An Arizona woman is fighting back against her hospital, which is attempting to force her to deliver her fourth child by cesarean section. Joy Szabo, 32, is protesting Page Hospital’s ruling prohibiting vaginal births after cesarean sections (VBACs); she had an emergency cesarean section delivering her second child, but the hospital allowed her to deliver her third child naturally two years ago. Now pregnant again, the hospital is forcing her to have a cesarean because of lack of hospital staffing.
This story is sadly common – it doesn’t appear in the news because it’s rarely protested. But according to the International Cesarean Awareness Network, over 31% of US births are now by cesarean section, although a 5% to 10% rate is best for mothers and babies. Szabo is using a common but compelling defense, asserting that the method of delivery is a pregnant woman’s right to choose. The hospital is refusing to budge, saying that it is purely an economic choice – there are not enough physicians who can be available, should an emergency occur during the birth.
Szabo’s husband, Jeff, places their case within a healthcare system that fails to recognize personal integrity and instead privileges convenience to the physician over the preferences of the patient: “My wife’s plight,” he told the Lake Powell Chronicle, “is indicative of the health-care system in the U.S. They make money off of people’s suffering. Consequently, medical care is dictated by cost and insurance companies and not by what’s best for the patient.” I would add that this is also a system that places authority for a woman’s reproductive choices in the hands of her doctor and denies her fundamental agency in deciding how she wants to give birth. If the surgery is unnecessary, she should not have to undergo the inherent risks – this is not even a case of medical, but rather economic authority. One could argue that Szabo can’t force the hospital to hire more physicians, but then again, how is the hospital justified in requiring her to undergo a medically unnecessary surgery? Why does the hospital have more rights than the patient?
This reminds me of the segment of the Today show from about a week ago titled “The Perils of Home Birth” (yes, they actually called it that). In the segment, they compared home birth to a “spa treatment” – suggesting, perhaps, that birth is supposed to be clinical and unpleasant (to sign Choices in Childbirth’s petition demanding accurate reporting of all childbirth options, go here). I haven’t watched the piece, so I’m not going to comment on it extensively, but what I’ve been hearing simply confirms what I know from classes and reading on this topic: that in this country, birth is not considered a matter of female agency or choice, that it is not respected or “safe” unless it is medical and preferably surgical, and that it’s more about the physician’s choices than the birthing mother’s.
The case of Joy Szabo only highlights these sad truths – that under any other circumstances, unnecessary surgery would not be sanctioned by a hospital. Why is birth a separate category? And why is convenience and expense to a hospital privileged above the health and well-being of a mother-to-be?
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/11043981@N00/3771530250