Shaken Not Stirred by Interventive Birth

There is no polite way to discuss this.  It comes directly from my soul.  I don’t mean to offend or whine, but it is bound to happen.  The fact is that I still feel sorry for myself.  I still feel jipped.  I still feel like my babies died because providers refused to help me.  I know that I can’t change the past and that rolling around in yesterday’s pain will not help tomorrow’s healing.  I know that I’m fortunate to have my daughter.  I know that people have been through much worse than I.  None of that helps.  And now I sit here still trying to process my sister-in-law’s interventive vaginal birth.  Yes, interventive.  Yes, vaginal.  No, not natural.  No, not normal (in my personal definition of normal birth).

My sister-in-law had cesarean written across her from the start.  She was subjected to a full genetic screening of which she and her spouse were not fully informed.  The result was a pregnancy shadowed by the fear of a child with fragile X syndrome.  They’ve been faced with the choice of abortion (not that they considered it), amniocentesis (they thankfully declined), and several ultrasounds.  And along the way my sister-in-law began to fear childbirth.  It didn’t sound like the typical scared stuff that you expect; she sounded AFRAID.  I tried to console her in my way and bolster her confidence without devaluing her feelings.

Next thing you know it she’s due.  They’re already talking about induction.  The decision was made to induce her a week after her due date.  I did e-mail her and my brother-in-law and remind them that babies should be given a due MONTH, not a johny-on-the-spot due date, and that it was inappropriate to push her towards induction at least before 42 weeks.  I knew I’d lose that one.

At 41 weeks she was induced in the hospital.  Dilation was slow, and understandably she began to get frustrated and concerned.  She was told that she should be dilating at a rate of 1cm per hour.  What an awful thing to tell a woman who’s not progressing – that her labor isn’t normal or on schedule.  They broke her water; they upped her pitocin.  They did all of the things that can cascade into a cesarean.

Only, she didn’t end up with a cesarean.  Her pelvis wasn’t declared inadequate.  Her baby wasn’t pronounced too big.  How in the heck did she avoid the knife?  All the signs were there pointing towards a cesarean delivery and yet she didn’t get cut.

Her experience has caused me to ask myself some tough questions.  Did you want her to get cut?  Did the fact that she had all of these interventions and still have a vaginal birth take the wind out of your arguments against interventive birth?  Does her success reflect on me somehow and my failures?  Did she deserve a vaginal birth and I didn’t?  Or am I just “mad” because she deserved to get cut (having agreed to so many interventions) whereas I didn’t deserve to get cut because I had educated myself and planned for a natural birth.

Two weeks have passed since my sister-in-law had her baby.  I am thrilled for her and my brother-in-law.  I can’t wait to meet my new niece.  But the ghosts are still rattling my cage.  I am not stirred by her experience.  Rather, I am shaken.

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.