Category Archives: Informed consent

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

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

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Jen,

First thank you for your site!

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

Quoting from your site quoting the ACOG bulletin:

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

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

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Hi Thia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,

Jen

Options when threatened with a “forced” cesarean

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

A Little Background

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

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

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

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

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women becomes involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom goes into labor

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

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

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

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

As the doula said of the mom,

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

In the mom’s own words:

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

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

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

Follow Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Jen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

definition decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Portraying OBs as the bad guys?

Miriam left this comment in response to the article entitled, Hospital VBAC turned CS due to constant scare tactics:

Many of the stories on this website point to the ob/gyns as the bad guys.  While I believe there may be some doctors that use tactics and lies, it is overlooked that the doctors are just as misinformed and scared as the patients!

I would like to add a little clarity based on my experience as a patient who has had 2 c-sections.  I had a section 5 years ago due to “failure to progress”.  (5 minutes after the consent, while the doctor was prepping for surgery, my body signaled the progress I had been “failing” to reach with the most incredible urge to push.  However, I thought he knew best and stupidly agreed to continue with the c section.)  I have regretted it ever since.   However, I believe that the doctor truly was concerned and I trusted it, despite the fact that I personally believe I could have delivered vaginally.

The reason I believe some doctors’ concerns are sincere if not valid is because of the education, both formal and informal, they have received.  My ob/gyn was a specialist in many fields of womens’s medicine and so I trusted that.  Little did I know I was signing on an expert in surgery.   A doctor’s entire training revolves around how to interfere with something very natural… childbirth.  They are taught about evey possible bad case scenario, so they are prepared, so they are trained in intervention.

Then they go into the field and begin to learn the hospital and insurance policies that insist the doctor use these scare tactics becase they have been bitten so badly financially by unsatisfied women who sue them into making this policies in the first place.   The problem is the high costs associated with lawsuits and therefore, the rest of the vbacs suffer.  In my case, I was not ever “allowed” a second c-section because the hospital had lost a single lawsuit against a woman who hemmoraged during her vbac.  It was my “bad guy” doctor that has to pay the high cost of mal-practice to the point that, combined with the overhead of his office, he had to deliver 150 before he began to make any money.  So out of fear he falls back on his training which tells him that women need help to get a baby into the world.

Instead of blame (another product of fear) we should look to ourselves and educate each other about how to accept disappointment and best of all, how to avoid it by educating ourselves.  We can have more confidence for it’s own sake instead of walking into birth/labor with the attitude of going to war with our practitioners.

Miriam,

I agree with a lot of what you said.   I share these stories for a multitude of reasons, none of which include the desire to portray OBs as “bad guys.”

I want women to understand that there are OBs who practice in this manner.  I want to share with women the various tactics that these type of OBs use in order to passively, or actively, encourage a woman to have a repeat cesarean.  I want women to know that if they encounter these tactics from their OB that they have options.  They can find another care provider that supports VBAC.  There are absolutely wonderful OBs out there.  I had the opportunity to hear many speak at the NIH VBAC Conference this past March.

You said, “Instead of blame (another product of fear) we should look to ourselves and educate each other.”  I agree.  Yet there are many women who say, “Why do I need to educate myself?  I didn’t go to medical school.  That is why I hire my OB.  To advise me.” Being an informed patient is important regardless.

It’s not until they read a birth story like this do they see how wildly the “standard of care” can vary depending on who you hire as your care provider.  That is why I share stories like this.  To illustrate how bad the care can be to encourage women to become active participants in their care rather than passive patients along for the ride.

You talk about OBs being “misinformed and scared.”  You stated, “Then they go into the field and begin to learn the hospital and insurance policies that insist the doctor use these scare tactics because they have been bitten so badly financially by unsatisfied women who sue them into making this policies in the first place.”

OBs who have been sued over VBACs have a higher propensity to not attend VBACs in the future, but is it ethical for a doctor to encourage a women to have a repeat cesarean solely because they have been sued?

I think the most ethical thing an OB can do is be honest with the patient about their fears and refer them to a care provider who is supportive of VBAC.  Unfortunately, what some of these OBs do is either lie to the patient about the risks of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean (read Another VBAC Consult Misinforms and Scare Tactics vs. Informed Consent for more) or act like they will give the patient a trial of labor only to pull the plug with some bogus reason in the last weeks of pregnancy or even in labor.

If an OB doesn’t want to attend VBACs, they should be upfront with the patient so they have the opportunity to find a provider who is supportive.

Warmly,

Jen

Another VBAC consult misinforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The emotional fallout of the appointment:

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

But it’s not just Brooke.

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

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

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

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

Learn more about finding a supportive care provider:

______________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear VBAC Supportive OB/GYN,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, this is how I responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should your referral facility be offering VBAC?

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

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

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

Slide 103

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,

Jen

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

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

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

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

Don’t hospitals ban VBAC because it is dangerous?

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

What role does malpractice insurance play in VBAC availability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do VBAC bans impact hospital revenues?

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

How do VBAC bans impact women seeking VBAC?

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

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

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