When doctors don’t support women’s choices

As you can tell, I am back to reading my google alerts.  I came across a post titled “Cesarean vs. VBAC – Birthing Story” and decided to read it.  It seems to me that this is the very type of woman who needs the support and resources that ICAN, CIMS, Childbirth Connection, Conscious Woman, and the like provide.  Women are understandable very protective of their birth stories, so I didn’t post a comment.  However, she may come across my post if she tracks her pings.

I’d like to address specific details of her story.

  1. “I was instructed to read through the risks of VBAC and give in my consent in writing…. this during my first visit to the doctor.” She wisely decided to wait to “consent” to the mode of delivery.  Understandably she had concerns and questions due to the manner in which the information was presented to her in her first visit.  Furthermore, she states that her doctor never seemed to discuss the benefits of normal birth.
  2. “No mommy would want to carry a healthy baby for 9 months only to risk the baby’s health during delivery.”  Absolutely!  And natural birth advocates believe that every woman deserves the right to weigh the risks and benefits of cesarean versus normal birth for herself.  OBs are not upfront about the risks to both baby and mother from cesarean delivery much less the harm that occurs once mom and baby are home.  Doctors suggest procedures and tests that have not been proven to aid the birth process yet may have a negative impact on normal birth.  These include continual fetal monitoring, artificial rupture of membranes, induction, vaginal exams, IV, episiotomy, and the list continues.  These interventions usually only benefit the doctors and nurses.  And did you know that amniocentesis carries a substantial risk for pregnancy loss?
  3. “My mid-wife advised me to wait till the 35th week before I made any decision. But the doctor would not wait till such time. Even before I gave my written consent on my preference I got a call from doctor’s office about scheduling my C-section for the 13th May. (my due date was 26th May).  This irritated me to great levels. While one of the major benefits I was going to get by opting for C-section was a date of my choice, the doctor had deprived me of the same by just giving me one option.”  OBs suggest that it is safer to perform a cesarean before Mom goes into labor.  However, scheduling a cesarean 2 weeks before a due date is risky.  It is sad that this OB was intent on taking this woman’s last “choice” away from her.
  4. “Besides, I knew that I was making good progress and could go in for VBAC.”  Women should trust their instincts about birth and surround themselves with people who support their needs and desires.
  5. “During my 40th week appointment, the doctor examined me and said that I had made no progress at all since 37th week. The baby’s position and the cervix measured the same. She also scared me that the baby was big and it could be a very hard delivery for me.”  The next day at the hospital she began labor on her own. 
  6. “The nurses who were monitoring me repeatedly started asking me if I really wanted to go in for C-section which was scheduled at 11:30am.”  Hooray for her nurses!!  It seems like they wanted to encourage her to have a normal birth!
  7. “I got a call from the doctor immediately … I must say it almost sounded like a threatening call. She said if I didn’t go for C-sec at the decided time, she was not going to be available for the entire week and that some random doctor from the hospital.”  Yes, that was a scare tactic.
  8. Her “big” baby weighed just over 7 pounds.

The reason I’ve quoted and listed these points from her story is that this story is all too common.  When are we going to stop this abuse, this subversion, this last form of modern sexism?

Choosing cesarean limits future choices

I was irritated to discover that Time magazine published an article entitled “Choosy Mothers Choose Cesareans” in their special Environmental Issue. Since cesarean surgery is an over-used procedure[1], it is quite inappropriate for this type of article to appear along-side articles dealing with the Presidential candidates’ climate change positions and how the US can be more green.  Needlessly consuming medical services is anything but green, and Time magazine should take responsibility for its poor choice in content.

According to the article, more women are choosing cesareans, a trend doctors expect will continue.  I do not know nor have heard of anyone actually choosing a cesarean, save the stories I read or hear about through the media.  I believe that the media is creating this belief that women choose cesareans, and that this is a trend we should expect to see continue.  But perhaps it is true that women are choosing major surgery for reasons cited, such as (1) fear of ripping/tearing the perineum, (2) fear of incontinence, (3) fear of pain, (4) fear of birth, (5) or fear of having a stretched-out vagina.  Time‘s article feeds into the misperceptions of birth generated by Hollywood blogs and reality shows like A Baby Story.

Fear of ripping/tearing:  from what I have learned over the years, women rarely rip or tear during childbirth if they push following their body’s signs, are given appropriate time to labor and birth their babies, and/or have the perineum massaged or supported during pushing.  Episiotomies can cause more damage to the perineum, vagina, and anus than a natural tear anyway.  I wonder if this fear stems from botched episiotomies?

Fear of incontinence: cesarean delivery does not prevent incontinence.  Sorry!

Fear of pain: I wonder why so many women are taught to fear the pain of childbirth.  Granted labor was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but I think my exercise habits and outdoor enthusiasm (road biking, hiking, backpacking, running) had prepared me for childbirth.  I don’t look back on my labor and regret the pain – I regret the fact that a cesarean became necessary.  Anyone who has done a little bit of study on the purpose of pain in childbirth can tell you that it is actually beneficial – it can indicate problems that need attention as well as provide important feedback to the mother and her careproviders regarding her progress.

Fear of birth: there actually is a term for women who have a fear (phobia) of childbirth – lockiophobia.  If a woman is not phobic, then she should work with a psychologist or psychotherapist to determine the root causes of her fear and overcome those.  Pregnancy can bring up psychological pains of the past, but they are not avoided through cesarean surgery.

Fear of a stretched-out vagina: do I really need to address this?

The title of my post suggests that cesareans will limit future choices.  This is true – women who have had a cesarean are at risk of being pressured into repeating surgery for future births, have a slightly more elevated risk of uterine rupture and other poor birth outcomes, are unable to have normal birth at most birth centers [2], may not be able to have a normal birth at their local hospitals [3], will be pressured to comply with hospital protocols that may lead to interventive birth outcomes for future births, may have difficulty finding providers who will support their choices in future births to name a few limitations.

Other things you may not know about cesarean aftermath [4]

  1. Risk of post-partum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
  2. Negative impact on breastfeeding, bonding, and other key mammalian birth-related processes
  3. Stillbirth, miscarriage, infertility
  4. Pain, adhesions, slow recover, unsightly scaring
  5. Negative impact on relationships with other family members, particularly partners/spouses
  6. Rejection of birth – some women choose to never have another baby because they don’t want to go through surgery again; some women don’t feel like they gave birth; some women equate cesarean birth with “birth rape

Thankfully I have come to learn about the viability and appropriateness of vaginal birth after cesarean.  I was encouraged to subscribe to the ICAN Yahoo list where I learned much of what I know now about birth that I didn’t know before my daughter was born.  I know the dangers of choosing cesarean for the first, second, or fifth time.  I have experienced stress, depression, and other tangible and intangible outcomes related to cesarean surgery.  I worry that my current trouble with recurrent pregnancy loss is related to the cesarean.  I resent that I have to consume more medical services to rule out uterine defects caused by the cesarean.  Tomorrow I will have a hysterosalpinogram performed.

It is regrettable that women such as Ms. Chung are led to believe and accept that cesarean birth is risk free, complication free, and consequence free.  It is simply not the case, and it does not take more than 30 seconds with an internet search engine to learn that much care should be taken when deciding if cesarean surgery is right for a woman and her baby.  The March of Dimes states that cesarean surgery should only be performed when the mother’s life or baby’s life is at risk.  Cesarean surgery is a blessing when used appropriately, but its safety is not justification for indiscriminate use.

[I sent a slightly abridged version of this post to Time magazine’s Editor.]

[1] The World Health Organization maintains that an acceptable rate of birth via cesarean surgery is 10-15%.  When the cesarean rate exceeds this range, the risks outweigh the benefits.
[2] To read the AABC’s recent statement on VBACs at birth centers, click here.
[3] Go to http://www.ican-online.org to see if your hospital allows VBACs.
[4] See also http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10166; read ICAN’s book, Cesarean Voices to learn how cesareans have impacted real women and real babies.

Upcoming Interview

In about an hour I will be interviewed for a local news station regarding Montana’s cesarean rate.  I don’t know much more than that.  The reporter has a young child.  The reporter is supposed to be meeting with a local hospital official.  Other than that, who knows what her focus will be.  In anticipation of this interview, I decided to review some things that I have read and wrote regarding cesarean rates.

With regard to rates, it is important to consider that the US cesarean rate (2006, preliminary) is 31.1%.  The rate has increased by 50% since 1996.  The rate recommended by the World Health Organization is 10-15%.  Once the cesarean rate exceeds 15%, the risks (statistically speaking) outweigh the benefits.  The Montana cesarean rate (2006, preliminary) is 28%, nearly a 3% increase from the year prior.  According to a source at the local hospital, our local rate is around 31%.  I was told that only 16 VBACs took place in 2006 at my hospital.  (A local CNM questioned the accuracy of the VBAC figure, suggesting that VBACs were under-reported.)

I can list many contributing factors to the continued increase in the cesarean rate:

  • Medico-legal concerns on the part of doctors, hospitals, and insurance providers (it’s HUGE, actually)
  • “So and so had a cesarean . . .”
  • Hollywood stars having elective cesareans
  • Young and underpriviledged mothers are more at risk for cesarean surgery
  • An unchecked trust in care providers – most women do not seek second opinions when it comes to maternity services
  • Sensationalization of birth – Baby Story and OR Live come to mind
  • Society – our view of birth has changed; the culture of fear has spread to childbirth
  • Cesareans ARE more safe now than they ever have been

Of course I’ll direct the reporter to resources such as:

  • ICAN
  • The Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative
  • Childbirth Connection
  • Conscious Woman

Recurrent Miscarriage Update

I had a follow-up appointment yesterday with the OB who performed the needed curretage a few weeks ago.  I can’t say that I really learned anything helpful from the meeting. 

Pathology on the baby came back normal though apparently no chromosomal analysis was done.  I hadn’t realized that the pathology would only rule out ectopic or molar pregnancies.  I already knew from the ultrasound that neither of those were concerns.  So that was a costly dead end.

Chromosomal abnormalities?  Perhaps, so she recommends testing for both me and my husband.  I assume that we will go ahead and do that.

Progesterone deficiency?  Perhaps, so she recommends taking Clomid when I’m ready to conceive again.  I was not previously aware of using Clomid to treat potential progesterone deficiency or apparent “luteal phase defect.”  Since I ovulate on our around the 15th cycle day, I don’t think LPD is my issue.   However, I’m not ruling out some sort of hormone imbalance.  When I’ve had HCG levels tested, those numbers have been just fine.  But I’ve never had my progesterone level checked, and this OB wouldn’t do it anyway even after Clomid treatment.  I find that odd.  What if the Clomid wasn’t quite enough to sustain the corpus luteum until the placenta takes over?  Wouldn’t it make sense that I could still possibly need progesterone supplementation even after conceiving on Clomid.  (Remember that I have no conception problems; I’m just “failing” to sustain pregnancy right now.)

Immunological problems?  Not suspected though I am inclined to disagree.  I have a history of endometriosis, depression, low energy, and adult onset acne, for instance.  My mother has rheumatoid arthritis which is an auto-immune disease.  I rarely feel particularly “great,” but then again, given what I’ve been through this past year it would be hard to identify a great day even if it was right under my nose.  I found the Reproductive Immunology Associates’ information on miscarriage prevention to be interesting, encouraging, disheartening, and overwhelming.  I will pursue some of these ideas with local care providers.

Next month I will follow-up with another OB in town.  I may also go see an endocrinologist who has been recommended.  There are evidently fertility specialists as near as Spokane, so perhaps I should be contacting them?  I have so many questions, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find answers.  That’s perhaps the scariest part.  At this moment I think I could deal with being told that trying to conceive again would not likely be successful for X, Y, or Z reasons.  We do have one incredible child, and I might be inclined to consider adopting from abroad.  But to have to deal with the unknown is what really worries me.  Three miscarriages in a row “just” bad luck?  How will I overcome that “diagnosis” if it is the most likely deduction?

Time will tell.  Each day is different.  Some days are ok and some are not.  I am living moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day.  Planning ahead for anything is excrutiating.  But “ahead” will come whether I like it or not, whether I can deal with it right now or not, and whether I can deal with it then or not.

Too Late for Natural Birth?

In my google alerts today, one headline stuck out: “Too late to reverse rise in c-sections?” from the Boston Globe.  It is a letter to the editor from Lois Shaevel, co-author of “Silent Knife.

Shaevel states:

For eons we females had been capable of giving birth with very little medical intervention. Then childbirth went into the hospital, and the process became a medical and increasingly surgical event.

It’s sad really.  I’m not saying that all women don’t need a hospital and that all births can be achieved non-medically, but what makes me sad is the shift in how pregnancy and childbirth are viewed by our society.  Pregnancy and birth used to be normal and expected events in a woman’s life.  Now when you tell someone that you are pregnant they ask you if you have a first trimester ultrasound scheduled yet.  When you respond by saying that you don’t plan to utilize ultrasound technology unless it becomes medically necessary, they cock their heads, look at you funny, and respond with a suspicious “huh!”

Shaevel continues: 

When Nancy Wainer and I wrote “Silent Knife” in 1983, we hoped our work would reverse the trend and give women confidence in their bodies’ innate ability to birth their babies. If this trend of surgical intervention in the natural process of childbirth continues, the only women who will birth their babies naturally 50 years from now will be those who don’t make it to the hospital in time for their caesareans.

Some women are finding ways to become more confident in their bodies.  I joined the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) which greatly increased my confidence and understanding that a repeat cesarean would likely be unnecessary.  However, the doctors will always find a way to rob us of our confidence.  One ICAN list member was told early on in her pregnancy that s/he was supportive of her choice to VBAC.  Now at 36 weeks she’s been told to schedule a repeat cesarean.  This is not an uncommon story.

Here are my thoughts on how/why this keeps happening to women who desire vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC).  Perhaps the doctor just wants the business and thinks s/he will be able to change the patient’s mind along the way?  Perhaps the doctor believes in a woman’s choice but loses confidence along the way?  Perhaps in losing confidence in the mother along the way, the doctor is thinking about the legal consequences of not performing an elective repeat cesarean?  Perhaps the doctor, losing confidence along the way or thinking s/he can coerce the patient into surgery, also has the $$ in his/her eyes since surgical birth costs so much more than vaginal birth?  Perhaps the doctor knows that VBAC labor can take longer, and since s/he will have to be more readily accessible thanks to ACOG directives, s/he pushes for the quicker solution – major abdominal surgery?  Perhaps the doctor is more afraid of the uncertainty of normal (as in natural) birth because s/he is not familiar with it versus that which s/he is trained to do – perform surgery?

Shaevel’s letter was formed in response to this recent Boston Globe article.  Here are a couple of important points to consider from the article:

“It’s important for us to step back and say, ‘Why is this happening, and is it in the best interest of the public?’ ” said [the state's secretary of health and human services, Dr. JudyAnn] Bigby, whose research before entering state government had focused on women’s health issues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This is not a minor surgical procedure; it’s a big deal. We need to understand why this trend continues.” [emphasis mine]

She is “sufficiently alarmed” that her state’s cesarean rate now eclipses the national average of 31.1%.

Obstetricians’ fears of lawsuits may also fuel some of the increase.

“There’s no doubt about the medical-legal burden; the litigious nature of society has an impact on this,” said Dr. Fred Frigoletto, chief of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Very few obstetricians have been litigated because they did a C-section. But they’re always litigated because they didn’t do one.”

Fear of litigation is NEVER an appropriate motivator for medicalized childbirth.  Interventive practices are only appropriate when there is sound evidence of need.  Basing medical opinion, advice, and practices on a fear of litigation is unethical and violates the oath and creed to “first do no harm” that all doctors agree to when they become registered practitioners.

It once was popular to deliver subsequent babies [following a cesarean] by vaginal birth, but by the late 1990s the practice began to fall out of favor because of potential risks.

Potential risks – yes, it is possible that a woman’s uterus may rupture during labor.  The risk of rupture may be as low as .5%, and any doctor who puts forward a rate of greater than 1% should be asked for the research to support such a statistic.  Avoiding induction and augmentation of labor and having continuous labor support (an experienced doula and/or midwife) will help VBAC moms achieve their goals.

Anyone who doubts the importance of natural childbirth for both mother and child should register for the “What Would Mammals Do” webinar through Conscious Woman

Pregnancy bleeding scare

Yesterday I could tell that my cervical fluid (CF) was more prominent.  My midwife said my leukocyte level was elevated, indicated by a urine test.  She told me to do a “wash” twice daily of warm water and apple cidar vinegar.  I ignored her since I was a bit confused on how to do this and because the yeast wasn’t bothering me.

However, yesterday afternoon I felt a trickle.  It wasn’t completely familiar – didn’t seem like blood but didn’t NOT seem like blood either.  My heart nearly stopped when I took a look at my pantiliner.  There was a streak/string of red blood in the CF!!  I tried to stay calm and called my midwife for guidance.  She said that some women will bleed from yeast infections and suggested that I buy some Yeast Guard and apple cidar vinegar.

Luckily it was the end of my work day, so I was able to get to the store and home before my DH and DD came home.  There was no more blood, but of course I’m checking my pants every few minutes anyway.  And I’m afraid to poop.

This is what a recent history of miscarriage has done to me.  At 10 weeks I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of worry, and yesterday’s blood threw me right back into the tunnel.

Today I am exhausted.  Hardly functioning at work.  Thank goodness I’m done early again today.  It’s a good thing considering that my entire office is SHAKING from the construction outside.  It’s making me feel insane.