I post the following with the express permission of the mother involved. It is lengthy – but this mothers’ story needs to be told, in full.
A while ago – at the beginning of March, a Canadian mother-to-be in Ontario joined the Cesarean by Choice Awareness Network – at that time she was already 35 weeks pregnant. Her baby was transverse. She had a medical condition that limited her ability to push. She was also told she was ineligible for spinal anesthesia. This was her fifth and final pregnancy, her previous four had been low risk, relatively straight forward and fairly quick vaginal deliveries (note: a history of fast vaginal deliveries puts a woman at risk of precipitous labour). She had pre-existing PTSD from a car accident a year prior. She had a neurological condition which limited the amount of pushing that she would be capable of doing. She was considered a high-risk patient and up until that week, the care plan was for her to undergo a planned caesarean under a general anesthetic at term (39 weeks or more). Then, her doctor did a 180, for whatever reason – and informed the mother to be, that rather than a planned caesarean under a general, he wanted to perform an ECV (an External Cephalic Version) followed by an induction, trial of labour and an assisted (forceps or vacuum) second stage (pushing stage).
The mother wanted a planned cesarean.
I have to admit, that my mind was boggled at the scenario. It just seemed so ridiculous – I mean, I am used to the difficulty faced by women who want a caesarean because they see it as better meeting their needs and that of their family and do not have medical contra-indications to a planned vaginal delivery. That is generally why this blog, and the Cesarean by Choice Awareness Network exists. But this? Has the quest for vaginal birth in Canada gotten to the point where women with very legitimate reasons for caesarean are also denied reasonable access to care? Are we to the point where women are losing or denied their right to make a medical decision for themselves after being advised of the risks and benefits of their options? Have the “soft” indications for Caesarean become fair game for those seeking to reduce the rate of Caesareans?
Surely something could be done to help this mother develop a better plan (one she could actually agree with) – in conjunction with her care team.
After considering her options – and with the assistance of others, the mother drafted the following letter and gave it to her doctor in the hope of having a conversation about what her options were and to assert her right to make decisions regarding her own treatment. Identifying information has been removed.
Dear Dr. X;
I am writing because I have significant concerns about the recent changes to my care plan that you suggested at our last appointment and I would like to discuss my concerns and alter my care plan accordingly.
Until our last appointment I was under the impression that the care plan for the delivery of my child was to undertake a planned caesarean delivery with a concurrent tubal ligation under general anesthetic. It was my understanding that given the transverse position of the baby and several of my other health complications that include a neurological condition, PTSD, an ineligibility for regional anesthetic, and my own desire for no subsequent pregnancies that this care plan was the most appropriate and most likely to meet my needs for the safe delivery of my child. It is the care plan to which I was willing to consent and is the care plan that I still feel best meets my health care needs as it minimizes the risks of death or significant disability to either myself or my child and it avoids the risk of having to undergo an emergent cesarean.
At our last appointment you suggested that the care plan be altered, that I undergo an ECV in an attempt to reposition the baby, artificially rupture the membrane, and that an instrumental vaginal delivery be attempted at that time. Given that I am ineligible for regional anesthetic, I am under the impression that this would be done without an epidural in place and that if it were to fail that I would be subjected to an emergent cesarean under general anesthetic. Further this care plan would require a subsequent surgery in order to realize surgical sterilization.
It is my understanding that an ECV carries several significant risks, specifically:
· An elevated risk of placental abruption – that would necessitate an emergent cesarean delivery and may result in significant and life-long disability to my child.
· An elevated risk of an umbilical cord accident – that would also necessitate an emergent cesarean delivery and may result in significant and life-long disability to my child.
· A risk of enduring significant pain and discomfort as it is my understanding that regional anesthetic is contra-indicated in my case. This may be traumatic and could aggravate my pre-existing PTSD.
I understand that the risks of either a placental abruption or an umbilical cord accident are relatively low – however, the impact of these events should they occur is catastrophic and may mean life-long disability or death for my child. Further, it is my understanding that there is a significant risk of the ECV failing to succeed in repositioning the baby – in which case, an urgent caesarean would be needed.
For these reasons I do NOT consent to an ECV being undertaken to reposition my baby.
Should you proceed with the ECV absent my consent, and the baby be successfully repositioned, it is my understanding that you would then proceed to break my water and attempt an instrumental vaginal delivery of my child. It is my understanding that there are increased risks, both to myself and to my baby of a high-instrumental vaginal delivery. I also understand that my underlying medical condition makes pushing not advisable. I am aware that some of the increased risks involved could result in life-long disability to either myself or my child. Further, given that this is planned to occur in the absence of regional anesthetic, I anticipate that it may also be extremely painful and could be traumatic.
For these reasons I do NOT consent to a high instrumental vaginal delivery being undertaken to deliver my baby.
To be clear, I wish to minimize the risk of death or significant disability to either myself or my baby. Should the care plan that is ultimately chosen result in either death or significant disability – the impact would be catastrophic. I have four children and a husband – and as a result need to minimize the risk of long-term consequences that could result from the care plan chosen and am willing to accept an increased risk of less severe complications that may occur as a result of a planned caesarean care plan (risks like transient respiratory problems, an increased risk of infection, etc.).
As a result, I would like an opportunity to further discuss my treatment options and their associated risks and benefits with regards to this pregnancy – including any other appropriate consults so that we may develop together the care plan to which I am willing to consent, that best meets my health needs and those of my family both now and in the future. In particular, I would like to understand why and how the revised care plan better meets my health care needs in comparison to the care plan that was originally agreed upon.
On March 10, 2014, she handed the letter to her doctor and he put it on her file.
Unfortunately, the OB managing the case decided that the mother’s specific objections to the care plan were not reason enough to alter the care plan. He scheduled the mother for an ECV. The first appointment she cancelled. The second, she showed up for, but declined consent and left the hospital.
The mother’s OB was unwavering in his commitment to the care plan he had decided upon – the only problem was that the mother did not agree with it. The degree of distress that was being inflicted on the mother was significant.
Then the baby moved head down – without a version. The mother was partly relieved, simply because a transverse baby is generally considered undeliverable vaginally and going into labour with a transverse baby has significant risk to the health and well-being of both mother and child.
However, the mother still did not want a vaginal delivery, particularly one in the absence of an epidural due to her neurological condition – and was doing the best she could to advocate for herself, including working with a psychologist, having a consultation with an anesthesiologist, and trying to get a second opinion or alternate care provider.
During this time the mother had an appointment with psychiatry – and the psychiatrist she met with indicated to her (as a kind of FYI) that advocating for a planned caesarean over a vaginal birth against the advice of her obstetrician could be perceived as a psychiatric indication that might warrant removal of capacity to consent. When the mother told me that, I have to admit to being floored.
Then it seemed as though the OB was going to relent, and agree to schedule the section. The Mother was told to expect a call from the hospital (she was already past 39 weeks gestation). She waited, and waited. Days passed, no call.
It seemed as though, the doctor had said one thing, but was proceeding with an entirely different care plan.
Finally, after waiting for the call for the Caesarean that never came – at well over 41 weeks pregnant the Mother went in for an induction. Not that she wanted to, but she felt as though she had no other choice – she could not wait any longer.
It was awful – the mother laboured 8 hours and was dilated to 7 centimeters before she was taken to the OR for a Caesarean. The Mother, at about 10pm, after several hours of labour yelled that she wanted a Caesarean – and was completely ignored. It took her husband getting the nurse to get the OB and demanding a section for the woman to gain access to the OR. They told her that the consent forms were signed for a section only as a “security blanket.” Then when she did go to the OR – a nurse had her fingers wrapped around the mother’s trachea and she could not breathe – the nurse told the mother “This is what you wanted.” Within seconds after that the mother was under a general anesthetic and the Caesarean was performed. Her son was born healthy.
Recovery from the Cesarean was complicated by an infection.
The mother intends to file a complaint with respect to her care, and, rightfully so - I applaud her courage for doing so.