Archives for posts with tag: VBAC

Rinat Dray was forced to have a cesarean in 2011 at Staten Island University Hospital.  Dray had two previous cesareans and chose a doctor who said he supported her desire for a VBAC and a hospital with (by American standards) a low cesarean rate and a good VBAC rate.  But once she arrived at the hospital in labor, according to Dray (as reported by the New York Times),

The doctor told her the baby would be in peril and her uterus would rupture if she did not [have a cesarean]; he told her that she would be committing the equivalent of child abuse and that her baby would be taken away from her.

She still refused the cesarean, and she was supported in her refusal by her husband and her mother.  The hospital strapped her down and wheeled her into surgery as she begged them to stop.  A note in her medical record by Dr. James Ducey says, “I have decided to override her refusal to have a C-section.”  During the surgery, the doctor punctured her bladder.  You can hear a podcast on RH Reality Check in which Dray discusses her case along with professionals in obstetrics, law, and ethics.

Dray is a Hasidic Jew, which likely means that she wants a large family.  While there are risks to vaginal birth after cesarean, in most cases there are even greater risks to having many cesareans.

In the podcast, Dr. Katharine Morrison, MD, FACOG (Director of Buffalo WomenServices, which I wrote about here) says that she reviewed the record and it did not appear that there was an emergency situation or that a cesarean was needed at all.  But even if a cesarean has appeared necessary to preserve the life or health of Dray or her baby, as Dr. Howard Minkoff, chairman of obstetrics at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said in the NYT article, “I don’t have a right to put a knife in your belly ever.”

One would think that a case in which a psychologically stable woman refused surgery and was then strapped down, sliced open, and had her bladder perforated would be apparent to anyone as a horrendous breach of human rights.  (And actually, she was asking them to wait a little longer, not saying she would not agree if she felt a cesarean was truly necessary).

All one has to do to see where a woman falls in the human rights spectrum of many is to read the comments on the New York Times piece.

The comments fall into a number of categories, including some that unequivocally support Dray.

Many, however, unequivocally support the the doctors or the profession of obstetrics.  Here is Northstar5:

If this woman had 2 prior C-sections then the doctors are absolutely right that vaginal delivery was exceedingly risky. I almost laughed when I read that the woman is charging the doctors and hospital for “improperly substituting their judgment for that of the mother.” What?? That’s what they are supposed to do. They are doctors, she is not.

Some defend the doctors doing whatever they like to avoid risks of malpractice:

Attempting a vaginal birth after two c-sections is extremely dangerous and reckless. The physicians involved would likely have been sued regardless of the method of delivery, so I applaud them for at least saving a life in this case.

I’m not sure where the commenters get their medical information, but the doctor agreed in advance to attend Dray at a vaginal birth.  You can read the entire American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists’ practice statement “Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery,” which specifically says, “women with two previous low transverse cesarean deliveries may be candidates for TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean].”  I highly recommend that you visit Jennifer Kamel’s website and read “13 Myths about VBAC.”  Repeat cesarean and VBAC both have risks.  The newest ACOG obstetric care consensus statement on cesarean points out the risks of cesarean over vaginal birth.  Cesarean nearly quadruples the risk of maternal death, and risks of maternal morbidity and mortality go up with every cesarean.  This would be a particular concern for a woman who wanted a very large family, as many Hasidic women do.  Here is a consent form that clearly lays out the risks and benefits of repeat cesarean and VBAC.

Some commenters are completely on the side of the fetus–if the mother’s status is reduced to that of a container, so be it.  Here’s NYC Commuter:

In this case, the hospital and doctors have not one patient, but two. One is an adult who appears competent to make medical decisions. The other is a fetus, at term, who has no voice. The courts have repeatedly affirmed that the state has a duty to protect citizens that cannot protect themselves. If a fetus is believed to be “alive,” then an argument can be made that it must be protected as well. Pregnant women have been forced to receive imprisoned to prevent them from harming their fetuses (e.g. drug abusers), take medication (e.g. for treatable diseases), and even receive c-sections if the baby’s life is judged to be in direct jeopardy.

I have written about the ethics of privileging the well-being of a fetus over an adult woman many times, including here, here, and here.  ACOG also agrees that a woman should have the right to make her own decisions, even if it may negatively impact the fetus.  One recommendation from ACOG’s Committee Opinion, “Maternal Decision Making, Ethics, and the Law” says,

Pregnant women’s autonomous decisions should be respected. Concerns about the impact of maternal decisions on fetal well-being should be discussed in the context of medical evidence and understood within the context of each woman’s broad social network, cultural beliefs, and values. In the absence of extraordinary circumstances, circumstances that, in fact, the Committee on Ethics cannot currently imagine, judicial authority should not be used to implement treatment regimens aimed at protecting the fetus, for such actions violate the pregnant woman’s autonomy.

In addition to wanting to protect the rights of physicians and fetuses over those of pregnant women, many commenters simply condemn Dray as selfish, selfish, selfish.  Here’s Beth Green:

What an incredibly selfish woman putting her unborn child in harms way. She got her several hours of trial-labor and no baby, so according to the standard of care she got a C-section and a healthy baby.

Some also posit that Dray is not only selfish but also psychologically compromised.  Here’s Dave:

This case is not about the “debate over C-sections.” This case is mostly about psychopathology, but there is a larger point. Rinat Dray’s actions harm us all. In her narcissism, she was willing to sacrifice her child to maintain her sense of control. This bears repeating – we are dealing with someone who would rather her child suffer than allow a section. So I’m sure she cannot put herself in the place of others, and she will not understand this, but she makes it all the more difficult to deliver babies in the US. Once all the OB/GYNs suffer these indignities and these lawsuits from those with personality disorders, who will deliver babies safely?

And here’s Reader:

A mother in labor who focuses more on her joy of delivery rather than trying to ensure that she delivers a healthy child who could be stuck with birth defects for up to an average of 7-8 decades thereafter is not rational, is selfish and needs to have her head examined.

What we get above all else if the “all that matters is a healthy baby” trope.  Here is NMY:

I have absolutely no sympathy for this woman at all. Her sense of entitlement is simply galling. She’s having a baby. The most important thing here is to ensure the delivery of a healthy baby, not to satisfy some preconceived notion that she should have a vaginal delivery.

Here’s Jen:

The OBGYNs can’t win. Now they are going to get sued for performing c-sections. It used to be they got sued for not doing the section soon enough. This lawsuit is absolutely ridiculous and I hope the physicians win. Do you want a c-section and a healthy baby or a VBAC and a dead baby? How can any mother refuse a c-section when the physician is telling you the health of your baby is at risk?

Here’s Stephen:

Sorry, but the health of the fetus should trump the intellectual desires of the mother….There are too many C-sections performed to be sure, but isn’t the point of labor and birth to deliver a healthy baby?

Here’s Lynn in DC:

She had this child in 2011 and all of her children are healthy so what’s the big harm here?

Aside from the fallacy of believing that Ms. Dray could not have both a respectful vaginal birth AND a healthy baby, a healthy baby is not all that matters.  A healthy mother matters too.  As in Ms. Dray’s case, having a perforated bladder and the trauma of being strapped down for a surgery that she actively refused did not result in a healthy mother.  Not being dead is not good enough.





It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t think the cesarean rate is too high.  The World Health Organization says that a 15% rate “is not a target to be achieved but rather a threshold not to be exceeded.”  Healthy People 2020 goals (see section MICH-7) target reductions in primary cesareans and increases in vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) as two primary goals in maternity care. In some situations, the benefits of a cesarean far outweigh the risks, but when the surgery is not needed, it has the small but significant potential to cause severe complications for the woman and her baby, and also affects the woman’s subsequent pregnancies.

Cesareans have many advantages for doctors.  The payment for attending a cesarean is equal to or greater than attending a vaginal birth.  While even a fast vaginal birth generally takes at least several hours from the time the woman arrives at the hospital,  performing a cesarean takes about an hour.  Cesareans are not risk-free, but the outcomes are predictable.  And scheduling a cesarean is particularly lucrative and convenient for doctors because they can avoid conflicts with office hours and family/leisure time.

surgery cartoon

Dr. Jonathan Weinstein of Frisco Women’s Health, whose cesarean rate is under 15%, offers the helpful list, Top Ten Signs Your Doctor is Planning to Perform an Unnecessary Cesarean Section on You:

  1. Arrives to L&D immediately after office hours and says, “I just don’t think this baby is going to fit”
  2. Third Trimester, Routine Office Visit, “I think this is going to be a big baby you should just have a C/S” – Did you know? ACOG has very specific guidelines for when it is appropriate to offer a patient an elective C/S for MACROSOMIA (fancy word for large baby). ‘Prophylactic (elective) cesarean delivery may be considered for suspected fetal macrosomia with estimated fetal weights greater than 5,000 gms (11 pounds) in women without diabetes and greater than 4,500 gms (9.9 pounds) in women with diabetes.
  3. “We should induce at 39 weeks your baby is getting too big” – Did you know? According to ACOG, ‘Induction of labor at least doubles the risk of cesarean delivery without reducing shoulder dystocia (rare situation where baby’s shoulder can get stuck at delivery) or newborn morbidity(complications). Suspected fetal macrosomia is not an indication for induction of labor, because induction does not improve maternal or fetal outcomes.’
  4. Performs routine ultrasounds at end of pregnancy to see how big your baby is. Did you know? Ultrasounds at the end of the pregnancy can be 1-2 pounds off. Ask some VBAC patients who were talked into a C/S for this, then had a vaginal delivery of a bigger baby the next time.
  5. “You have a positive herpes titer (or history of herpes); the baby will get it if you deliver vaginally.” Try some Valtrex for the last month of the pregnancy that is pretty much standard of care now. It prevents outbreaks and allows for a normal vaginal delivery.
  6. “Your baby is breech you need to have a C/S” Ever heard of or performed an External Cephalic Version? It really does work.
  7. “You have pushed for 2 hours” (with an epidural that prevents you from feeling anything so you are probably not pushing effectively; this is evident on exam because the baby’s head is still perfectly round, but you do not need to know that) it’s just not going to come out.”
  8. “I scheduled you for an induction at 39 weeks, it is just soooo… much more convenient for you!” (and so much higher risk of ending in a C/S, especially if you are not dilated when you start the induction). At least 80% of my VBAC patients were induced the previous pregnancy. For whose convenience was the induction?
  9. First Visit (7 weeks), “Congratulations you are having twins. I will go ahead and schedule your C/S at 38 weeks, but don’t worry if you go in to labor early I will cut you right away!” Translation, “I am scared out of my mind for you to deliver your babies vaginally because I am not trained on what to do when the second baby is coming, plus it pays more to cut you open. Oh yeah, I don’t have that great a rapport with you because I only spend 2 minutes (fundal height, heart beat and ‘I’ll see you next time’) with you each visit, so I am afraid I will be sued for trying to do the right thing.” (note from Human with Uterus: planned cesarean for twins is not evidence based.)
  10. First Pelvic Exam in Office (7 weeks), “Hmm, your pelvis is pretty narrow”
  11. Bonus Tip: 38-week visit, “Your blood pressure is a little up today you are probably developing preeclampsia or toxemia. That can cause you to have a SEIZURE! The treatment is to deliver the baby. You need a Cesarean Section this is the quickest way to resolve it. Let’s get you up to L&D NOW!” Translation – Preeclampsia or Pregnancy Induced High Blood Pressure is a pain in the butt. If I induce you, it could take 24 hours or more and then I would have to manage your blood pressure, and put you on Magnesium. This is way too inconvenient. Do not worry you can try to have the baby vaginally next time. Yeah right!

For more information on cesarean/induction for “big baby,” see this post from Evidence Based Birth.

Despite reports that cesareans are performed at maternal request, only about 1% of primary cesareans were requested by the woman.  As a woman cannot perform a cesarean on herself, the skyrocketing rate must be driven by providers.  Providers also say that high cesarean rates are driven by liability concerns. A connection between liability environments and cesarean rates exists, but the effects are small.  A natural experiment in Texas, which underwent tort reform, showed that reductions in liability did not lead to corresponding changes in cesarean rates–cesarean rates went up at roughly the same rate as they did in the rest of the country.  Texas cesarean rates are currently 35.3%, higher than the national average.

We might also generally question the ethics of performing a surgery that is in the best interest of the doctor, not the woman and her child.  When a doctor recommends a risky procedure such as major abdominal surgery, women should always ask for references to evidence (meaning documents they can read, not off-the-cuff statistics).  A woman’s care should be a process of shared decision making, not following someone else’s orders.  A woman’s humanity demands nothing less.


I am a big fan of Jill Arnold’s, and I encourage you to visit.  Here is Jill’s report on Mississippi cesarean rates.

River Oaks Hospital, which is just outside of Jackson, has the highest cesarean rate in the state of Mississippi:  57.2%.  Just for reference, the national rate is 32.8%,  the average for Mississippi is 38.3%, and the World Heath Organization says that 15% is a “threshold not to be exceeded” because maternal and infant health do not improve when rates rise higher.  To be fair, River Oaks handles many high risk cases from around the state, but the WHO threshold is supposed to cover even high risk populations.  A rate nearly four times the maximum threshold seems excessive.

According to March of Dimes Peristats, the VBAC rate in Hinds County (where River Oaks is located) was 4.3% in 2010, meaning that among women who have already had at least one cesarean, only 4.3% who had another baby in 2010 birthed vaginally.  According to the Jackson chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network, River Oaks does “allow” VBAC, though there were fewer than 200 VBACs in the entire state in 2010.

So let’s look at what happens at River Oaks.  The homepage for their Labor and Delivery Center features three links: planning a pregnancy, healthful pregnancy and cesarean.  Hmm….  Here is their list of possible reasons a woman would need a cesarean at their hospital (followed by my commentary):

There are several conditions which may make a cesarean delivery more likely. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Abnormal fetal heart rate. The fetal heart rate during labor is a good sign of how well the fetus is handling the contractions of labor. The heart rate is monitored during labor…If the fetal heart rate shows there may be a problem, immediate action can be taken… A cesarean delivery may be necessary.

We know from my past post on Florida that fetal monitoring is not recommended for a normal labor, and that the evidence suggests that fetal monitoring does not lead to better outcomes for infants but does lead to higher cesarean rates.  In normal labors, the best evidence suggests that the baby’s heart rate be monitored by intermittent oscillation (using a hand-held Doppler at regular intervals).

  • Abnormal position of the fetus during birth. The normal position for the fetus during birth is head-down, facing the mother’s back. However, sometimes a fetus is not in the right position, making delivery more difficult through the birth canal.

It is true that head down facing back is the most common position and that other positions tend to make births more difficult.  However, according to ACOG committee opinion, a skilled practitioner can deliver some breech babies vaginally (a sideways baby who won’t turn has to be delivered by cesarean).  Unfortunately, many practitioners do not have the skills for safe vaginal breech delivery.   A posterior (“sunny side up”) baby can  be delivered vaginally and does not require unique obstetrical skill.  Breech and posterior babies can often be turned, and posterior babies especially often turn themselves late in pregnancy or during labor, making a planned cesarean  unnecessary.

  • Labor that fails to progress or does not progress normally

“Normal labor” has changed.  Many doctors rely on the outdated Friedman’s curve, developed in 1954.  It  does not fit with the  labor progression of contemporary women, who labor under different conditions (e.g. not heavily sedated).  “Active labor” used to be diagnosed at 3 cm of cervical dilation; current thought is a woman should reach 6 cm before being considered in “active labor.” However, many hospitals and many individual physicians still cling to the outdated norms. As women now labor more slowly, this leads to many cesareans for “failure to progress.”

  • Baby is too large to be delivered vaginally

The medical term for a large baby is “macrosomia,”  but the condition is often called simply “big baby,” which always sounds to me like the character in Toy Story 3:


Hopefully, most macrosomic babies don’t look like that.  In any case, practice guidelines

do not support prophylactic cesarean delivery for suspected fetal macrosomia with estimated weights of less than 5,000 g (11 lb)

Yes, you read that right.  ELEVEN POUNDS.  Rebecca Dekker at Evidence Based Birth has some great information on macrosomia.

  • Placental complications (such as placenta previa, in which the placenta blocks the cervix and presents the risk of becoming detached from the uterus too soon). Premature detachment from the fetus is known as abruption.

Placenta previa is a situation in which cesarean is life saving for women and babies.  Please, if you have have placenta previa, follow your doctor’s advice regarding cesarean (but do not go on bed rest).  Abruption may or may not require cesarean, but it is absolutely reasonable that it be considered.  The placenta, however, separates from the uterine wall, not the fetus.  These people scare me.

  • Certain maternal medical conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] infection)

Sometimes conditions like high blood pressure can mean that the baby needs to be delivered early to preserve the life and health of either the baby or the pregnant woman.  In these cases, an induction can often be tried first.  The choice of induction vs. cesarean for a maternal or fetal medical condition should always be made with the full informed consent of the woman.  I have no idea if that’s the case at River Oaks, but given their cesarean rate, I doubt it.

  • Active herpes lesions in the mother’s vagina or cervix

Yes, if the infection is active, cesarean is a good choice.  The chance of herpes transmission to the infant during vaginal delivery is up to 50%.  However, if the woman has been receiving prenatal care, the herpes infection can be treated in advance, which should allow for vaginal delivery in most cases.

  • Twins or other multiples

I have posted on vaginal birth vs. cesarean for twin delivery.  A new, high-quality study shows that planned cesarean does not improve outcomes for twins as long as Twin A is head down.  In response, the chief of obstetrics as Mass General wrote an opinion piece saying that doctors should plan cesareans for twins anyway.  That appears to be the River Oaks philosophy.

  • Previous cesarean delivery

According to ACOG’s practice bulletin on VBAC, the vast majority of women with one prior cesarean are appropriate candidates for VBAC, as are some women with two prior cesareans.  Probability of successful VBAC ranges from 60-80%.  ACOG says that risks and benefits should be discussed, counseling on VBAC should be documented in the medical record, and the ultimate decision should lie with the woman.  According to the River Oaks website,

A woman may or may not be able to have a vaginal birth with a future pregnancy, called a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Depending on the type of uterine incision used for the cesarean birth, the scar may not be strong enough to hold together during labor contractions.

Who knows what kind of uterine incisions the docs there are using, because apparently the only way to get a VBAC is to come in pushing and have the baby before they can cut you.

  • There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a cesarean delivery.

Perhaps it is 4:30 on Friday.

There is more non-evidence-based care featured on their website, including this video featuring babies who bottlefeed and do not room-in with their mothers (fine if that’s what the woman wants, but not a message that promotes best practices).

River Oaks does not appear to be the place to have a baby if you want a vaginal birth and evidence based care.  But you can go make them some money if you want.

Note: this is my second piece on a hospital with the highest cesarean rate within a state.  You can read the post on Florida here.

On Facebook today, the organization Improving Birth posted this question:

What happens when a mom plans a VBAC with a fully supportive doctor, but then at birth gets an unsupportive doctor who refuses to “perform” a VBAC? Do you think the provider is “forced” to attend a vaginal birth, or is the woman “forced” to have surgery?

I approached this question in my post on rights, so let’s explore it.

Let’s look at the doctor’s side first:

The doctor wants to perform surgery on a woman who doesn’t want surgery.  Her original doctor says it is safe for her to forego the surgery.  Professional guidelines say that forgoing the surgery is perfectly fine as long as some basic conditions are met (and let’s assume they are, since the first doctor agreed the surgery was not necessary and the doctor in question appears not to have reassessed the situation).  Essentially, the doctor is arguing that is is the doctor’s personal preference to perform the surgery, and that the pregnant woman is forcing the doctor not to perform unnecessary surgery.

By this logic, I am forced not to perform surgery on people all day every day.  I am also forced not to do all kinds of other things to them, even if I feel like it.  Even if I am qualified to do things to people, I am “forced” not to do them.  No one has ever let me perform CPR or the Heimlich maneuver or a substance abuse treatment intervention on them just because I felt like it.  And I am qualified to do all of those things and have nifty certificates to prove it.

The doctor feels “forced” to attend a vaginal birth.  But this doctor does not have to ignore practice guidelines.  The doctor does not have to practice obstetrics.  The doctor does not even have to be a doctor.  This doctor could quit and go home.  This doctor could probably even decide to be “sick” and some other doctor would be found.

As for the woman:

She chose a doctor who agreed with standard practice guidelines indicating that she did not need surgery.

Another doctor showed up who apparently wanted to perform surgery whether it was needed or not.

If the doctor refuses to provide care for a vaginal birth, and there is not other doctor available, what choices are available to the woman?  Will the labor and delivery nurses assist her birth?  Can the woman deliver unassisted in the hospital?  Can she leave without signing AMA papers (as she was only refusing the advice of one doctor, but not the advice of her original doctor or of the hospital or of professional guidelines)?  Is there any qualified birth attendant available who can assist?

The woman cannot decide not to be pregnant.  She cannot decide that she will not go into labor and give birth.  She cannot get someone else to do these things for her.  If she goes home, they will still happen.

Is the woman’s choice compromising her life and health and that of her baby by either having an unattended birth or having an unnecessary surgery?  In such a case, it appears that she is forced to make  a bad decision, no matter what she chooses.

The commenters on Improving Birth’s question are champions of the autonomy and agency of women.  Here are a few of their comments–I recommend liking Improving Birth’s page on Facebook:

I think the provider should do his job, or find someone that can. As a mom has a right to decline any procedure that is not medically needed. At that time just because the doctor doesn’t want to do a vbac, does not make a csection medical needed.

Her body, her decision!

What happens when a patient with a cancer diagnosis needs to be seen by another doctor for a day? Or a patient with diabetes? Or someone who is getting occupational therapy for intellectual disability? When the regular provider is temporarily unavailable and a certain treatment plan or protocol has been worked on, all reasonable accommodations should be made to keep to that plan. On-call doctors should not get to say they will not help a mom planning on VBAC continue with her and her primary doctor’s plan.

I don’t think I would want a doctor at my birth who was “forced” to be there. But neither should a woman be “forced” to have unwanted surgery (whether it’s “necessary” or not!). The hospital I believe has an obligation to provide the care that a woman wants – if this doctor is unwilling to attend a vbac then the hospital should be finding one who IS willing to attend. Here in Australia the woman wouldn’t have a doctor there anyhow, unless something went wrong – it would just be midwives.

We have years of case law that competent people can refuse care, and it is an EMTALA violation to deny care to a woman in active labor, even if she is refusing surgery.

Doctors don’t “preform” a VBAC, mother’s give birth. This should not even be an issue, it is sad that it is.

There has been a lot of discussion in the pregnancy and birth world about the Irish case of Aja Teehan, who wanted to have a homebirth after cesarean (HBAC).  Irish midwives are professionally prohibited from attending homebirths that are considered too risky, and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) risks a woman out of homebirth.

The question posed was whether the woman had the RIGHT to homebirth.  This leads to some interesting questions about rights and whose rights they are.

In pregnancy and birth, there are several interested parties who may or may not have “rights” in various health-related decisions.  These people include the woman, the man who impregnated her, the person who will be raising the child with her, the fetus/infant, and the practitioners providing reproductive health care and medical services.

For instance, there are rights around getting pregnant.  Here we might ask

During pregnancy

During labor and birth

The links in the questions above are not all-encompassing, but are examples of issues implicit in these questions.  May we always remember that a woman is a human being whether there is a fetus in her uterus or not.

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