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VBAC At Home: Courageous Or Crazy?

VBAC At Home: Courageous Or Crazy?

According to an article written by CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, Aneka was told that, because she had three previous C-sections, she could not attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) of her fourth child. Hospital after hospital, doctor after doctor, denied her the right to try. But after watching Ricki Lake’s 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born, Aneka decided she didn’t want a fourth C-section. With no local hospital willing to support her autonomous decision, Aneka decided to take matters into her own hands. She found a midwife willing to deliver her baby at home – and after 20 hours of labor, she delivered her fourth child.

Aneka’s decision to advocate for her own health care wishes – potentially at the expense of her baby’s safety ­– have since polarized online communities, splintering people into those who advocate for natural birth and those who value the guidelines of the traditional medical community. Some natural birth advocates celebrate Aneka’s courageous decision and lift her up as an iconic home birth revolutionary. Others chastise her for defying the advice of doctors and putting herself and her baby at risk of potentially dying as the result of a ruptured uterus or other VBAC-related complication.

What Do I Think?

I’m an OB/GYN, and most of my readers know that I speak out when I have an opinion, so yes – I do have an opinion, but it’s not a polarized one. Honestly, I can see both sides of the debate. Sure, this story sounds uplifting and makes for great headlines: “EMPOWERED WOMAN DEFIES AUTHORITY AND WINDS UP WITH HEALTHY BABY AND NO SURGICAL INCISION.”

Sure, I’ll bite. You go girl! More power to ya! Down with the man. And all that jazz.

But while all’s well that end’s well, this story would have been cast in a very different light had Aneka or her baby died in childbirth, or had her baby wound up with cerebral palsy as the result of childbirth complications stemming from her decision to have a high risk birth at home. The risk of such an outcome, while rare, is real. And yes, I’ve seen it happen. You don’t ever forget those kinds of things.

Let’s consider both sides.

In Support of Aneka & Her Decision

Aneka did her homework, understood the risks, and made a conscious choice to take her body into her own hands. She refused to be bullied into the medicalization of her birth and stood up for what she desired, in spite of the lack of support she found from her local doctors and hospitals. That she was willing to overcome her fears, be authentic about who she is and what she wants, and stand for what she believed in the face of intense pressure to conform makes me want to jump up and hug Aneka. If only more of us were willing to do the same, I believe the world would be a better place.

In Support of The Doctors & Hospitals

Those of us who have witnessed what happens when a woman with a prior C-section ruptures her uterus know how quickly things go south. One minute, everything’s peachy. The next minute, the baby’s heartbeat drops off and you may have a mere 7-10 minutes to get that baby out lickety-split before the baby winds up disabled or dead and the mother ends up hemorrhaging to death.

What’s the chance that a uterus will rupture? 0.5-0.9 percent if you’ve only had one C-section before and 1-3.7 percent if you’ve had two or more. Which means that you’ve got a good chance of avoiding such a disastrous outcome. But what if you’re that 1 percent?

My Two Cents: It’s All About Informed Consent

Ultimately, it’s all about choice. I believe that Aneka has the right to understand the risks, to make a thoughtful, well-informed decision, to weigh the pros and cons, and ultimately, to buck authority if that’s what she chooses to do. She doesn’t need anybody judging her, bullying her, or manipulating her into doing something with her body that she chooses not to do.

When I worked at a public health clinic delivering babies where 99 percent of my patients were Somali immigrants, I often recommended C-section or other medical interventions to women who chose not to heed my advice. While some of my colleagues would whip off their gloves and refuse to care for these women – dismissing them as “uneducated, immoral heathens with no appreciation for the value of life” ­– I respected these women as equal partners in a health care relationship.  Coming from a vastly different culture, many of them held very different beliefs about their health care, and many had a profound faith in Allah that rendered them capable of completely surrendering to what would inevitably happen, with or without whatever medical intervention I was offering.

If these women chose not to have a C-section – even one that might save their baby’s life – I bowed to their wishes and helped shepherd their child into the world in a way that melded with their individual belief systems. To inflict surgery upon another individual against their will is assault, plain and simple.

Most of these cases wound up with happy endings. Some did not. But ultimately, my job was merely to educate, to offer guidance, to make recommendations, and then to respect the wishes of my patients. Period.

Be An Empowered Patient

The moral of this story is that you do have a choice.  You may think that the medical complex rules your health care, but they don’t. YOU rule your health care. You get to choose. It’s your life. It’s your body. Do your homework. Ask lots of questions. Read Elizabeth Cohen’s fabulous book The Empowered Patient. Demand respect. Understand the risks. Think things through to their worst possible outcome. Find a new doctor or hospital if you need to. Then insist upon having your autonomy upheld. It’s all about informed consent. Be an informed consumer, make empowered choices, and never let anybody walk all over you and your body.

You are in charge. Don’t let anyone ever convince you you’re not.

What do you think? Was Aneka’s behavior heroic? Reckless? What are your thoughts on natural birth? Vaginal birth after Cesarean? Do you make informed choices about your own health care? Would you ever stand up to authority to demand that your wishes and your body be respected? Do tell…

Related:
20 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Vagina
I’m Going to Eat My Placenta
35 Reasons to Choose a Home Birth

Read more: Alternative Therapies, Babies, Family, General Health, Guidance, Gynecology, Health, Inspiration, News & Issues, Obstetrics, Pregnancy, Women's Health, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

56 comments

+ add your own
3:22PM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

we forget that child birth used to be a major cause of death in the developed world and still is in developing world.

Good health care and access to care limit the risk with home-births, but do not stop complications from arising. I personally know 3 women who have had home births and all was well, I also know 2 women who had to go straight to hospital because of complications and were also fine in the end.

Child birth is not as simple as people make out the issue is complex. A friend of mine died in child birth - it's not very common but it dose happen.

8:28AM PDT on Apr 9, 2011

I believe if it is about one's own health, than it is fully your choice. If it involves your baby and you choose a kind of birth that puts it at risk, I believe it is foolish and selfish.
But in any other circumstance I fully agree that it is the patient who chooses the health care. I know I might not be considered an easy patient as I inform myself and do question the doctor's opinions and discuss alternative treatments. Some doctors can deal with it. These are the doctors that I stick with as I know they respect me and my opinion and don't just try to force something on me that does not agree with me. The doctors that cannot deal with me being an empowered and informed patient and regard my attitude as disrespect towards their "mightiness" are the doctors that will never get to see me again. I've had some very disappointing experiences with doctors...from not doing the right tests and therefore not recognizing the lactose intolerance I have and instead blaming my nausea on non-existent psychological problems to doctors using chemotherapeutic techniques on me after I have requested that I do not want any and they have ensured me they would not use them. So if a doctor is not willing to listen to what I have to say and what I feel and is not willing to look outside the box, it is a doctor not worth going to.

12:49PM PST on Feb 15, 2011

I had a very difficult birth of my son. I had all these ideas of leaving work one day and just strolling over to the hospital, dropping my beautiful son and walking home with him - NOT!! So there are all kinds of things that can happen for no reason, why give a reason and hope it works out?

4:52AM PST on Feb 8, 2011

Thanks for the info.

5:11PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

Go for NATURAL!!

10:50AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

IT"S YOUR BODY - it belongs to YOU, NOT the Dr's!

9:08AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

I had c-sections for my first two children. I also had to be under for both. I felt very cheated for both of those births. The recovery was horrible, the waits to see the baby too long and in general an experience I never wanted to go through again. Both were not planned it wasn't my doctor giving no choice. They were both emergency c-sections that I will say were 100% necessary, even though I did not like having them done. When I became pregnant a 3rd time I went to my doctor and asked if there was possibility of a vbac. I guess I was lucky my doctor agreed to go with a vbac as my birth plan as long as I understood that if I went into labor early again he would want to do another c-section. I thankfully managed to carry to term and had a wonderful natural birth without the c-section being necessary. I honestly believe if more doctors would handle vbac in that way there would not have been any necessity for Aneka to feel she needed to take the chance. I don't hold with the thought that doctors are only out for the money and do unnecessary c-sections, but I do believe alot of doctors lose sight that an informed patient is a happy patient. If more doctors would just take the time to inform their patients and see them as partners in their care there would be no need for women to go outside of the medical establishment for care in riskier situations. I'm glad that all went well for Aneka and her baby but hopefully this shows doctors they need to listen more.

10:00AM PST on Jan 11, 2011

Ultimately, it’s all about choice. There are risks with most situations. One can only be informed and pray.

12:28AM PST on Jan 9, 2011

she had her baby at home because doctors 'denied her' if doctors are really concerned for woman they should start supporting woman and their right to vbac. (and a natural birth in general!) maybe then when a doc starts mentioning interventions including c/s woman might believe they are looking out for them and their baby instead of their pocketbooks and schedule.

7:01PM PST on Jan 8, 2011

I had two csections followed by a vbac. You just need the right people around you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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