For years I have believed that once a woman has a cesarean, the choice to deliver vaginally (VBAC) or have another c-section (RCS) for future deliveries should be entirely hers. I've believed that the risks, while different, carry roughly equivalent chances of worst-case outcomes. It is up to each of us to determine which set of risks we are most comfortable with, and go forward making the decision that will allow us to look back without regret. I have struggled to learn to support women who looked at all the evidence and still chose RCS- it is definitely not a choice I would not personally make- but in the end it was never my place to judge someone for making the decisions that she felt were right for her and her baby.
While I still don't feel I have any right to judge women who choose RCS, I have reached a point where I don't feel that is at odds with speaking up for VBAC. I recently read that over 50% of women would like to attempt VBAC, but nationally less than 10% actually do. Why is that? I'm sure there are a certain number of women for whom VBAC is legitimately not an option, but the majority are probably very good candidates and yet they choose (or are forced to choose) RCS. Why?
VBAC is vilified, there's no doubt of that. Lawyers like this Indiana Medical Malpractice Lawyer are all too willing to support the perception that VBAC is in and of itself a needlessly risky procedure that often results in poor outcomes for mothers and babies. There is a pervasive belief among the general public- and among juries- that a c-section represents everything possible being done to ensure a healthy and safe delivery, and I've often seen it said that OB's are never sued for the c-sections they perform, only the ones they don't.
But I don't really want to talk about medical malpractice, I want to talk about why major abdominal surgery is considered the normal way for a baby to be born, just because his mom has a scarred uterus. Recent studies are coming down in favor of VBAC as safer than RCS for moms and babies, and it is absolutely clear that RCS increases future risks for women and their subsequent babies- but even if the risks were equal, why do we believe the intervention is better than the natural process? Why are we burdening our healthcare system with the time and expense of so many cesarean sections when there is an equally safe (possibly safer) and much less invasive alternative?
It is time for this paradigm to shift. I'm not suggesting that the option of repeat cesarean be taken away, but I believe we need to change the starting point when a woman is choosing between VBAC and RCS. In today's obstetric world, RCS is the automatic assumption and women who don't have a compelling reason to attempt VBAC rarely do. It is even more rare for an OB to encourage a woman to choose VBAC. This is completely upside down! We shouldn't have to fight and change doctors and travel for hours to be "allowed" to labor and deliver our babies without being cut open. We should expect to deliver vaginally unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, and VBAC should be the first option offered to women with a previous cesarean.
A shift in our thinking, a return to normalzing birth... I'm not idealistic enough to think it would be easy, but I am not cynical enough to think it's impossible either. I still have hope that one day in the future, the 50+% of women who would like to have a VBAC will be supported and encouraged.