To run down the list: under 35, not overweight, no gestational diabetes, had only one previous c-section, more than 2 years ago, with a transverse incision. I went into labor before my due date and my daughter was only 7.1 pounds.
My prenatal care was with a well-trained CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife) with 15 years of experience delivering babies, including VBAC babies, in a hospital setting. The hospital was welcoming to appropriate VBAC candidates, and the staff even had a recent experience with uterine rupture which thankfully had a healthy outcome. I felt confident in their ability to handle an emergency situation.
If you Google "uterine rupture stories" you can find plenty with happy endings (I imagine the people with sad endings don't like to share their stories as much), but they all happen in a hospital and after a terrifying ordeal for everyone involved.
Of course having another c-section carries its own additional risks, so I decided that as long as I remained low risk throughout the pregnancy and did my VBAC with a CNM (opposed to a non-nurse midwife) in a good hospital, I'd be okay.
|The hospital didn't stop me from keeping Bee in my room.|
It wasn't until after they opened me up that she saw the ruptured uterus. Apparently my daughter's body was blocking the opening, thus preventing anything from coming out or in. Had I managed to push her out vaginally, everyone at the hospital would have gone into red alert mode trying to save both our lives.
|Mom, Dad, big sis, and baby Bee, all healthy and together.|
OB: So.... when I opened her up, the baby's shoulder was sticking out of the open scar.
*a couple soft gasps and some awkward silence*
ANESTHESIOLOGIST: She's not going to try this again, is she?
No, siree, I am not! I'm quite happy as the mother of two, and this birth scared the bajeebers out of my husband so bad that he ran out and got an vasectomy as soon as he could.
I attempted VBAC for all the right reasons, and it failed.
Because I took all the precautions recommended by the medical establishment, I'm fine and Eulabee is fine. What about those who don't take such precautions?
I have only ever written about birth and the Natural Childbirth Movement once before. It is still my most frequently read post, attracted the most comments, many of them attacking me for criticizing aspects of that movement. When I wrote that post, I had not yet delivered Eulabee. But I was pregnant, and wrote:
When I found out I was pregnant again, I immediately called the Birth Center. I found out I couldn't have my second baby there, so I asked for recommended options. I was given a short list of CNMs who work at or with hospitals, which was great.
But then the person on the phone said, "I can also give you the names of midwives who do homebirths." What!? If it isn't considered safe enough for me to attempt VBAC at a top notch Birth Center across the street from a hospital, why the hell would it be safe for me to try it in my home that is a 20 minute car ride (not accounting for traffic) from the nearest hospital? If the Birth Center is responsible enough to not take on clients with higher risks, why would they be so irresponsible as to recommend alternatives which are even less safe? This is the influence of natural childbirth, a movement that is more motivated by crackpot theories and warm-and-fuzzy feelings than science and evidence.
That evaluation stands. To promote a VBAC for women who fit all the low-risk criteria and who are giving birth in a hospital with staff poised and ready for an emergency is fine.
But there are lots of people out there promoting HBAC (Homebirth after c-section) and HBA2C, HBA3C, and even HBA4C. Since the increased risk of HBAC is relatively small (although I imagine in hindsight it seems huge for the parents who watch their babies die or suffer brain damage) there are, of course, far more success stories than tragic ones, and these happy endings are blasted all over the Internet as if they are proof that HBAC is generally as safe as VBAC in a hospital.
On MotherBloom, midwife Christy Tashjian tells the story of one successful HBA4C, frames it as a women's rights issue (opposed to a health care issue - as if the mothers are the ones who would be held accountable for malpractice), and emphasizes feelings over medical facts.
Holly on Homebirthers and Hopefuls tries to downplay the risk of uterine ruptures by saying:
The main risk that midwives and consultants are concerned about with VBACs is uterine rupture, however, this is a much misunderstood and extremely rare occurrence. The vast majority of uterine ruptures will result in mortality for mother or baby. Rupture can also occur in an unscarred uterus and can happen before labour begins, which means that it can happen whether you plan a VBAC or an elective caesarean.The majority of uterine ruptures do not result in mortality for mother or baby because of treatment that is only received in a hospital! More importantly, if treatment is delayed even by minutes, that severely increases the chance of death or brain damage.
Also, extremely rare? The overall rates are 7 uterine ruptures for every 1000 births. Given how many women are giving birth every day, that's a lot of uterine ruptures!
The CNM attending my prenatal care and birth had already done over 1000 births (I'm not sure how many VBACs) by the time she got to me, and she boasted that she'd never seen a rupture. After mine, I jokingly apologized for ruining her stats, and she jokingly said, "no it's fine, now I've had my one so I hopefully won't see another before retirement." But I could tell she was really shaken up. Uterine ruptures are no joke. When they happen they are serious threat to the lives and health of the mother and child.
What this means is that midwives who attend HBACs have resigned themselves to needlessly endangering the lives of seven woman and their babies for every thousand, for the sake of giving the other 903 women a more pleasant birthing experience. That hardly seems ethical.
Vicki Williams, a "Birthkeeper, Doula, Breastfeeding Specialist, and Lactation Consultant" (so no medical credentials), goes so far as to encourage a homebirth after a uterine rupture.
Some women, such as Aneka who managed a successful HBA3C, are portrayed in the media as rather heroic. After watching Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born, she said she realized:
I'd been robbed of the birthing experience. If possible, all women should be allowed to birth naturally.
Aneka wasn't robbed of her good health and success in having three healthy children by c-section. Yet she expresses only disdain for the medical establishment that delivered those healthy babies. Had she been one of the minority who experience uterine rupture and lost her fourth baby because of the time it took to get to the hospital, would that have been worth the "birthing experience"?
Then you just have this sort of insanity on website such as MamaBirth, which really hypes the "pride" and "empowerment" and how it "feels" to give birth naturally at home, and just outright disregards the increased risks of complications such as breech, as well as VBAC.
Really, I've just touched the tip of the Natural Childbirth iceberg when it comes to advocating homebirth for VBAC and other higher risks pregnancies. Surf around the Internet for an hour and discover gobs more crazy for yourself.
Since so many people seem to be moved by personal birth stories, Dr. Amy of Skeptical OB writes a lot about the unfortunate and grieving minority whose babies die or experience brain damage because they attempt high risk homebirths. HBAC examples include baby Vera, whose mother attempted an HBA3C, just like Aneka, baby James, baby Liam, a baby whose mother was hoping for an "awesome HBA2C story", the mother who attempted a VBAC at a birth center without continuous electronic monitoring, the mother of 6 who attempted an HBA2C, a mom who bragged online about her HBAC, despite the fact that her baby suffered brain damage, and many more. (I can only stand reading so many of these before I want to crawl into a closet and cry.)
In his article Ten Thoughts On VBAC, Nicholas Fogelson of Academic OB/GYN - who favors VBAC attempts in hospitals and under the right circumstances - writes:
VBAC should not happen at home. I have recently referred to that as a game of Russian Roulette, and defend that view here. In this case the gun has 100 barrels, but the bullet will kill the baby just the same. If a woman can honestly say they are willing to take a 0.5% to 1% risk of disaster, then fine, but to me that risk is way too high. I think home birth is an acceptable option in many cases, but VBAC is not one of them.
|HBAC? Please! I could have died, mama!|
I attempted VBAC for all the right reasons, and it failed, because birth is inherently risky, even more so after having a c-section.
To any women out there thinking about VBAC, I strongly advise only doing so if you are low risk, and then finding a OB or CNM working in a hospital that is totally supportive.
For those planning an HBAC, I urge you to reconsider. HBAC is simply not safe enough. Had I made such an attempt, my spunky toddler Eulabee would not be here to make funny faces as she grabs for my cellphone.
As any adoptive parent knows, welcoming a new son or daughter isn't about the birth experience. It's about bringing them home.