When women attempt or consider a VBAC, Georgia’s story is the one that they often hear about. She is the statistic that medical professionals often cite in that low, but documented risk of blood loss, uterine rupture, and ultimately fatal consequences for baby when attempting vaginal birth following a previous c-section. It’s more than a mommy urban legend swapped in whispers over parenting forums or between concerned friends of friends. It’s the story many women are told before committing to a birthing center, their fingers to their original c-section scar as they’re informed of their chances.
While VBACs can be positive, empowering experience for some women who find themselves overcoming a doctor’s impersonal suggestion to just default on the operating table, Georgia is sadly not one of these mothers.
The mother tells me that when pregnant with her first child, she never considered necessarily needing a c-section. The young expectant mother, then only 23 years old, was in labor for 34 hours and never dilated more than six centimeters. When her son’s heart rate began to drop, her doctor finally suggested performing a c-section.
Twelve years later and pregnant with her second child, Georgia describes herself as “torn” between a repeat c-section and a vaginal birth. Her primary care physician and two OBGYN assistants urged the expectant mother to attempt a VBAC. She says that she was well aware that another c-section would more likely result in a safe delivery, but her doctors assured her that everything would go well given that her original c-section incision was horizontal and not vertical. That coupled with the long duration between both of her children lead doctors to tell her that she was “just fine.”
“I bought into the hype that a vaginal birth was an amazing experience and the ‘true’ way to give birth,” she says when remembering how doctors “dismissed” her concerns.
Georgia was informed of the risk of a uterine rupture, but with the immediate add on that the risk was so tiny. Taking a glance at the numbers, the expectant mother weighed the risk with hopes of getting back on her feet soon after the delivery. Her very difficult decision was also tinged with having known the pain of recovering from a c-section. Her best friend successfully bounced back from a VBAC some months earlier, and so Georgia eventually committed herself.
One day before her due date, Georgia began to get nervous about the delivery and requested a c-section. She was told by her primary care doctor that one could not be scheduled until the following week. When her due date did arrive, Georgia more so just wanted the baby born than anything else. She checked into her hospital the following day, where her VBAC was scheduled, with what she thought were labor pains. She was one day passed her due date at this point.
The OBGYN confirmed that Georgia was not in labor and sent her home. Georgia was instructed to return to the hospital when “the labor pains got so bad that I couldn’t talk.” The following evening, she was awakened with a slight burning sensation in her abdomen, a pain that although did strike her as labor, felt somehow off.
“Something just did not feel right to me, so I went back to the hospital,” she recalls. “It was there that the fetal monitor and sonogram showed that my baby had no heartbeat.”
Georgia was later informed that the original pain that she thought was labor was actually her uterus separating. The burning feeling was most likely the uterus rupturing.
After her baby had been pronounced dead at 7 a.m., her doctors told her that since “the baby’s health was no longer an issue,” they would induce labor for a vaginal delivery. Had she not progressed by 7 a.m. the following morning, they would go for a c-section. Georgia demanded a c-section at nearly 1 a.m. that morning, but nurses hesitated to wake the surgeon. Her then-husband pushed even more and the nurses “reluctantly” agreed to call the surgeon.
A different OBGYN who performed Georgia’s followup care informed her that when the surgeon opened up her abdomen, the damage to her body was quite severe. Her uterus had fully ruptured and the baby was in her abdominal cavity. Although her uterus had healed from her first c-section, the incision had fused against her bladder, which also ruptured. Georgia had to have an additional “clean up” surgery which revealed damage to her cervix as well. Several experts who reviewed her medical records told the mother that by all accounts, she should not have survived the ordeal.
Georgia has since been told by a new set of doctors that had a c-section been performed prior to her due date, her daughter would have survived. The baby’s death certificate reads “fetal demise,” but her OBGYN maintains that the baby’s death was due to the rupture.
The mother did look into a possible lawsuit but found that her legal rights were “diminished” because she had consented to the VBAC — and therefore all the risks and complications. Her new set of doctors commented that her care was very poor, but that she is not legally entitled to any compensation. Two different lawyers who reviewed her case were respectively horrified by what she endured, but concluded that she had no case.
To women who are considering a VBAC, Georgia recommends that expecting ladies always seek out a high-risk obstetrician familiar with the risks, as well as the following bit of parting wisdom:
“Women should remember that a birth is about bringing a baby into the world, and they should not be made to feel like they are doing something wrong if they opt for a repeat c-section.”