In June, Whole Woman published a collection of stories from women who had planned to “Go In Pushing” with their VBAC. Their stories were read by more than 130,000 people and shared across the internet. So many stories were submitted that there wasn’t enough room in one article to share them all, and since then even more have come flooding in.
There are so many heartbreaking stories of violence and betrayal that they could be turned into a book, however a book would need to be sold. Sharing the stories in various articles means that they are free for anyone to read, whenever they choose. We at Whole Woman believe that information should be free, we also believe that these women’s voices need to be heard!
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Some women in this article have chosen pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Finding a care provider to support a VBAC is extremely difficult, no matter which part of the world you are from. What complicates things even further is that many care providers accept women into their care, saying they will attend a VBAC, and then they slowly chip away at the woman’s confidence, hoping she will choose a repeat caesarean.
Elizabeth Moroney (US): “After two caesareans I was desperate to experience birth. I searched far and wide for a doctor and was rejected by all but one. She seemed nice and reassuring, but she refused to discuss my birth plans. As my pregnancy progressed she started telling me my baby was going to be huge, my fluid was low, I would need an episiotomy, my baby would get stuck and deprived of oxygen. By the time she scheduled my caesarean for 38w I practically kissed her feet. Despite that I still believed that she supported VBAC. In the end I lost my uterus during my third caesarean. She never told me that a third caesarean was dangerous.”
Jingfei Jin (US): I wanted a caesarean for my first baby. I had lots of pain after and decided to try to give birth with my second baby. My doctor told me it was okay to VBAC. Then he always told me I was unhealthy. I was frightened of birthing then. Two days before my caesarean was due I felt pains. I rang my doctor and he said it was nothing. Later than night I gave birth to my baby in my car. It was the most scary thing that ever happened to me. Later when I think about it I see that the only reason it was scary is because my doctor scared me so much.
This technique is known as a Bait and Switch, and many women speak of it. Some search for other providers, some submit to unnecessary surgery because they have no other options, and some choose to stick it out and fight their current provider, despite the hostility they are encountering.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Macie Patterson-Grey (Australia): After a public hospital gave me an unnecessary caesarean for my second baby, I chose to hire a private obstetrician. At 38w I was told that my scar looked thin and was likely to rupture. I decided that I would decline the scheduled caesarean, but he refused to cancel it. So I didn’t show up on the day. At around dinner time two police officers knocked on my door with three officers from the Department Of Community Services. I was escorted to the hospital “voluntarily” where I underwent psychiatric evaluation for nearly five hours, they also grilled my two older children at the DOCS office. This was extremely upsetting for them. unsurprisingly, it was determined that I was competent. The next day I booked in at the local public hospital, and I had a repeat caesarean, simply because I was too stressed.”
Hana Skekeres (UK): I noticed a subtle shift in my midwife led care in the third trimester. At the last appointment I declined a vaginal exam and she got extremely angry at me. I went to the hospital in labour two days later and the midwife on duty read my notes and said that she had heard about me, I was a troublemaker and she wouldn’t be putting up with it. I declined continuous monitoring and a vaginal exam. She told my husband to leave the room and ordered two young nurses to hold my legs open while she shoved her hand inside me. She manually dilated my cervix and burst my waters. I consented to many vaginal exams after that because I was too afraid of being held down again. I didn’t progress, so 24hrs later, I was given a caesarean.
Hostility in birth has no place, it causes unnecessary stress for women and their babies, but it’s something we see over and over. Although many people deny that doctors would ever harm a woman, the growing body of anecdotal evidence is hard to deny. Hostility is sometimes verbal, which is inappropriate enough, however sometimes it becomes physical and results in harm to the baby on top of the emotional disturbance the mother experiences.
Jenna Allaway (US): “I was very clear with my doctor that I would be having a vaginal birth because the risks of a fourth caesarean were too great. My doctor always said that I was crazy but that if I arrived when I was pushing, he couldn’t stop me. So that became my plan. When I arrived, pushing, he told me I needed an episiotomy. I refused but when I tried to get up onto my hands and knees to keep pushing he told my husband and the nurses to hold me still. He pushed my baby back inside of me and then I heard the cutting. He threw a pillow onto my face because I was screaming and crying. When my baby was born he was extremely rough which caused bruising on his tiny shoulders.”
Anaya Marks (Australia): “After four caesareans no one would accept me as a VBAC patient so I planned to go in when I was crowning. I hadn’t reached crowning but I was pushing very hard and I could feel my baby moving down. The registrar was furious with me, she said my baby was dead. Without asking she cut an episiotomy and inserted forceps, then she tore my baby out. It resulted in fourth degree tearing for me, and permanent damage to my daughter’s eye. My daughter wasn’t dead, she was quite healthy. Now she is half blind in one eye and she has terrible scarring down the other side of her face.
Anonymous Military Wife (US): “My husband and I were stationed abroad for my third pregnancy. The military hospital I was attending refused to even discuss VBAC with me so I figured I’d just rock up and push a baby out. Boy was I misguided. When I arrived they ordered my husband to leave. I was sedated and given a caesarean without ever consenting, they made my husband sign the consent forms. They gave me a classical incision, right up my uterus, and my baby was cut very badly. He required 32 horrible stitches, he never breastfeed because being held hurt him.”
Tubal Ligation - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Forcing women to undergo caesareans against their will is illegal and yet more and more stories of forced caesareans are surfacing. The risks of caesarean surgery need to be carefully weighed against any potential benefits. When a woman has a caesarean she faces a number of risks, from haemorrhage, to wound infection, complications for future pregnancies, and more.
Una Tortorici (Italy): Despite saying I would not be allowed to VBAC at my hospital, the doctor said that they also did not stop birth that was advanced. So we decided that we would have a doula to help and that we would not attend the hospital until pushing started. When my body started doing pushes we went straight to hospital where we discovered I had a back to back baby. I was 3cm dilated. I fought hard but I was too tired the next morning. They offered me a drug to help me sleep and I accepted, but then I woke up in recovery after a caesarean. The surgery caused a bowel obstruction, which cut off blood flow to a part of my intestine and I nearly died. My intestine is permanently damaged and I live with chronic pain.”
Eilish Fitzgibbon (UK): I planned to go in pushing after being bullied about repeat caesareans all pregnancy. After several nights of hard contractions I couldn’t wait anymore. I wanted an epidural so I could rest but they refused to get me one unless I consented to a caesarean. They told me I was only half a centimetre dilated. I broke down, I couldn’t take another minute. During the surgery they cut an artery. I needed multiple bags of plasma. I was in surgery for five hours while they tried to stem the bleeding. With my next pregnancy I hired an independent midwife and requested my records from the hospital. They stated that I had been 10cm dilated and that I had requested the surgery.”
Reneé April Rabenold (US): I was forced to have a caesarean twelve years ago. I wanted a vba2c but my dr did what’s called a Bait and Switch on me at 39w. I arrived at the hospital fully dilated and pushing but he forced me to sign consent forms, telling me he would have the baby taken away and I’d be committed to a mental hospital if I didn’t. During the caesarean I had a seizure. In recovery I suffered heart failure. Three years later when my husband and I tried to conceive again we discovered that he’d tied my tubes! When I applied for my medical records I discovered that the reason I’d had such serious complications was because they’d given me drugs that I was allergic to.”
Amy Schmidt (US): “After four caesareans I wanted a VBAC. I had two vaginal births before my caesareans so I knew I could do it, I just needed a chance. No one would take me on, they all wanted to book a caesarean, so I decided to go in pushing. I arrived in transition, I was 9.5cm dilated and I could tell my body was getting ready to push. They insisted on giving me an IV. I agreed to compromise, but they put drugs in it that made me go to sleep. My husband was filling out paperwork so he couldn’t stop them. They gave me a complete hysterectomy and told me that I had ruptured. I will never know exactly what happened but as a result of the surgery I suffered a massive blood clot and nearly died. To top it off I spent weeks in intensive care with a staph infection in in my hand where the IV had been.”
Ana-Belle Fletcher (Australia): I had an awful experience in the public system so I chose a private hospital for my second. I knew they had a low VBAC rate but I thought if I showed up pushing everything would be ok. My doctor said I could VBAC and I thought that was all that mattered. I held off until I was actually pushing. When i arrived I was told that my doctor was uncontactable and the practice sent a different one. Instead of the kindly older man I’d been seeing I got a short tempered young man. He looked right in my eyes and told me that if I wanted a VBAC I should have gone to the public hospital, because they don’t care how many women and babies die. He then shouted at me until I was distraught and took me to an operating theatre. I never signed consent forms and the hospital refuse to discuss that with me (I am hoping to get a lawyer when I go back to work). During the surgery he perforated my bladder and then he failed to repair it properly. Unfortunately the symptoms I had mimicked kidney failure so it took ages to work out what was wrong. When they finally identified the problem I needed surgery. Then they realised that he had failed to remove all the gauze. I’m not sure I will ever recover emotionally from that experience, and physically I know I can never face childbirth again, my insides nearly rotted away with infection. We are heartbroken”
Many women have attempted to complain about their forced caesareans however the silence from hospital boards, medical bodies, and even governments is deafening. Women are choosing to go public with their stories in the absence of any sort of support or recognition from legal avenues.
After the release of the previous article many readers asked what they should do if they were facing hostile maternity care. Unfortunately there are no simple solutions. Each woman has to navigate her own way through. Homebirth is not a solution that fixes everything, nor are midwives readily available in many places. Freebirth isn’t the solution for everyone either, the truth is that we need change within medical institutions. We can not expect pregnant women to fight this battle though, it is up to the whole community to step up in defense of vulnerable women and say WE WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS VIOLENCE ANY LONGER. WOMEN AND BABIES DESERVE BETTER.