Cesarean Awareness Month 2011

© Amy Swagman, 2010 -www.themandalajourney.com

© Amy Swagman, 2010 -www.themandalajourney.com

So another year has passed, and I’m back to wondering where we are with our cesarean awareness ‘campain.’  I’m somewhat ‘skirting’ the loop (not really inside or outside of it, just around), so I’m not your most up to date source.  For truly outstanding resources related to cesarean awareness, read Unnecessarean and VBAC facts for starters!

A couple of things that have my attention lately:

  • Our national cesarean rate is staggering, and some predict that by 2020, 1/2 of our births will be done by cesarean.  We must be vigilant!
  • Montana needs a Friends of Montana Midwives group
  • Montana’s cesarean rate is 29% just below the national average.  However, some counties in MT have super high cesarean rates.  Why is that? (Carter County had a 65.4% c/s rate 2005-08 according to the March of Dimes!!!!)
  • Birth activist are working so hard – it’s just awesome!  Thank you to all who are gettin’ it done!!
  • According to Childbirth Connection, “A high-quality, high-value maternity care system is within reach, and childbearing women are the most important stakeholders to drive system change.”  Have a look and see what you can do!
  • Also, through Childbirth Connection, I’ve learned about relevant legislation that has been introduced.  This legislation needs our support!!
  • ICAN is getting ready for the 2011 conference – wish I could be there . . .

Because I’m pregnant I’m in a great position to find out even more about what is being done locally and what still needs work.  I have found – contrary to what my OB told me – that a few OBs will consider VBA2C on a case by case basis.  I have discovered that our only independent birth center, run by a fantastic CNM, does VBACs (even primary!) but not VBAmC.  I have lots of friends who are pregnant these days and have learned a lot about local practices.

Because I’m pregnant with #4 and work a full time job (one that often has me out of town on weekends in the Spring and has me out at night), I haven’t had the time & energy to get more aggressive.  This too shall change, and when it does – LOOK OUT!  ;)

In the meantime . . . what can you do?

Positive Thoughts On the Cesarean Section

One of my ICAN friends posted this on Facebook today:

BirthCut Calling all C/S mothers! I am looking for positive cesarean birth stories! I am also looking for any tips about the actual surgery and/or recovery you may have for cesarean mothers. And, well, anything else you may have — art, videos, etc etc. Thanks!

Interesting thought.  Do I have anything positive to say about my cesareans?  Actually, I think I do:

DECEMBER 2004

I was exhausted from the flu – vomiting and pooping everywhere.  The illness forced my body into labor before we were ready.  Although I arrived at the hospital at 9cm dilated, my baby quickly got stuck.  I don’t know if I could have pushed her out.  I was so utterly exhausted.  I pushed with everything I had and it still wasn’t enough.  By the time I had the cesarean I was incredibly thankful for the “convenience” of modern medicine.

I did recover quickly physically.  I don’t recall feeling poorly for long.  And I still felt like superwoman . . . for a while, anyway.

AUGUST 2009

Pregnant with twins which meant that I was “risked out” of homebirth and birth center birth.  By 37 weeks both twins were breech.  When my Baby A broke her water in the middle of the night, I knew she did it with her feet.  I was so disappointed because the LAST THING I WANTED was to go through major abdominal surgery again.  I had learned so much about my body . . . I learned that my miscarriages were likely influenced by the presence of adenomyosis (caused by the first cesarean in 2004) . . . I knew that if I were to get pregnant again that a VBAC after 2 cesareans would be nearly impossible unless I wanted to try it alone . . . I know that these abdominal surgeries are risky in my line of work (I’m an opera singer).

I had considered bucking the system since breech is a variation of normal, depending on who you ask.  I thank God for guiding me elsewhere, because my precious Baby A would not have likely survived a vaginal birth.  She was entangled in her cord, and the cord was wrapped around her legs.  Both girls presented double footling breech.

Although I am still in pain 5 months later, and have yet another scar, and have yet another saggy somewhat sensation-less flap of skin above my scar, and have found my singing to be anything but stellar due to my weakened core, I am thankful that a cesarean was available to me.

I don’t recommend a cesarean unless it is really REALLY necessary . . . sad that probably half of the cesareans that are performed in the United States are likely not necessary.  A cesarean is considered a morbidity because of its seriousness – it’s a MAJOR abdominal surgery.  However, there are situations where a cesarean may be prudent or necessary.  When the technology is used appropriately, it is indeed a blessing.  To learn more about c-sections, visit Childbirth Connection and ICAN.

Heads Up On Infant Mortality

A Notice from the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC)

ICTC is observing September’s Infant Mortality Awareness Month; JOIN ICTC IN THE “HEADS UP” ON INFANT MORTALITY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN” AND KNIT AND CROCHET HATS TO REFLECT THE INFANT MORTALITY RATE FOR VA, OR, FL, PA, CA, NM AND D.C.

Healthy Babies Are Everyone’s Business and I know that you care.

In 2008, over 27, 600 infant died before age one, most of the deaths were preventable. Monroe, president and founder of ICTC said, “factors that contribute to the higher rates of infant deaths include: premature births, low-birth weight, poverty, mis-education about proper food choices, poor pre-conception health, late prenatal care (beginning prenatal care late in the 2nd trimester,) less than 5 prenatal visits, high blood pressure (causing restricted blood flow to the placenta) and hypertension formally referred to as pre-eclampsia, SIDS, failure to thrive syndrome and accidents”.

booker1[In Montana, 70 babies die before the age of one.]

ICTC is asking every able body to join us in knitting or crocheting at least ten infant hats and sending them to the ICTC State Representative in your state by September 15th. The ICTC State Representatives are listed on WWW.ICTCMIDWIVES.ORG, or you can send them to the national at ICTC PO Box 11923, Portland, OR 97211.

The hats will be displayed at an infant mortality awareness rally in the week of September 26th. At the end of the public awareness project the hats will be given to infants as “Going Home” gifts when they leave the local NICU units. What a comforting gift to an ill baby and support to worried parents. By participating in the “Heads Up” Campaign, we can increase awareness about the causes of infant mortality and then create the solutions to reduce infant deaths.

The International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) is an international organization established in 1991, and head quartered in Portland, Oregon. It is an infant mortality prevention, breastfeeding promotion and midwife training organization. The mission is to increase the number black midwives, doulas, and healers, to empower families, in order to reduce maternal and infant mortality. ICTC educates on the causes of infant mortality and provides solutions through education, direct services and training midwives and Full Circle Doula Birth Companion Training.

This campaign is being co-sponsored by Birthing Hands of DC and other supporters.

To learn more visit http://www.ICTCMIDWIVES.ORG or call 503.460.9324

I didn’t actually find more info about this via the ICTC website.  However, Birthing Hands of DC has info on their site as well as links to easier patterns that you can knit and crochet, even a 10-minute preemie hat.

And I know that you have 10 minutes to make a hat for this wonderful cause!!!

Hospital VBAC: The Don’t Forget List

[NB: Most of what I’ve written below applies specifically to the hospital venue.]

We all know the books to read when preparing for a VBAC or the videos that will help us gain confidence in our ability to give birth vaginally.  We all know to pack our hospital bags, including our mental focus recordings, and bring a copy of our birth plans.  We all know that we need a doula with us, one who is experienced supporting VBACing women. 

Many of us even know that we need to talk powerfully about our upcoming VBACs.  “I’m trying for a VBAC” is not nearly strong enough.  Replace that with “I’m planning a VBAC.”  Did you birth the first time with “I’m gonna try to give birth vaginally” going through your brains?  Probably not.  I myself never doubted my ability to give birth naturally.

Anyway, I digress.  In addition to constructing a clear but concise birth plan, you need to also do the following:

  1. obtain a copy of the hospital’s VBAC consent form; review it and make changes as you see fit; give a copy to your care provider and bring a copy with you to the hospital
  2. obtain a copy of the hospital’s cesarean consent form; review it and make changes as you see fit; give a copy to your care provider and bring a copy with you to the hospital.  My hospital doesn’t have a cesarean consent form.  They have you sign their generic “invasive procedure” form which I find unacceptable.
  3. discuss the modifications you’ve made to the above forms with your care provider(s)
  4. especially if you’re NOT married, make sure your will is in order
  5. make sure you bring a medical power of attorney in case medical decisions need to be made and you are incapacitated

Bruce Flamm’s VBAC consent form appears everywhere on the internet.  I personally didn’t find it sufficient, but it is a place to start.  Here’s a great post - an actual cesarean consent form with some added commentary from the blogger.  I’ve taken this form and modified it so that (1) consent is not given for elective cesarean; (2) consent is withheld until the situation would arise for an emergent cesarean; (3) my husband is named as having power of attorney in the case of an emergency where I was unable to make my wishes known.  I also added some things that were missed on the form.

Please ask questions or offer your own suggestions!

Undue Burden and Access to Evidence-Based Maternity Care

I’ve been reading Jennifer Block’s Pushed and really enjoying what a journalist can bring to childbirth advocacy.  I’ve learned many new things – what a nice surprise.  It’s not that I’ve learned everything there is to know about childbirth, but I think I got “stuck” in reading books that basically said the same thing but in different ways.

A new term for me is “undue burden.”  Wikipedia’s definition falls short, in my opinion, but between Block’s discussion of it and other internet sources, I’ve come to understand it better (at least from a layperson’s perspective) and how it might apply to a LOT of women in the childbearing years.

I’ve learned that undue burden has been applied to reproductive rights issues, specifically abortion.  However, I don’t think we advocates have worked this “angle” enough in terms of childbirth choices.  Abortion rights activists have advocated for “morally agnostic undue burden standard[s]” [1]  Likewise, I would call for an “agnostic” undue burden standard applied to childbirth.

The undue burden standard is utilized in American constitutional law and historically has been applied in such areas as abortion rights, affirmative action, tax laws, and more.  The Supreme Court applied this concept to abortion, ruling that a state can’t put up so many obstacles to abortion procedures that a woman’s individual rights are violated.  [2] An undue burden is created when obstacles are severe and/or not justified.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  I feel like I am a victim of undue burden.  I have no reason to believe that I can’t successfully birth my twins naturally.  But the state has deemed that my preference of birth venue is not valid – women with breech babies or multiples are not allowed to birth at home with a licensed midwife.  My choices are to (1) birth unassisted at home, (2) go to the hospital against my will, or (3) enlist the services of an illegal midwife.  Additionally, the only services that would be covered by my insurance are hospital services.

In most states women with breech babies have no choice but to go to the hospital for a cesarean section even though breech presentation has traditionally been referred to as a version of normal.  We’ve lost access to vaginal breech birth.

In most locations women with multiples are pressured to succumb to cesarean surgery.  A number of folks have voiced their concern for my choice to birth these babies vaginally.  They simply don’t know any better.  Luckily I have found an obstetrician who is not afraid of normal birth.  However, I realize now that he may not be there for me when it comes time to go to the hospital.  He takes a week of vacation each month of the summer and is out of town twice next month, my birth month.  I found this out accidentally from his reception staff.

It is possible that I will show up at the hospital and some OB whom I’ve never met will show up and start pressuring me into surgery or ignore (or at least be unaware) of my birth preferences.  So because the state has deemed that twins should not be birthed at home, and because my insurance company won’t cover home birth anyway, I can either “choose” to go to a hospital that doesn’t practice evidence-based obstetrics or go eff myself, I guess.

Isn’t this an example of undue burden?  Lack of access to the care of my choice?  Paying for health care that doesn’t support evidence-based maternity care and forces me to go to a specific hospital in my town with a high cesarean rate and low VBAC rate?  Unjustifiably restricting scope of practice for midwives?  Not offering alternatives/access to the type of care I require?

I don’t want to be a patient.  I don’t see any need to expose myself or my newborns to the hospital environment.  Even my 4 year old doesn’t understand why I would go to the hospital to have babies.  “Mommy, are you sick?”

Don’t get me wrong, if I or the twins needed emergency medical services, you bet we’d go to the hospital.  I’m thankful to have access to obstetrics when necessary, but I resent being forced to utilize services that go against common sense, research, and are expensive and wasteful as applied to the great majority of laboring women.

I hope natural birth advocates, women’s studies researchers and writers, and lawyers will work together to expand application of the undue burden standard to the women who don’t have access to ethical, evidence-based care in childbirth, and are forced instead to incur great expenses to access the care they desire, to hire “illegal” or “under the radar” practitioners, to utilize unwanted services and support the over-payment of those services, or to go at it alone.

Please, give me back my right to birth.  Give me back my body.

1 – “Destacking the cards…,” Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, accessed 7/18/09.
2 – Jennifer Block.  Pushed. p.262.

April is Cesarean Awareness Month

For those of you who do not know, April is Cesarean Awareness Month. Did you know that our national cesarean rate continues to increase every year? Over 31% of births take place surgically via cesarean section. Consumer Reports has named cesarean surgery one of the top overused procedures in the United States. Even though the US tends to deal with pregnancy and childbirth from a medical perspective, our country’s maternal/fetal outcomes are among the WORST in the industrialized world. I hope you will take some time this month to learn about cesarean surgery, why women in your communities may not consider cesarean-born babies to have been birthed, why women are having more trouble post-cesarean with becoming or staying pregnant, why women may have less access to birthing options following a cesarean, and why women should be searching for less medically-interventive options for pregnancy and childbirth. Talk to people in your community about preventing unnecessary cesareans (keeping in mind that cesareans are appropriate for some emergent situations and in case of emergency), midwifery care (nurse-midwifery and professional midwifery), birth venue choices, and how to help someone recover from a cesarean. For more information on Cesarean Awareness Month, visit http://www.ican-online.org and also search for a local chapter. Together we can make a difference, one birth at a time.

Natural Breech Birth Deserves Our Support!

A friend posted a link to the Coalition for Breech Birth on her gmail status. I’m so thankful to know about this resource now.  The following quote applies to all low-risk mothers (regardless of fetal presentation or previous cesarean):

“However, caesarean surgery, while it presents many advantages for the surgeon, has lifelong ramifications for the birthing woman and her family, including issues with subsequent pregnancies, secondary infertility, vbac availability, and depression, not to mention a risk of death in childbirth increased threefold over vaginal birth. Women should not be obliged to accept these serious risks as ‘standard of care’. . .”

Please have a look at this site which provides links to the original report that caused breech birth to fall off the natural birth map and the subsequent research that DISPROVED the report authored in 2000 that continues to govern obstetrics & midwifery access and practice to this day.