Category Archives: VBAC

“Hospitals offering VBAC are required to have 24/7 anesthesia” is false

In 2010, I was sitting next to an OB/GYN during a lunch break at the National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference. She was telling me about how she had worked at a rural hospital, without 24/7 anesthesia, that offered vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).

I asked her what they did in the event of an emergency. “I perform an emergency cesarean under local anesthetic,” she plainly stated. She explained how you inject the anesthetic along the intended incision line, cut and then inject the next layer and cut, all the way down until you get to the baby.

It certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was how her small facility was able to support VBAC while responding to those uncommon, but inevitable, complications that require immediate surgical delivery.

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They had everything a hospital needs to offer VBAC: a supportive policy, supportive providers, and motivation to make VBAC available at their hospital.

From a public health standpoint, it’s to our benefit to offer VBAC because repeat cesareans increase the rate of accreta in future pregnancies as well as hysterectomy and excessive bleeding.

And rural hospitals are NOT capable of managing an accreta because it requires far more than (local) anesthesia and a surgeon. (Read more on how morbidity, mortality, and ideal response differs between uterine rupture & accreta.)

When I hear of smaller, rural hospitals telling women that they can’t offer VBAC because “ACOG requires” 24/7 anesthesia, I think of that OB/GYN and ACOG’s (2010) guidelines which state

Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] 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.

So, yes, it is possible and reasonable to offer VBAC without 24/7 anesthesia.

It is ideal? No.

But do you know what else is not ideal?

It’s not ideal to have VBAC bans mandating repeat cesareans that expose women to the increasing risks of surgical birth across the board as a matter of policy—risks that can be far more serious and life-threatening than the risks of VBAC.

It’s not ideal to have any vaginal delivery at a hospital that doesn’t offer 24/7 anesthesia, because any woman giving birth may require emergency surgery.

It’s not ideal to have a cesarean (scheduled or emergency) at a hospital that doesn’t have a blood bank.

It’s not ideal nor realistic to have every pregnant woman drive hours in labor to larger hospitals that offer blood banks, 24/7 anesthesia, and various obstetric sub-specialties for planned VBAC.

It’s not ideal to have state troopers attending roadside births for some of those women.

And it’s deadly for rural hospitals to be managing a surprise accreta.

So, we have to come up with better options.

We can’t continue to pretend that banning VBAC is in the best interest of families.  It does not serve our communities in the long run because it simply exposes the ones we love to a more serious complication in future pregnancies.

Learning how to perform a cesarean under local anesthetic makes hospitals—regardless of geography—safer places to give birth. It enables them to perform cesareans more quickly when they don’t have an anesthesiologist in the hospital but the baby needs to be born NOW.

This could make a huge difference in the outcomes for any laboring mom—VBAC or non-VBAC—as well as her baby.

Learn more about VBAC barriers and watch me debunk the four reasons why hospitals ban VBAC.

Does your rural hospital offer VBAC or not?

Does your urban or suburban hospital offer VBAC or not?

Leave a comment below!

References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116 (2), 450-463,http://m.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Practice_Bulletins/Committee_on_Practice_Bulletins_Obstetrics/Vaginal_Birth_After_Previous_Cesarean_Delivery

Kamel, J. (2015, April 2). Too Bad We Can’t Just “Ban” Accreta – The Downstream Consequences of VBAC Bans. Retrieved from Science & Sensibility: http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/placenta-accreta-vbac-ban/

Kamel, J. (2010, July 22). VBAC ban rationale is irrational. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2010/07/22/vbac-ban-rationale-is-irrational/

Komorowski, J. (2010, Oct 11). A Woman’s Guide to VBAC: Putting Uterine Rupture into Perspective. Retrieved from Giving Birth with Confidence: http://www.givingbirthwithconfidence.org/p/bl/ar/blogaid=181

“No one can force you to have a cesarean” is false

Update: Since this article was originally published, it has been updated with several new resources (listed at the bottom) as well as a video.

 

hospital-bed

 

“No one can force you to have a cesarean.” I see this all the time in message boards.

Don’t worry about

… the VBAC ban

…your unsupportive provider

… your provider’s 40 week deadline

… [insert other VBAC barrier here]

no one can force you to have a cesarean.

That’s just not true.

Let’s start with what is ethical and legal: Yes, no one can legally force you to have a cesarean.

ACOG even says in their latest VBAC guidelines that “restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will.” So even if your facility has a VBAC ban, they still cannot force you to have surgery… legally or ethically.

But then you have reality: It happens all the time, but it may look different than you expect.

It’s often NOT a woman screaming “I do not consent” as she is wheeled into the OR, though that has happened.

It’s through lies. It’s through fear.

“The risk of uterine rupture is 25%.”

“Do you want a healthy baby or a birth experience?”

“Planning a VBAC is like running across a busy freeway.”

Hospital policy and provider preference are presented as superseding the woman’s right to decline surgery.

“No one attends VBAC here.”

“It’s against our policy.”

“We don’t allow VBACs.”

Or unreasonable timelines are assigned giving the woman the illusion of choice.

“You have to go into labor by 39 weeks.”

“Your labor can’t be longer than 12 hours.”

“You have to dilate at least 1 centimeter per hour.”

Or it can be a slow process where a seemingly once supportive provider quietly withdraws support exchanging words of encouragement with caution. Dr. Brad Bootstaylor, an Atlanta based OBGYN, describes how this can unfold at 4:00 in this video after a woman describes her experience:

Or, if the birthing parents don’t listen, it can escalate to calling social services, ordering a psychiatric evaluation, or even getting a court order for a forced cesarean.

It can be as simple as, “Your baby is distress.” How do you know if this is true or not? Are you willing to take that risk?

Some people suggest that parents should learn how to interpret fetal heart tones so they can evaluate their baby’s status. But I think this is a wholly unreasonable expectation for non-medical professionals, especially when one is in labor. It is as much an art as it is a science.

In short, coercion frequently isn’t by physical force. It’s through manipulation. This is why it’s worth your time and effort to search for a supportive provider who you trust to attend your birth.

Don’t just think, “Well, I can hire anyone and simply refuse.”

Sometimes it’s not that simple as Rinat Dray, was forced to have a cesarean, and Kimberly Turbin, who received a 12-cut episiotomy while yelling “Do not cut me,” know all too well.

And this is why understanding the complete picture is important. It’s not enough to ponder how things are “supposed to be” or how we want them to be, but how they actually are. The difference between perception and reality is huge. Learn more in my online workshop, “The Truth About VBAC.”

Have you seen a situation like described above play out? Share it in the comment section.

Continue the conversation & share on Facebook here:

There is a huge difference between what is legal, what is ethical, and what actually happens. #forcedcesareans #ethicalvsreality #vbacfacts

Posted by www.VBACFACTS.com on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

 

Learn more:

ACLU. (n.d.). Coercive and punitive governmental responses womens conduct during pregnancy. Retrieved from ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/coercive-and-punitive-governmental-responses-womens-conduct-during-pregnancy

Cantor, J. D. (2012, Jun 14). Court-Ordered Care — A Complication of Pregnancy to Avoid. New England Journal of Medicine, 366, 2237-2240. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1203742?

Hartocollis, A. (2014, May 16). Mother accuses doctors of forcing a c-section and files suit. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://nytimes.com/2014/05/17/nyregion/mother-accuses-doctors-of-forcing-a-c-section-and-files-suit.html?referrer=&_r=0

Human Rights in Childbirth. (2015, Jan 14). Rinat Dray is not alone, Part 1. Retrieved from Human Rights in Childbirth: http://www.humanrightsinchildbirth.org/amicusbriefpart1/

International Cesarean Awareness Network. (n.d.). Your right to refuse: What to do if your hospital has “banned” VBAC. Retrieved from Feminist Women’s Health Center: http://www.fwhc.org/health/pdf_about_vbac.pdf

Jacobson, J. (2014, Jul 25). Florida hospital demands woman undergo forced c-section. Retrieved from RH Reality Check: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/07/25/florida-hospital-demands-woman-undergo-forced-c-section/

Kamel, J. (2012, Mar 2). Options for a mom who will be ‘forced’ to have a cesarean. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/03/02/options-mom-forced-repeat-cs/

Maryland Families for Safe Birth. (2015, Jan 28). The truth about VBAC: Maryland families need access. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/C5nymk3IGqE

Paltrow, L. M., & Flavin, J. (2013, April). Arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for women’s legal status and public health. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 38(2), 299-343. Retrieved from http://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/early/2013/01/15/03616878-1966324.full.pdf+html

Pascucci, C. (2015, Jun 4). Press Release: Woman charges OB with assault & battery for forced episiotomy. Retrieved from Improving Birth: http://improvingbirth.org/2015/06/preview-woman-charges-ob-with-assault-battery-for-forced-episiotomy/

Shoulder pain is a symptom of uterine rupture

I’ve written before about the symptoms of uterine rupture as well as how having an epidural does not interfere with the diagnosis of uterine rupture.

The focus of this Quick Fact is how shoulder pain can be a symptom of uterine rupture.

How can an uterine rupture cause shoulder pain?

Image Source: http://wesleytodd.blogspot.com/2013/10/ablation-for-recurring-af-i.html

Image Source: http://wesleytodd.blogspot.com/2013/10/ablation-for-recurring-af-i.html

Internal bleeding from uterine rupture can cause referred pain through the phrenic nerve which can present in the shoulder.

Shoulder pain is sometimes not included in lists of uterine rupture symptoms, but I have seen it cited multiple places (see below) and have had conversations with OBs, nurses, and anesthesiologists who have experienced uterine ruptures with shoulder pain.

I’m also aware of two cases where the uterine rupture diagnosis was delayed because staff was not familiar with the incidence of referred pain.

Anyone who works with birthing women should be aware of the symptoms of uterine rupture including referred pain.

Please note that not every uterine rupture causes shoulder pain and not all shoulder pain is a symptom of uterine rupture.

Where can you learn more?

I discuss uterine rupture – factors, symptoms, rates, and outcomes – at great lengths in my online workshop, “The Truth About VBAC: History, Politics, & Stats

The following quotes addressing shoulder pain & uterine rupture are from case studies and textbooks. Want more? Google uterine rupture referred pain or uterine rupture shoulder pain.

“APH [brisk antepartum haemorrhage], as in this case, often indicates uterine rupture and may occur in association with shoulder tip pain due to haemoperitoneum.” (Navaratnam, 2011)

“Management of uterine rupture depends on prompt detection and diagnosis. The classic signs (sudden tearing uterine pain, vaginal haemorrhage, cessation of uterine contractions, regression of the fetus) have been shown to be unreliable and frequently absent but any of the following should alert suspicion… Chest or shoulder tip pain and sudden shortness of breath.” (Payne, 2015)

“Signs and symptoms of uterine rupture may include… referred pain in the shoulder (with epidural anesthesia)” (Murry, 2007 p.283)

“Jaw, neck, or shoulder pain can be referred pain from a uterine rupture.” (Murry, 2007, p.76)

“Shoulder pain (Kehr’s sign) is a valuable sign of intraperitoneal blood in subdiaphragmatic region. Even a small amount of blood can cause this symptom, but it is important to realize that it may be 24 h or longer after the bleeding has occurred before blood will track up under the diaphragm, and some cases of acute massive intraperitoneal bleeding may not initially have shoulder pain.” (Augustin, 2014, p. 512)

“Shoulder tip pain may be experienced if significant haemoperitoneum is present, due to irritation of the diaphragm (i.e. referred pain through phrenic nerve).” (Baker, 2015, p.373)

References

Augustin, G. (2014). Acute abdomen during pregnancy. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=mq8pBAAAQBAJ

Baker, P. N., McEwan, A. S., Arulkumaran, S., Datta, S. T., Mahmood, T. A., Reid, F., . . . Aiken, C. (2015). Obstetrics: Prepare for the MRCOG: Key articles from the Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine journal. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=DcqqCgAAQBAJ

Murray, M. (2007). Antepartal and intrapartal fetal monitor. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company, LLC. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=_4jYJUGG56cC

Murray, M., & Huelsmann, G. (2008). Labor and delivery nursing: Guide to evidence-based practice. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=q22jEEZo7rwC

Navaratnam, K., Ulaganathan, P., Akhtar, M. A., Sharma, S. D., & Davies, M. G. (2011). Posterior uterine rupture causing fetal expulsion into the abdominal cavity: A rare case of neonatal survival. Case Reports in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/criog/2011/426127/

Payne, J. (Ed.). (2015, Mar 17). Uterine rupture. Retrieved from Patient: http://patient.info/doctor/Uterine-Rupture

ship-beached-crashed

My website died just in time to be revamped

Hi!

So if you are new here, the site usually does not look like this.

At 8pm tonight, something updated which made my entire WordPress site die.

The only way the amazing people at GoDaddy were able to get it up was to disable all plugins and my template.

I was planning on revamping my website this month and I briefly considered just diving in tonight, watching all the Divi tutorials I could, and then just busting it out before sunrise.

But then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my Saturday with my family.

So, I’m off to bed.

Priorities people.

(I’m currently reading Essentialism and it is brilliant. Check it out.)

Enjoy this stripped down version of the site… things are going to look very different over the coming weeks!

Jen

Q&A: Induction Protocols

pitocin package

 

Isabel recently asked over on Uterine rupture rates after 40 weeks:

“I wonder however if there are studies that compare the method of induction. My Doula said that the increase rates of uterine/ scar rupture was due to using high dosages of Pitocin, but now the induction uses lower dosages and administered at longer intervals. Do you know something about this?
Thank you”

 

Isabel,

Great question.

A few factors to consider:

1. Induction protocols can vary by provider, including some providers who don’t induced planned VBACs at all.
2. Induction guidelines can vary by hospital.
3. Women can react to the same drug/dose differently.
4. Some studies do compare the uterine rupture rates among spontaneous, induced, and augmented planned VBACs.

Medical studies on induction are only relevant to your situation if your provider follows the same protocol outlined in the study. However induction protocols are often not spelled out in detail unless that is the focus of the study.

When reading medical research, make special note of the sample size. We need ample participants in order to accurately capture and report the incidence of uncommon events such as uterine rupture. I typically like to see at least 3,000.  

Also remember that it’s ideal to have a experimental group (who receives the induction protocol) and a control group (who does not receive the induction protocol) in order to measure the difference in outcomes, such as fetal distress, uterine rupture, hemorrhage, cesarean hysterectomy, etc. Ideally, we would have a couple thousand, at least, in the experimental and control group.

In terms of the trend that induction now uses lower dosages and is administered at longer intervals, that may be true in some practices, but I would always confirm and not assume.

Anecdotally, I have heard a wide range of induction protocols reported just as research has identified similar variations among cesarean and episiotomy rates that are not linked to medical indication. This California Healthcare Foundation infographic clearly illustrates how hospitals differ:

Tale of Two Births

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In terms of specific studies comparing the method of induction, the first resource that comes to mind is the Guise 2010 Evidence Report.

Search for the word Cytotec and there is a discussion comparing rates of rupture by Pitocin, prostaglandins, and Cytotec.

Pitocin is associated with the lowest rate of rupture among the chemical agents which is likely why ACOG (2010) recommends Pitocin and/or Foley catheter induction in planned VBACs when a medical indication presents. (Learn more about what the Pitocin insert actually says.)

There may be more recent studies out there. Google Scholar is a good place to start. You can often obtain the full texts of medical studies at your local library, university, or graduate school.

Also, if you subscribe to Evidence Based Birth’s newsletter, she will email you a crash course on how to find good evidence.

I hope this helps!

Jen

What is the induction protocol at your facility? Does it differ for those with a prior cesarean? Let me know in the comment section.

 

 DSC_0111 head Jennifer Kamel is the Founder & Director of VBAC Facts whose mission is to close the gap between what the best practice guidelines from ACOG and the NIH say about VBAC and repeat cesarean and what people generally believe. VBAC Facts is an advocate for accurate and fair information and does not promote a specific mode of delivery, type of health care professional, or birth location. Ms. Kamel presents her class “The Truth About VBAC: History, Politics, & Stats” throughout the United States. Provider approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, Continuing Education Provider #16238.

 

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American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116 (2), 450-463, http://dhmh.maryland.gov/midwives/Documents/ACOG%20VBAC.pdf

California Healthcare Foundation. (2014, Nov). A Tale of Two Births: High- and Low-Performing Hospitals on Maternity Measures in California. Retrieved from California Healthcare Foundation: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2014/11/tale-two-births

Guise, J.-M., Eden, K., Emeis, C., Denman, M., Marshall, N., Fu, R., . . . McDonagh, M. (2010). Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44571/

Friedman, A. M., Ananth, C. V., Prendergast, E., Alton, M. E., & Wright, J. D. (2015). Variation in and factors associated with use of episiotomy. JAMA, 313(2), 197-199. Retrieved from http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2089343

Kozhimannil, K. B., Arcaya, M. C., & Subramanian, S. V. (2014). Maternal Clinical Diagnoses and Hospital Variation in the Risk of Cesarean Delivery: Analyses of a National US Hospital Discharge Database. PLoS Med, 11(10). Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001745

New Research on Home Birth with an Obstetrician

male-doctor-thumbs-up-squareOver the last five years Dr. Stuart Fischbein, a Southern California obstetrician, has attended 135 home births. These deliveries included VBACs, vaginal breech and vaginal twin deliveries.

A summary of these births has been recently published.

Here are some highlights along with a few additional resources I compiled where you can learn more.

On patient selection:

“This model was not limited by strict protocols and allowed for guidelines to be merely guidelines. Women over 35, VBAC, breech and twin pregnancies were not excluded from this series simply because those labels existed. Each client was evaluated on her own merits and the comfort of the practitioner.”

On informed choice and the limitations of hospital birth:

“Home birth is not for everyone but informed choice is. The patronizing statement, “home delivery is for pizza”, is unprofessional and has no place in the legitimate discussion. Some suggest making hospital birth more homelike. While this may be a beginning and deserves investigation, it fails to recognize the difficult balance between honoring normal undisturbed mammalian birth and the reality of the hospital model’s legal and economic concerns and policies.”

On collaborative care:

“Pregnant women deserve to know that midwifery style care, both in and out of hospital, is a reasonable choice. A collaborative model between obstetrician and midwife can provide better results than what is occurring today.”

On lost skills:

“It would be wise to put the constructive energy of our profession towards the training of future practitioners in the skills that make obstetricians truly specialists such as breech, twin and operative vaginal deliveries.”

On the growth of home birth:

“Home birth will continue to grow as educated women realize that the current hospital model has many flaws.”

On our ethical obligation to provide a smooth home to hospital transfer:

“Cooperation, respect and smooth transition from home to hospital honors the pregnant woman and is our ethical obligation.”

_____________

California Healthcare Foundation. (2014, Nov). A Tale of Two Births: High- and Low-Performing Hospitals on Maternity Measures in California. Retrieved from California Healthcare Foundation: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2014/11/tale-two-births

Fischbein SJ (2015) “Home Birth” with an Obstetrician: A Series of 135 Out of Hospital Births. Obstet Gynecol Int J 2(4): 00046. DOI: 10.15406/ogij.2015.02.00046. Retrieved from Obstetrics & Gynecology International Journal: http://medcraveonline.com/OGIJ/OGIJ-02-00046.pdf

Johnson, N. (2010, Sept 11). For-profit hospitals performing more C-sections. Retrieved from California Watch: http://californiawatch.org/health-and-welfare/profit-hospitals-performing-more-c-sections-4069

Kennedy, M. (Director). (2015). Heads Up! The Disappearing Art of Vaginal Breech Delivery [Motion Picture]. Retrieved from http://www.informedpregnancy.com/#!heads-up/cef1

Klagholz, J., & Strunk, A. (2012). Overview of the 2012 ACOG Survey on Professional Liability. Retrieved from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: http://www.acog.org/-/media/Departments/Professional-Liability/2012PLSurveyNational.pdf

Q&A: What are the risks of cesareans?

no right answers right-right 238370_640Q: “I know the risk of uterine rupture is 1-2% during a VBAC, but do you have any statistics for the risks of a repeat cesarean?”

A: The risk of uterine rupture after one prior low transverse cesarean is 0.4% – 1% depending on whether the VBAC labor is spontaneous, augmented or induced (Landon, 2004). Spontaneous means labor begins naturally. Induced means the woman is not in labor and is given a drug to try to start labor. Augmentation means labor has already begun and drugs are used to make the labor progress more quickly.

Cesareans carry increased risks of infection, hysterectomy, hemorrhage, blood transfusion, blood clots, adhesions (which are implicated in bowel obstructions, infertility, and long term chronic pain), surgical injuries, maternal mortality, as well as placenta accreta and placenta previa in subsequent pregnancies.

Both VBAC and repeat cesarean have real risks and benefits. Two women can look at the same data and make different decisions thus there are no Right or Wrong answers here. Best of luck making The Right Decision For You.

There are many resources out there on VBAC and repeat cesarean. Here are a few of my favorites:

Understanding Obstetrical Risk

James, K. (n.d.). Understanding obstetrical risk: The language of risk. Retrieved from kimjames.net: http://www.kimjames.net/Data/Sites/3/understandingobstetricalrisk2.pdf

James, K. (n.d.). Understanding obstetrical risk: What is a reasonable risk to take? Retrieved from kimjames.net: http://www.kimjames.net/Data/Sites/3/understandingobstetricalrisk.pdf

Decision Making Tools

Association of Ontario Midwives. (n.d.). Vaginal Birth After Caesarean: Making an Informed. Retrieved from Association of Ontario Midwives: http://www.aom.on.ca/files/Health_Care_Professionals/VBAC/VBAC.pdf

BC Women’s Cesarean Task Force. (2010). Power to Push VBAC and Planned Repeat Cesarean Birth Booklet. Retrieved from http://issuu.com/powertopush/docs/power_to_push_-_vbac_info_booklet

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

Shorten, A. (2011, Sep 27). A Woman’s Guide to VBAC: Weighing the Pros and Cons. Retrieved from Giving Birth with Confidence: http://www.givingbirthwithconfidence.org/p/bl/et/blogid=16&blogaid=933

Learn More…

California Healthcare Foundation. (2014, Nov). A Tale of Two Births: High- and Low-Performing Hospitals on Maternity Measures in California. Retrieved from California Healthcare Foundation: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2014/11/tale-two-births

Declercq, E. R. (2014, Oct 6). Birth by the numbers: The update. Retrieved from Brith By the Numbers: http://www.birthbythenumbers.org/?p=1722

Kamel, J. (2015, April 2). Too Bad We Can’t Just “Ban” Accreta – The Downstream Consequences of VBAC Bans Retrieved from Science & Sensibility: http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/placenta-accreta-vbac-ban/

Kmom. (2013, August 26). Placenta Accreta, Part One: What Is Accreta? Retrieved from The Well-Rounded Mama: http://wellroundedmama.blogspot.com/2013/08/placenta-accreta-part-one-what-is.html

What are your favorite VBAC and repeat cesarean resources? Leave them in the comment section.

________________

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. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa040405

Q&A: Single vs. dual layer suturing

pregnant-belly---hands---manQ: Is there any evidence to support double layer suturing over single layer?

A: Conclusive evidence on single vs dual suture does not exist. Also note that ACOG does not say one form of closure is better than another in their VBAC guidelines.

Bujold (2012) stated, “Although there is a growing body of evidence that the technique for uterine closure can be crucial for uterine scar healing, strong evidence regarding optimal techniques is scarce and there currently exist no national or international guidelines on which obstetricians-gynecologists and surgeons can rely.”

Bujold provides a good review of the literature, so you can use his bibliography to find specific studies if you would like but please don’t just read the abstract. Read the full text of the study and note factors like induction/ augmentation rates, as that increases the incidence of uterine rupture, and the number of women included in the study, as small samples sizes can result in very high or low reported rates.

While Bujold lists the research done to date, he prefaces his summary with the quote above which basically says, we don’t know enough. We need more large studies. This is important for mothers and providers to understand.

I see so much language used that seems to indicate absolute certainty on which method is best. This results in a lot of confusion and even providers who won’t attend VBAC in a mom with a single layer suture. This is very unusual, but those policies are based on a misunderstanding of the literature.

There are many, many variables that could impact rupture such as suture technique, suture material, number of sutures, size of needle, locked vs unlocked, induction/augmentation, etc. There are many theories about how which variables can be combined to create the strongest scar. None of these theories have been sufficiently tested.

Meta studies, when the findings of smaller studies are combined, are weak because they don’t control for all these variables and as Bujold said, there are no closure guidelines on which OBGYNs can rely. This means that the cesareans performed in Alabama could be different than those in Brazil or Portugal. We have to keep this variance in mind when looking at meta-studies, or really any study, on suture closure.

It’s important to remember when looking at any study on VBAC that you need at least a few thousand women in order to accurately measure the event of uterine rupture that occurs about 0.5% of the time. At ideal study on suture closure would preferably include 5,000 single layer women and a similar number of dual layer women. Then we could measure rupture by the various factors identified above. I have not seen one large, well designed study that controls for any of these relevant factors.

I’ve heard women say that they would request a certain type of closure. I personally would rather have my surgeon use the closure style they were trained in and performed thousands of times.

What type of closure do you have? If you planned a VBAC, did your provider ask if your scar was closed with single or dual layer suture?

_______________________________

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology , 116 (2), 450-463, http://dhmh.maryland.gov/midwives/Documents/ACOG%20VBAC.pdf

Bujold, E. (2012, August). The Optimal Uterine Closure Technique During Cesarean. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 4(8), 362-363. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3421916/

Q&A: VBAC after a uterine rupture?

Pregnant GirlI apologize for not writing in so long. I’ve been busy with various projects including producing my 6 hour program “The Truth About VBAC” to be released online this summer! Subscribe to my newsletter to be informed of this and future classes!

I’ve been responding to many questions over on my Facebook page and have been trying to think of ways to archive those discussions here for future reference. Then the obvious answer appeared… post the questions and answers here and link back to the original question posted on Facebook! So, here we go! I look forward to blogging more in the future!

Question: “Any research on TOLAC or VBAC after a uterine rupture?”

The only research I’m aware of is cited by the latest ACOG guidelines. But let’s take one step back… before even looking at the research, I would clarify if the event was a dehiscence or a uterine rupture (UR). Read more about these two events here.

I recommend getting a copy of your medical records/operative report to confirm what exactly happened and review them with a VBAC supportive care provider. Here are steps on how to find a VBAC supportive provider and what questions to ask.

According to ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines, women who have had a uterine rupture are not candidates for VBAC:

How should future pregnancies be managed after uterine rupture? If the site of the ruptured scar is confined to the lower segment of the uterus, the rate of repeat rupture or dehiscence in labor is 6% (117). If the scar includes the upper segment of the uterus, the repeat rupture rate has been reported to be as high as 32% (117, 118). Given both these rates, it is recommended that women who have had a previous uterine rupture should give birth by repeat cesarean delivery before the onset of labor. Because spontaneous labor is unpredictable and could occur before the recommended 39 weeks for an elective delivery, earlier delivery should be contemplated with consideration given to amniocentesis to document fetal lung maturity.

ACOG’s sources are very old:

117. Ritchie EH. Pregnancy after rupture of the pregnant uterus. A report of 36 pregnancies and a study of cases reported since 1932. J Obstet Gynaecol Br Commonw 1971;78:642–8. (Level III)

118. Reyes-Ceja L, Cabrera R, Insfran E, Herrera-Lasso F. Pregnancy following previous uterine rupture. Study of 19 patients. Obstet Gynecol 1969;34:387–9. (Level III)

Since the limited evidence indicates a high risk of rupture, it would be unethical to further study it and subject women to this increased risk simply to pinpoint the exact rate of uterine rupture after uterine rupture.

Fundamentally, the uterus is rupturing because something is not quite right: whether that is damage from a prior cesarean, a defect, a fluke or over-stimulation from induction/ augmentation drugs. A uterus will carry the cause (damage, defect, fluke) and the damage of the rupture into the next pregnancy. This weakens the integrity of the uterus and increases the rupture risk in subsequent labors. This risk is even higher if the rupture occurs in the upper part of the uterus called the fundus. This is because the fundus does all the work during labor.

Some people equate the uterine incision during a cesarean with the uterine opening during a uterine rupture. They say that scheduling a cesarean results in a “100% risk of rupture.” But this is a false comparison because during a rupture, the uterus is opening because something is not working correctly. With a cesarean, the uterus is opening as a result of surgery. The rupture can tear across major blood vessels and/or where the placenta is implanted causing major bleeding in the mother and oxygen deprivation in the baby. The cesarean is a controlled cut that seeks to avoid any major blood vessels and the placenta. This is an entirely different event than a uterine rupture and it’s disingenuous to compare the two.

I’ve heard others say that it’s better to let the uterus “rip naturally” during a uterine rupture equating the controlled cut of a cesarean to that of a routine episiotomy. The structure and function of the vagina is very different than the uterus as well as the cause of vaginal versus uterine tears. The maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates for uterine rupture are higher than those associated with a vaginal tear. It’s another false comparison.

I’d also like to add that I’ve never read any studies on pregnancy or labor after a dehiscence. It could be out there, but they are unlikely to be large enough to be meaningful since most dehiscences are diagnosed at surgery or by manual examination after vaginal birth (which ACOG does not recommend), so (it’s assumed) that many (most?) are missed. Opinions on pregnancy or labor after a dehiscence vary by health care provider.

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American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology , 116 (2), 450-463, http://dhmh.maryland.gov/midwives/Documents/ACOG%20VBAC.pdf.

What I told the California Medical Board about home VBAC

california state seal

A little backstory

Back in October, I attended my first Interested Parties Meeting held by the Medical Board of California regarding new midwifery regulations as required by AB1308. (Read more about AB1308 here and here.)  Up for discussion was which conditions or histories among women seeking a home birth with a Licensed Midwife should be required to obtain physician approval.  A prior cesarean was on the list of over 60 conditions or histories and home VBAC was the one subject that generated the most comment and discussion that day.

What does AB1308 mean in terms of home VBAC in California?

There has been a lot of confusion regarding what AB1308 means in terms of home VBAC in California. In an effort to clear things up, Constance Rock-Stillman, LM, CPM, President, California Association of Midwives said this on January 23, 2014:

AB 1308 went into effect on 1/1/14, but there is nothing in the new legislation that says we [CPM/LMs] cannot do VBACs. We can do VBACs. We just need to define in our regulations what preexisting conditions will require physician consultation. [Which is what the October 15 and December 15th Interested Party meetings were about.] Until the new regulations are written we should continue to follow our current regulations and they only require us to provide certain disclosures and informed consent to clients.

Please let the community know that if they want to have a say in whether or not VBACs with Ca LMs require a physician consultation, they should come to the Interested Parties meeting that the medical board will be holding and tell the board how they feel about it. The medical board is a consumer protection agency, so they need to hear what consumers want to be protected from.

We will let you know as soon as the meeting is scheduled.

[Ms. Rock-Stillman responds when questioned by those who have not been involved it the creation of this legislation yet insist this legislation removes the option of home VBAC entirely:]

I’m in my third year as president of the California Association of Midwives, and I’m a practicing licensed midwife. I have been at every Midwifery Advisory Counsel meeting, at the Capitol 30 times last year, I’ve spoken in legislative committee hearings, I’ve sat in weekly meetings with CAM’s legal counsel who worked side-by-side with us on the legislation, I’ve been in Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s boardroom with ACOG and at every one of the public events where Susan Bonilla promised that the LMs would still be able to do VBACs. So I think I qualify as a knowledgeable stakeholder in this issue. Yes, we intentionally left VBAC out of the list of prohibited conditions, so at this point there is no question as to whether or not we can do VBACs. The only part that’s in question is whether or not all VBACs will require physician consultation. Regulations that clarify under what circumstances physician consultation will be required will be written by the California Medical Board.  This is a process that takes time. Maybe even a year or more. The regulations that will be adopted will be based on evidence and input from all the stakeholders. This is why I think it’s so important that midwives and consumers be at the meetings to insure their voices get heard. At the last Interested Parties meeting that the medical board held, I asked what we were suppose to do until the new regulations are written and we were told that we should follow our current regulations and our community standards until new regulations are adopted.

Why I attended

VBAC-relic

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My intention in attending the October 15, 2014 meeting was to amplify the voice of the consumer.  I think sometimes it’s difficult for OBs who attend VBACs, or for those who live in communities where they have access to hospitals that allow VBAC, to understand that not everyone lives in that world.

Some live in a world where if they want a VBAC in a hospital with a supportive midwife or doctor who takes their insurance, that means driving over 50 miles each way for prenatal care and delivery while they literally drive by other facilities that offer labor and delivery, but ban VBAC.  Or it means acquiescing to a unnecessary repeat cesarean whose risks compound with every surgery. Or it means planning an unassisted birth which comes with its own set of risks. This is a tremendous burden.

As VBAC and repeat cesarean both carry risks and benefits, and women are the ones who bear and endure those risks, they should be the ones who choose which mode of delivery is acceptable to them. I celebrate when women have access to supportive hospital-based practitioners.  But the reality is, many women do not enjoy that privilege and yet they still wish to avoid the serious complications that come with each cesarean surgery.

Who else was at the meeting?

Other people in the room included the Senior Staff Counsel of the Medical Board, an OB-GYN representing ACOG, an ACOG lobbyist, Constance Rock-Stillman along with many other CAM representatives and midwives, California Families for Access to Midwives, a few other consumers, and me. Senior Staff Counsel was tasked with writing these regulations and as the meeting progressed, items were reworded or removed from the list.

Below is the five minute presentation I prepared and presented to the Medical Board on October 15, 2014.  As there was a limited time to speak, I sent a follow-up letter to the Medical Board which goes into more depth. I’ll be posting that soon.

My statement

Today I’m speaking on behalf of consumers regarding the importance of out of hospital VBAC. I will be focusing on the impact of requiring women seeking out of hospital VBAC to obtain physician approval. This proves problematic because very few physicians, if any, would be willing to sign off on a home VBAC due to liability concerns. This would effectively cut off the option of a vaginal delivery for many women throughout our state.

I’m Jennifer Kamel, Founder of VBAC Facts, an organization which seeks to close the gap between what best practice guidelines and the evidence says about VBAC vs. repeat cesarean and what people generally believe.

Some people may think reducing access to out of hospital VBAC is not a big deal. But 44% of California hospitals ban VBAC (Barger, 2013) despite the American College of OBGYNs (2010) and the National Institutes of Health’s (2010) assertion that VBAC is a safe, reasonable, and appropriate option for most women.

ACOG (2010) is clear, “Respect for patient autonomy 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.” But this recommendation is simply ignored by many facilities.

Consumers report that many facilities provide incomplete or misleading informed consent, maintain a strict VBAC ban, and ignore ACOG’s comments denouncing forced cesareans.  These facilities led women to believe that a repeat cesarean is their only option.

As a Sacramento area OB-GYN resident recently shared, “There is the routine overplaying of the risks of VBAC, and failure to mention the risks of repeat cesareans, or that ACOG considers VBAC safe and reasonable.”

With the cloud of legal liability hanging over our heads, I wonder about the culpability of the many facilities whose hospital policies mandate repeat cesareans and forbid VBACs yet who are also unprepared to manage the serious consequences of multiple repeat cesarean sections including placenta accreta, cesarean hysterectomies, and hemorrhage. (Heller, 2013)

VBAC is successful about 75% of the time, most women are candidates (ACOG, 2010), about half of women are interested in the option (Declercq E. R., Sakala, Corry, Applebaum, & Herrlick, 2013), and VBAC results in lower maternal morbidity and mortality rates in the current delivery as well as in future deliveries. Yet, VBAC is simply not occurring in many communities throughout the state of California resulting in a 9% VBAC rate statewide. (State of California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, 2013)

According to Barger (2013), a study looking at the prevalence of VBAC bans in California, “Among the 56% [of hospitals that offer trial of labor after cesarean or TOLAC], the median VBAC rate was 10.8% (range 0-37.3%)…According to the nurses surveyed, we found that about half of hospitals with continuous anesthesia coverage did not offer TOLAC, not because of an explicit hospital policy against it, but because physicians were unwilling to stay in the hospital with a woman attempting TOLAC.”  So even in facilities that offered VBAC, attaining one and avoiding surgery can be elusive.

It is within this climate that women choose out-of-hospital VBAC. For many women in the state, VBAC is simply not a viable option at their local facility. Barger (2013) found that “The mean distance from a non-TOLAC to a TOLAC hospital was 37 mi. [as the crow flies] with 25% of non-TOLAC hospitals more than 51 mi. from the closest TOLAC hospital. In 2012, 139 hospitals offered TOLAC, [which was] 16.6% fewer than in 2007.” So the trend is moving towards fewer hospitals offering VBAC.

For some women traveling to a hospital that offers VBAC and accepts their insurance is a huge burden consisting of coordinating work and school schedules, vacation and sick time, and the cost of travel and child care. We do not want to be in a position where state troopers are attending births on the side of the road.

As Dr. Elliott Main (2013), Medical Director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC), has stressed, “In California, we are seeing a lot of hysterectomies, accretas, and significant blood loss due to multiple prior cesareans. Probably the biggest risk of the first cesarean is the repeat cesarean.”

Women should not feel like home VBAC is their only option, but for too many women their choice is limited to home VBAC or repeat cesarean. If a hospital VBAC is not a possibility and the choice of out-of-hospital birth is removed, that essentially forces women into either unwanted and unneeded repeat cesarean surgery, and the increasing risks that come with multiple prior cesareans, or into unassisted home births where they deliver without an midwife or doctor.

In light of the recommendations made by ACOG and the NIH and the realities of increasing maternal morbidity rates in the state of California due to multiple repeat cesarean sections, the objective should be making VBAC more accessible, not less.

Bibliography

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010, August). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(2), 450-463.

Barger, M. K., Dunn, T. J., Bearman, S., DeLain, M., & Gates, E. (2013). A survey of access to trial of labor in California hospitals in 2012. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636061/pdf/1471-2393-13-83.pdf

Declercq, E. R., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., Applebaum, S., & Herrlick, A. (2013). Listening to Mothers III: Pregnancy and Birth. New York: Childbirth Connection. Retrieved from http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10450

Guise, J.-M., Eden, K., Emeis, C., Denman, M., Marshall, N., Fu, R., . . . McDonagh, M. (2010). Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44571/

Heller, D. S. (2013). Placenta accreta and percreta. Surgical Pathology, 6, 181-197.

Main, E. (2013). HQI Regional Quality Leader Network December Meeting. San Diego.

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

State of California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. (2013, December 17). Utilization Rates for Selected Medical Procedures in California Hospitals, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.oshpd.ca.gov/HID/Products/PatDischargeData/ResearchReports/Hospipqualind/vol-util_indicatorsrpt/

Home VBAC threatened for California families

There has been a lot of confusion regarding AB1308, the legislation that went through at the beginning of this year in the state of California. It said that LMs were no longer allowed to attend home births some situations (such as breech, beyond 42 weeks gestation, etc) and other situations required a physician to sign off on the home birth.

It’s these regulations that are currently being written by the Medical Board with input from ACOG, CAM, CFAM, and VBAC Facts. It is under discussion whether a prior cesarean should be included on this list of conditions that would necessitate a physician’s approval in order for the woman to plan a home VBAC.

On October 15, 2014, I flew to Sacramento and attended a Interested Parties Meeting at the California Medical Board.  I spoke on behalf of California women who want home VBAC to remain an option in our state. You can read a summary of that meeting here and listen to a partial recording of the meeting here.

There is going to be another meeting on December 15th from 1-4pm in Sacramento (agenda) and I will be there once again representing consumers.  I will be preparing a short testimony.  If you are a California resident and would like to attend the meeting, please do.  If you can’t, but want your voice to be heard, please email me the following information:

1. Why home VBAC is important to you

2. Your name

3. Your county

More information from the California Association of Midwives and California Families for Access to Midwives

 

VBAC: A husband’s experience and lessons learned

Young Laughing Father and Child Having Piggy Back Fun.

 

“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 engrained 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.

What your doctor didn’t tell you about VBAC

Businessman with adhesive tape on mouth on white background

Last week there was yet another “chasing our tails” debate about VBAC vs. repeat cesarean on yet another VBAC/ birth/ parenting message board on-line.  You’ve seen them.  They usually degenerate into:

“You are selfish for planning a VBAC!”

“Yeah?  Well you are uninformed for planning a repeat cesarean!”

[Insert accusations of martyrdom for planning an unmedicated birth and countless other ugly things that no one would actually say to each other in real life.]

It’s truly boring to read.  And sad.  Why the need for insults and defensiveness?

I am not someone who enjoys “debating” and finds the “education by insult” method to be highly ineffective.  I only came upon this exchange because it was on Facebook and someone tagged me as a resource.  I’m usually putting my efforts into getting information to women who actually want it, not parachuting in to convince women of anything because people don’t generally respond well as we see here:

However, as I read the comments on this long, angry, and misinformed thread, I thought “No wonder we have a 92% repeat cesarean rate! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says most women are candidates for VBAC, most VBACs are successful, and women should be offered the option yet women remain woefully uninformed about their options. And then they go on-line with the ‘my doctor said VBAC was dangerous, risky, selfish, etc’ and other women read that and many believe it simply because a doctor said it.”

I felt compelled to respond.  See, my goal is to bridge the gap between what major medical organizations recommend and what your average person believes and the best way to do that is to share the facts with the people who are actually spreading the myths.  Will it change anything for the women who contributed to that thread?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But if we all share this article whenever we see these ridiculous debates come virtual brawls, perhaps someone will click a link and realize that much of what they believe about post-cesarean birth options is incorrect.  And that we should all release the judgement about other women’s birth choices.  “It’s not my birth.”

______________________

It’s interesting the debate taking place here.

Strangely, there were no debates like this at the 2010 National Institutes of Health (NIH) VBAC Conference mostly because the room was filled with medical providers and researchers who knew the facts. (Well, them and a few non-medical professionals like me.) Here are two quotes from the conference:

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

In terms of VBAC, ‘your risk is really, really quite low.’ – George Macones MD, MSCE

Both Drs. Macones and Lyndon-Rochelle are medical professionals and researchers. 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 all about the marketing of risk, non-medical factors that inhibit access to VBAC, and, as a result, women who often do not receive the whole truth when evaluating their post-cesarean birth options.

This isn’t about convincing anyone that VBAC is safer than repeat cesareans or vice versa.  It’s about acknowledging that there really are risks and benefits to each mode of delivery and one can only make the best decision for herself by understanding these facts.

As ACOG says, two women can look at the same data and make two different decisions. It’s not that one woman is right and the other is wrong.  But women are making the best decisions for themselves.  So with that framework, why the need to be 1. defensive about the choice you made and 2. attack other women who made different choices?

What mainstream, respected medical organizations say

Guise (2010), the basis of the NIH VBAC Conference, performed a review of post-cesarean medical research to date and concluded,

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 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 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.

This is a complex topic which cannot be sufficiently covered in a Facebook thread. Some doctors are absolutely misinformed about the actual risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean.  Other doctors may try to influence a woman to have a repeat cesarean due to factors that have nothing to do with an individual woman’s medical history. The NIH addressed barriers to VBAC during their Final VBAC Statement when they said:

We are concerned about the barriers that women face in gaining access to clinicians and facilities that are able and willing to offer trial of labor…. We recommend that hospitals, maternity care providers, health care and professional liability insurers, consumers, and policymakers collaborate on the development of integrated services that could mitigate or even eliminate current barriers to trial of labor.

The NIH isn’t recommending more women have access to VBAC because they are a crunchy, granola organization who concerns themselves with birth experiences. They are looking at the data.

Here are some great resources:

But what are women actually told about their post-cesarean birth options?

I’m really curious.  If your OB recommends repeat cesareans across the board or “doesn’t do VBAC,” did they actually share with you any of the resources above? Because the mainstream, respected organizations of ACOG and the NIH use words like…

“safe”

“reasonable”

“appropriate”

.. to describe VBAC.  Did any of your doctors use these terms?

To be clear, if you want an elective repeat cesarean, it doesn’t make a difference to me. But if you are “choosing” it based on a misrepresentation of the facts, that makes me really frustrated because every woman is entitled to accurate information and no one should be coerced into a medical decision.

How many of your OBs actually counseled you on the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean?  Or did you just hear the risks of VBAC?

How many of you were informed of the increasing risks that come with each cesarean?

The risks of placenta accreta [which has a maternal mortality of 7% and hysterectomy risk of 71%], cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral injury [damage to the ureters – the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder in which urine flows – is one of the most serious complications of gynecologic surgery], and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity which can lead to bowel (intestinal) obstructions], the need for postoperative ventilation [this means mom can’t breathe on her own after the surgery], intensive care unit admission [mom is having major complications], hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units [mom hemorrhaged], and the duration of operative time [primarily due to adhesions] and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries (Silver, 2006).

Read more about the serious complications that come with repeat cesareans, which are often not mentioned, and why cesareans are a big deal.

How many of you were informed that placental abnormalities (such as previa, accreta, increta, and percreta) make future pregnancies more dangerous for you and baby regardless if you plan a VBAC or another cesarean?  And each cesarean increases the risk to you and your future children (Silver 2006)? Read more about placental abnormalities.

How many of you were informed that your risk of placenta accreta after two cesareans (0.57%) is similar to your risk of uterine rupture in your first VBAC (0.4% in a non-induced/augmented TOLAC after one prior low transverse cesarean) (Silver, 2006; Landon, 2004)?  So essentially, you are just exchanging the risk of uterine rupture for the risk of accreta?

Did they tell you that placenta accreta has a maternal mortality rate of up to 7% and an over 70% hysterectomy rate?  Read more from ACOG’s Committee Opinion on Accreta.

How many of you were informed that your risk of uterine rupture after one low transverse cesarean is similar to the risk of placental abruption, cord prolapse, or shoulder dystocia during your first pregnancy?  And yet, did anyone offer you a cesarean during your first pregnancy to avoid these uncommon, though very serious, complications? Were you warned at every prenatal about the risk of cord prolapse and urged to reconsider your desire to have a vaginal birth?  You likely weren’t, yet the risk of uterine rupture is marketed very differently to moms pregnant after a cesarean and it’s effective too because women are terrified of uterine rupture while the risks and realities of placenta accreta remain foreign to them. (Read more here.)

Did they inform you that the risk of infant death within 28 days of delivery in a VBAC is similar to a first time mom (Smith, 2002)?

When informed consent isn’t

The point is, when care providers use words like dangerous, risky, and selfish, or say things like “if you were my daughter/wife, I wouldn’t recommend a VBAC,” they have already made the decision for you.  What woman is going to question her OB unless she already knew these facts?  Unless she understood the bigger picture and realized that she was receiving misinformation?

This is how we got to a place where, per the American College of OBGYNs, most women are VBAC candidates and most VBACs are successful and yet, do you know the American VBAC rate?  It is 8.2%.  Yes.  So, 92% of women with a prior cesarean have a repeat cesarean.  And a lot of this is due to of VBAC bans.  And another huge chunk is because when people are confused about their options, they are ripe picking for manipulation.

Most women don’t know about ACOG and the NIH.  Most don’t know where to get good information and so they rely on their OB. Which we should be able to do!

But, there are OBs who, for a variety of non-medical reasons, do not support VBAC. Rather than boring you with their non-medical reasons (like cesarean deliveries are quicker than vaginal, they can ensure that they will attend the birth – not their partner – which means they will get paid for that birth, they can enjoy a better work/life balance because they aren’t called at 2am to deliver your baby, etc, etc, etc) they just tell you that it’s dangerous.

Or that your medical insurance doesn’t cover VBAC.

Or that VBAC is illegal.

Or that most VBACs fail.

Or that 10% of moms and babies die during a VBAC.

Or that no research exists about VBAC because all women have repeat cesareans.

Or that cesareans have no complications other than those associated with surgery.

Or some other lie that will result in just enough fear for you to schedule a cesarean.

[SIDE NOTE: When I talk about OBs who lie, I really don’t need the person piping up with the “not all OBs are bad” reply. I know many wonderful, ethical doctors, but I think we can all agree that when any care provider uses lies in the course of their interaction with patients, we can safely say that these care providers are not one of the good ones. Agreed? Ok, let’s move on…]

Since we trust our OBs, we believe them, and we don’t ask about VBAC guidelines!  Shoot, most moms don’t know that there are VBAC guidelines!  And so, we sign up for our cesareans, and subscribe to the idea that VBAC is dangerous and then share that lie online with whoever we can.  And this contributes to the conventional wisdom that VBAC is a reckless decision that only selfish women make… and the cycle continues.

So if Facebook isn’t a good source of information, where should I go?

Please, look at what ACOG says.  Look at the NIH.  Look at the evidence.  Both VBAC and repeat cesarean have real risks and real benefits.  Only you can make this decision when you actually know the facts.  Perhaps you do know the facts and made an informed decision to have a cesarean – GREAT!  But many of the statements in this thread are not factual and that is disconcerting considering the level of passion displayed about who is “right” and who is “wrong.”

I’ve already done the legwork.  I teach a 6 hour class entitled “The Truth About VBAC: History, Politics, & Stats.”  I’m a Continuing Education Provider for the California Board of Registered Nursing.  I’m not some crazy VBAC advocate who thinks everyone should have a VBAC.  I am simply someone who believes everyone is entitled to the facts and I’m so tired of the lies that women are fed from who should be trusted medical professionals.

For what it’s worth, ACOG says expecting a big baby, going overdue, having twins, or having an unknown or low vertical scar should not prohibit a woman from planning a VBAC. ACOG also does not recommend a specific time frame from cesarean to subsequent pregnancy/delivery nor do they recommend a specific suture type.

And of course this entire post is referring to scheduled, elective cesareans, not surgeries that occur due to a complication. When we talk about medically indicated cesareans, those are performed due to complete placenta previa, transverse lie, infection, preeclampsia/ eclampsia, fetal demise, etc.

Or if you just don’t want a vaginal birth and would prefer a cesarean. That’s your choice too!

But choosing an elective cesarean based on the facts is very different than scheduling one because your OB claims your risk of uterine rupture is 60% after one low transverse cesarean.  Because that is just not true. If we could just get to a place where women could feel free to make the best decision for themselves based on the evidence and didn’t feel so darn defensive about that decision, we would make a huge step forward.  Please, join me in a world where we check our judgment at the door and just work to share good information and realize that not everyone makes the same decision.  And that’s ok.

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For more information on the sources cited, please review my bibliography.

howwereversedvbacban

Write for VBAC Facts: Hospital VBAC Ban Reversals

how we reversed our vbac ban image

I’m so excited to announce a new series on VBAC ban reversals. My objective with this series is to show that hospitals do reverse their bans and to give other hospitals with existing bans a blueprint for how they can do the same.

So, if you work for a hospital that has reversed their VBAC ban and you would like to share your experience with other hospitals via vbacfacts.com, please contact me. Submissions can be anonymous and do not need to provide the hospital’s name.

Don’t know where to start? Use these questions as a starting point:

– Why was the ban initially put in place?
– Was it a formal or de facto ban?
– How long was the ban enforced?
– How did the following groups respond to the institution of the VBAC ban?
a) care providers at your hospital
b) other care providers in the community
c) other hospital administrators in the area
d) the community (women, families, etc.)
– Why did your hospital reverse the ban?
– What influence did the following have on this process:
a) anesthesia protocols/policies
b) 2010 ACOG VBAC Practice Bulletin
c) 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and resulting Final Statement
d) hospital’s malpractice insurance provider
e) community groups
– What did your hospital do, if anything, to prepare staff and care providers, from the top down, for the ban reversal?
– How quickly was the VBAC ban reversal implemented?
– How did the following groups respond to the reversal?
a) care providers at your hospital
b) other care providers in the community
c) other hospital administrators in the area
d) the community (women, families, etc.)
– What tips would you give to other hospitals who are considering reversing their bans?
– What do you wish you knew at the start of the process that you know now?

Any additional information that you can think of that would help another hospital through this transition would be welcome.

Readers, Do you have any ideas on additional questions to ask? What would you want to know about this process?

Here’s one hospital’s story:

Our hospital blamed it [the VBAC ban] on the liability insurance company. They would not cover the hospital for bad outcomes due to VBAC without in house anesthesia. We were able to get around it by only requiring anesthesia and OB in house during active labor which is now 6 cms. That made all the difference in the world. The average amount of time in house for anesthesia for the last year had been about 4 hours. We cannot use pitocin in our protocol and as a result try to avoid epidural and women who deliver usually do so quickly. Our success rate has been over 80% among those wanting to try. We encourage almost everyone with one previous cs to try. Not perfect but better than the 10 year ban we had!!!

OB front office staff doesn’t know what a VBAC is

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*.”