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.

Things Do Change or Welcome to Waffling

I had my most recent ultrasound a couple of weeks ago.  I was pleased to find out that both babies are guestimated to be roughly the same gestational age and size.  In fact, at 28-29 weeks pregnant, they were measuring 2lbs15oz!  They’re keeping up and even slightly ahead of the average singleton of the same age!

The other piece of great news is that they are both head down . . . or at least they were during that ultrasound.  This means the likelihood of a natural birth in the hospital is more likely.  It means that hospital birth is back on the table.

A midwife told me that I’d have to pay for the birth experience that would be best for me and my family.  It’s true – if I want an optimal experience, it’ll be a huge out of pocket expense with the possibility of additional hospital expenses should 1-3 of us need additional care.  I wish I were made of money and could afford the birth experience of my dreams.  I’m not so fortunate.  This is not how healthcare or maternity care works in the US.  No, I can’t put a price on the health and well-being of our triad, but that doesn’t mean that I can afford alternative health care or maternity care at this time.  And I’m not going to feel guilty about that either, ya know?!

My personal out of pocket max from 7/1-6/30 is $2300.  My family out of pocket max is $4600.  An out of hospital birth will cost at least $3500 (if I travel) or closer to $7000 if I stay home.  I can’t ignore the math – not on my salary.

I am so glad that I have explored my options.  I am still considering these options but am back to planning my “best birth” at the local hospital with an OB and a fantastic doula (who just happens to be a wonderful homebirth midwife).

* Check back soon for my review of Your Best Birth and a book giveaway.

Stressed: Woulda Shoulda Coulda

Shoulda:  One of my strongest feelings from DD’s birth in 2004 is that I shouldn’t have gone to the hospital.  When my husband started to nag me about getting to the hospital (I was severely dehydrated, and he wanted to take me in to get that treated), I thought, “I couldn’t possibly leave my house right now.”  Somehow I did get in the car and didn’t puke or poop myself on the way to the hospital.  The minute I got there, I *needed* a wheelchair.  I was sick. 

I wasn’t treated for illness.  I was treated for childbirth.

I should have hired a doula.  I thought I was “safe” because I was being attended by a CNM.  I should have reminded her that my birth plan stated no artificial rupture of membranes.  I should have insisted on changing positions even though I was peeing out my butt.  What shouldas are ahead?

Coulda:  I could have told my DH no, I suppose.  I certainly could have told my CNM to go jump when she suggested breaking my water.  What sorts of couldas are ahead?

Woulda:  Had I a “do over,” I’d have stayed put.  Or I would have refused AROM.  I would have changed positions while laboring and for pushing.  I would not have purple pushed.  Not gonna do that again.  Thinking too much about future wouldas is overwhelming.  Let’s not go there.

Woulda shoulda coulda is that much more stressful when you aren’t given options.  I’m not supposed to give birth to twins at home.  That’s risky.  I’m supposed to want to give birth at the hospital.  That’s safe.  Yeah, hospital birth is so safe for American women and their babies that our infant mortality rate ties Poland and Slovakia.

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.

What drew me to childbirth advocacy

I received an excellent question from a Facebook friend the other day.  And even though my response is brief, I suppose this might be a question that a lot of folks have for people like me!

“So I’m curious… What led you to become involved with ICAN? Personal experience or passionate commitment to natural childbirth? Or both?”   “I am always interested in how people come to be involved in this kind of advocacy.”

My brief response:

I had a cesarean in 2004 and didn’t fully understand the impact of it until much later. I joined ICAN when it was time to try for another baby and have been involved ever since. So, now it’s personal experience as well as passionate commitment to evidence-based practices in obstetrics as well as spreading the word about the benefits of natural childbirth, VBAC, homebirth, birth plans, doulas, midwives, whatever! Also, I’m very concerned about the national cesarean rate and our local rate in Missoula. That’s it in a nutshell!!

And of course I suggested that she have a look at my blog!

Medical Stalker Goes Way too Far

Many people in the natural birth advocacy realm are aware of “Dr. Amy” and her polemic blog.  I was distressed to see that in addition to pillaging the homebirth and unassisted childbirth forums at Mothering on a regular basis, she is now stalking the birth trauma forum there!  If you’re interested to read her post, you’ll have to search for it yourself.  I am not going to directly link to her site.

My concerns over this behavior include:

  1. Did she get approval from these people to use her comments?  I would venture to say no.  It is one thing to directly quote from a public blog where the intent is PUBLISHING (with a link back, of course) and a whole other thing to directly quote people who are gathered together in support around a sensitive topic.  This would be more than bad netiquette.
  2. Her reason for being at the birth trauma forum – I have yet to read anything unique at her blog.  I have seen her quote and give “statistics” (laughable) based on posts at the homebirth and UC forums at Mothering and thought that was pretty low.  And now she’s raiding the birth trauma forum to gather content for her blog?
  3. Her lack of sensitivity and understanding as demonstrated by the quotes she selected for her blog
  4. The lack of privacy and sacred space that moms who are recovering from birth trauma need and deserve

I sent a private message to the birth trauma moderator.  Here’s what I sent:

“Dr. Amy” is stalking the birth trauma forum – [I removed the post link here b/c I don't want to directly drive traffic to her site.] Perhaps this should be a private forum? It’s bad enough that she posts every dramatic thing from the homebirth and UC forums on her blog, but really I think she has gone too far. I really hope that the Mothering Forum Moderators will take this concern under advisement and develop a strategy to better protect moms who need a place to commune and don’t deserve to have their stories exploited.

I hope that interested parties will voice their opinions at the Mothering Dot Commune site or to other responsible parties at Mothering.  Additionally, I hope that people will turn to more private venues such as the private forums at the International Cesarean Awareness Network website or private support lists on Google Groups or Yahoo Groups.  These women have been through so much.  They don’t deserve to have their stories exploited even though they are posting on a public forum.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , , , ,