2009 demonstrates one hospital’s experience when they changed their oxytocin (Pitocin) protocol.

I’ve included the entire article below and have emphasized what I consider to be the most interesting parts.

Hospital’s Oxytocin Protocol Change Sharply Reduces Emergency C-Section Deliveries
By Betsy Bates
Elsevier Global Medical News
Conferences in Depth

CHICAGO (EGMN) – The modification of the oxytocin infusion protocol at a large university-affiliated community hospital nearly halved the number of emergency cesarean deliveries over a 3-year period, reported Dr. Gary Ventolini.

As oxytocin utilization declined from 93.3% to 78.9%, emergency cesarean deliveries decreased from 10.9% to 5.7%, Dr. Ventolini said at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Other birth outcomes improved as well at an 848-bed community hospital that serves as the primary teaching hospital of the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

These included significant declines in emergency vacuum and forceps deliveries and a sharp reduction in neonatal ICU team mobilization for signs of fetal distress (P = .0001 in year 3 compared with year 1).

“More and more data are showing us that we are using too much oxytocin too often,” Dr. Ventolini, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the university, said in an interview.

“Our pivotal change was to modify the oxytocin infusion from 2 by 2 units every 20 minutes to 1 by 1 unit every 30 minutes. And we see the results,” he said.

Outcomes of 14,184 births from 2005, 2006, and 2007 were retrospectively analyzed to determine any impact of the change in an oxytocin protocol implemented in 2005. Patient characteristics were similar in all three calendar years.

The most profound changes were in emergency deliveries, including caesarean deliveries, vacuum deliveries (which dropped from 9.1% to 8.5%), and forceps deliveries (which fell from 4% to 2.3%).

The overall cesarean section rate remained unchanged, as did the rates of cord prolapse, preeclampsia, and abruption.

Dr. Ventolini cited a recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that suggests guidelines for oxytocin use, including avoidance of dose increases at intervals shorter than 30 minutes in most situations (Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 2009;200:35.e1-.e6).

Dr. Ventolini and his associates reported no financial conflicts of interest relevant to the study.

Subject Codes:
womans_health;
Elsevier Global Medical News
http://www.imng.com

June 19, 2009   10:04 AM EDT

Want a VBAC? Ask your care provider these questions.

While there are care providers who may mislead you about your risks, benefits, and options, this article is written assuming that you are meeting with an ethical care provider who supports the option of VBAC.  Read more on how to find a providers like this.

If you are a good candidate for VBAC, the single most important decision you can make that will have the greatest impact on your chances of VBAC success is who you hire to attend your birth.   This is why it’s important to interview several care providers and ask specific questions.

You will often receive different information when speaking to the doctor or midwife directly than you would from the people who answer their phones.  When calling their office, be sure to state that you want to have a consultation.  Ideally, you want to meet in an office, not in an exam room.

Questions You Should Ask

The key to all of these questions is that they are open ended.

The trick is to ask the question and then sit back and really listen.

What is your philosophy on planned VBACs?

What is your philosophy on planned VBACs going past 40 weeks?

What is your philosophy on suspected “big babies” (macrosomia) among planned VBACs?

How many VBACs have you attended?

Of the last 10 planned VBACs you attended, how many had a VBAC?

What is your philosophy on inducing VBACs?

What is your philosophy on monitoring planned VBACs?

Does your hospital have telemetry (wireless monitoring)? How often is it used?

What is your philosophy on waters being broken for more than 24 hours?

How long do you think it’s safe for VBACs to  labor?

What is your philosophy on epidurals in planned VBACs?

What are your standing orders for planned VBACs and do they differ from your standing orders for first time parents?

How does your on-call schedule work?

What is your cesarean rate?

What are your thoughts on movement during labor and delivery positions?

What is your philosophy on IV or saline lock?

Do you offer family-friendly cesareans?

Special Circumstances

In the event that the baby isn’t head down, do you manually turn babies? (This is called an external cephalic version or ECV.)

Do you attend vaginal breech births? If not, can you refer me to a provider who does?

Do you attend vaginal twin VBACs?

Do you attend VBAC after 2 cesareans?

Do you attend VBACs with a classical (high vertical), T, or J scar?

Do you attend VBACs with a low vertical or unknown scar?


Ok, you have your list of questions… what now?

Knowing what questions to ask is just one part of the process. How to do you know what answers to look for?

Well, that’s the next step.

In order to know how the answers you receive line up with the evidence, you have to actually know what the evidence says.

And most parents and professionals don’t have the time or interest to dive into the research. Or the process feels overwhelming so they don’t take the first step.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In my online trainings for parents and professionals, I’ve done all the work for you. I translate the evidence on each question so you know how to decode the provider’s response as well as red flags to avoid.

Click here to learn more and get started.

Is VBAC Illegal? Is homebirth illegal?

This post was originally published June 14, 2008.  It has since been updated to include more information on the technicalities of homebirth.

I have incredible software on this website called StatCounter and through that I’m able to see what search engine queries bring people to the site.

I’ve noticed more queries asking if VBAC is illegal.

VBAC is not illegal anywhere in the USA.

It is legal to have a hospital VBAC in all 50 states.

It is legal to have a out-of-hospital VBAC in all 50 states.

If someone has told you that VBAC is illegal, they are either misinformed or are outright lying to you.  Ask them to show you the law.  This is something you should be able to easily look up through a google search.  You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist.

Linda Bennett, a retired midwife, clarifies the issue:

I also think it is important for women to know that OOH (out-of-hospital) VBAC whether home or boat or rv in the parking lot of the hospital or motel or unlicensed birthing center is also legal everywhere.

What may not be “allowed” by state regulation or law varies from state to state but if restrictions are present, it is in the form of restrictions on the license or practice of the practitioner IF she is a midwife (MDs can do what they want, although their peers may give them other headaches for attending an OOH birth).

Birth Centers with a license from their state often have restrictions specified in the law or their regulations (force of law) which mean they could lose their license if…and then VBAC.. breech.. multiples.. may be specified along with other restrictive language decided by their state regulatory board.

And I know what I am speaking about, because the small group of midwives I originally worked with in Santa Cruz took our arrests to California’s State Supreme Court over the licensing issue!

So when you hear the term “it is illegal to VBAC,” it is referring to the fact that it is illegal for a non-doctor to attend homebirths.  The physical act of giving birth in your home is not illegal.  If you are planning a hospital birth, and you don’t make it it the hospital in time and end up giving birth in your bathtub, you did not do anything illegal.

Gretchen Humphries, Advocacy Director, ICAN, explains:

[If] there aren’t laws specifically naming midwives as illegal… it leaves the impression that they aren’t illegal — which isn’t true.  They are illegal because they are practicing Medicine without a license.  They aren’t illegal because they ARE midwives, they are illegal because they AREN’T doctors.  Unless there is legal language making them legal, they aren’t.  Now, fortunately, this is pretty irrelevant in most states, still…..

Some states, like New Jersey, permit midwives to attend homebirths, but not homebirth VBACs (HBACs).

In other states, like California, homebirth and HBAC are legal for midwives to attend though you technically need to use your right of informed refusal to have a HBAC. 

Some states have legislation prohibiting homebirths or birth center births with midwives, and in those states HBAC would also be considered illegal for them to attend. 

Then there are states that permit some midwives, but not others, to attend homebirth.  Iowa and North Carolina permit certified nurse midwives (CNMs) to attend homebirths, but not certified professional midwives (CPMs.)  There is currently a bill providing for licensure of CPMs in Iowa.  Learn more about House Study Bill 229 at Friends of Iowa Midwives.

So why would someone tell you that VBAC is illegal?  Three reasons.  First, it ends the conversation.  One might be apt to debate or look for another care provider if they are told “our hospital doesn’t permit them” or “this OB doesn’t attend them.”  But if you are told it’s illegal, well, most women would just resign themselves to a scheduled repeat cesarean since many women do not want a OOH VBAC.  Linda Bennett gives us the second reason, “It is often convenient ‘shorthand’ to speak of ‘illegal’ HBACs but I find this convenience to serve the purposes of the doctors who oppose any OOH births. The HBAC is not illegal.”  Third, to say something is illegal makes it sound really dangerous, risky, and against the common good.  So by continuing the myth that homebirth is illegal, it’s feeding into the “homebirth is for wackos” machine, when it reality, it is perfectly legal for your OB to deliver your baby at home.  What stops them is a mix malpractice insurance pressures, pressure from other doctors, and the real belief that many OB have that birth is a dangerous event.

So, what do you do if you live in an “illegal” state?  There is hope, as Gretchen explains:

In a state where there is no Midwifery Practice Act, you’ll need to depend on your midwives to know what the “climate” for them is like — mine practice openly, advertise widely, go with all their transports, etc. But they ain’t legal.

So, look around.   You may find that you have options you didn’t even know about.

Ready to plan your VBAC?  Start here: I’m pregnant and want a VBAC, what do I do?.

Uterine rupture risk drops significantly after first VBAC

As we know, the risks of cesareans increase with each surgery which is why family size should be considered when evaluating your post-cesarean birth options. Couple that fact with the results of Mercer (2008) which found that successful VBAC also provides a level of protection to future deliveries.

Mercer found that not only do the risks of uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and other peripartum complications decrease after the first VBAC, but “VBAC success increased with increasing number of prior VBACs” to rates over 90% for women with two or more prior VBACs.  They also found that while two or more VBACs did not decrease the risk of rupture further (so a scarred mom’s risk of rupture never goes down to the risk of an unscarred mom), it’s important to note that the risk of rupture did not increase with subsequent VBACs as women are sometimes told in an effort to obtain their consent for a repeat cesarean.

 

Mercer, B. M., Gilbert, S., Landon, M. B., & Spong, C. Y. (2008). Labor Outcomes With Increasing Number of Prior Vaginal Births After Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 11, 285-91. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2008/02000/Labor_Outcomes_With_Increasing_Number_of_Prior.6.aspx

 

The Three Types of Care Providers Amongst OBs and Midwives

Care providers, OBs and midwives, can be broken down into three categories:

1. The ones who tell you outright they don’t to VBACs.  While this is annoying, it is more honorable than the second type of care provider because at least they don’t…

2a. … tell you they are supportive, but then put so many qualifications on their support that it’s almost impossible to have a successful VBAC with them.  I call this a “circus act VBAC.”  They want you to think that if you just jump through all these hoops, you will VBAC.  But what you don’t know as a typical pregnant woman who trusts her OB is, it’s almost impossible to meet the standard they require and, one way or another, you end up with a another surgery.

  • if your baby is less than X pounds
  • if you consent to an IV
  • if you consent to an epidural
  • if you consent to continuous external, or internal, fetal monitoring
  • if you stay in bed the whole time
  • if you come to the hospital as soon as labor begins
  • if you have the baby within X hours of labor starting
  • if you have the baby within X hours of your water breaking
  • if you agree to have a cesarean scheduled at X weeks “just in case” you don’t go into labor
  • if you agree to be induced at X weeks
  • if you go into labor by X weeks and if you don’t, you agree to have another cesarean or be induced
  • it goes on, and on, and on…

2b. Or they tell you that they are supportive, but as your due date gets closer, they start focusing more and more on the risks of VBAC.  Of course, they minimize, or don’t even mention, the risks of having a repeat cesarean.  It eventually becomes clear to you that they will find some excuse either during your labor, or before labor begins, to give you a cesarean.  At which point, how can you trust their medical opinion?  But, they have strung you along for so long – usually this starts in the last couple months of your pregnancy – that you feel stuck and you think that it’s to late to find another provider.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.  It never hurts to check out other providers, regardless of how far along you are.  When you have a provider like this, what do you have to lose?

3.  The smallest group of care providers out there are the ones who are truly supportive of VBAC.  You can find care providers by going here and interview them using the questions here.