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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Star Tribune Features Low-tech Birth & Midwives in MN

The Star Tribune recently published two stories highlighting one Minnesota woman's journey to VBAC despite many roadblocks and St. Joe's Hospital's extraordinarily low cesarean rate. Both articles are valuable in what they have to say about birth in our area.

The first article by Josephine Marcotty tells Danette Lund's search for a care provider to support her desire for VBAC.

Because she had delivered her first child by Caesarean section, a hospital birth would almost certainly mean surgery again. Home birth? Her midwife refused, saying it was too risky. A birth center outside a hospital? She'd have to shell out $7,000 because her insurance wouldn't cover it.

"I felt like I had no options," said Lund, 36, who lives near Waconia. "I was so frustrated."

Lund and other women have discovered that birth in America is rarely the natural event they long to experience.

The article goes on to highlight the overuse of cesareans, the risks involved, and the barriers that so many of us face to having a safe, healthy birth. Marcotty uses Lund's story to illustrate how, despite what media stories and even doctors sometimes say, women are fighting to avoid unnecessary interventions in childbirth. Lund's story will sound familiar to many of us:

"There is nobody advocating for lower C-section rates," Peaceman said. "It's not insurance companies. Not doctors and not women."

Except, perhaps, for women like Lund.

Last year, when she became pregnant for the second time, she knew she was likely to have a C-section again. The surgery has become standard for women like her because there is a small chance that a prior C-section scar will rupture during contractions....
Lund's hospital, Ridgeview in Waconia, will consider a vaginal birth after a C-section. Many hospitals won't because of stringent national medical guidelines for the procedure...
After weighing her options, Lund asked a midwife to deliver her baby at home, but the midwife said it was too risky. She called a St. Louis Park birthing center run by midwives. Although such centers are common in some states, they are new to Minnesota, and Lund's health plan wouldn't pay.

By that point she was 30 weeks pregnant and out of options, she said.

Lund, an attorney and trained litigator, is the first to admit she is not typical of most pregnant women. She's comfortable with confrontation and decided to take matters into her own hands.

Three months ago her labor started at 1:30 a.m. She and her husband waited. And waited. They counted the minutes between contractions, then waited some more. Finally, when she was far enough, she hoped, that it would be too late for a C-section, she went to the hospital.

As soon as she arrived, her water broke. Her cervix was 9 1/2 centimeters dilated. She was ready to deliver her daughter.

"I said: 'Yay, there is nothing they can do to me now,'" Lund said.

The second article by Chen May Yee profiles St. Joe's Hospital in St. Paul, which boasts an incredibly low cesarean rate of around 12%, far lower than Minnesota's 26% rate and the nation's 32.3% rate.  The story tells of St. Joe's long history of supporting natural childbirth, especially with its emphasis on midwifery care.

Kara Sime, 38, a first-time mother from St. Paul, arrived one recent Thursday morning, her contractions five minutes apart. By Friday morning, her labor still wasn't progressing. Exhausted, Sime asked for an epidural, a powerful painkiller, and got one. She also got Pitocin, a synthetic hormone to induce labor.

But there was a problem. Her baby was facing backward, increasing the diameter of the head going through the pelvis. Such cases usually require a C-section or a vacuum.

Instead, the midwife and nurse helped Sime onto all fours -- no small feat since her legs were numb from the epidural. With Sime's belly hanging down, the baby turned.

Three pushes later, Catherine Julia was born at 6 pounds 10 ounces.

"I don't have surgical skills," said the midwife, Melissa Hasler. "I'm motivated to get the baby out vaginally."

Gail Tully, on her Spinning Babies Blog, also shared her own experience with the care providers at St. Joes:

A long time ago, I was at a posterior birth with Deb Monson in which the mom was working hard but staying at 7 cm for 3 hours. Deb's simple trick of 3 pushes against her fingers as they created a false pelvic floor quickly turned the baby and let the labor proceed. Doctors at St. Joe's (I don't know if the Midwives do this) will also occasionally reach in and manually rotate the posterior baby's head to anterior so the birth can finish vaginally. Not all posterior births need any of these interventions, but some do and I believe these skills are a big part of why St. Joe's has a low rate of cesarean section. Plus, the community midwives and doulas have long referred to St. Joe's for their quiet, kind nurses, and mother-centered birthing practices. 

With such a low cesarean rate and a practice culture that supports non-interventive birth, St. Joe's may be the best hospital in the Twin Cities for women hoping to avoid a cesarean. Sadly, however, St. Joe's is the only hospital in the Twin Cities metro area that does not allow VBACs.

This means that St. Joe's rich tradition and practice culture described by Yee and Gail are not available to women like Danette Lund who, for whatever reason, did not avoid that first cut. In a conversation I once had with a representative from St. Joe's administration, I was told that this is because HealthEast "cannot afford" the medical malpractice insurance fees involved in supporting VBAC. This stands in stark contrast to St. Joe's reputation for supporting evidence-based childbirth. And, unfortunately, it shuts out women seeking VBAC who could perhaps most benefit from the kind of support and quality care that St. Joe's provides.

Many thanks to Marcotty, Yee and the Star Tribune for writing and publishing these stories on a very important topic for birthing women in Minnesota.

1 comment:

Rose said...

it's such a bummer about st. joe's. i taveled from minneapolis there for the birth of my daughter in order to reduce the risk of a c-section. unfortunately, 38 hours later i still ended up with one. i'm so bummed that i can't go back their for my VBAC attempt! ironically, my daughter was the first baby of the year at the hospital the year she was born. what a way for them to start off their stats that year!