Healthy People 2020 (HP2020) is a national initiative through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to improve the health of all Americans by creating targets for improving leading health indicators in a specified time frame. Increasing vaginal births after cesarean (VBAC) for low-risk women is one of those indicators.
There is no way to measure progress on these outcomes without data. Data is essential to any process to improve health. If we don’t know where we’re starting, we have no idea if our interventions are having the intended impact. For this reason, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) started collecting and sharing information by county on the percentage of women with a prior cesarean who have a repeat cesarean (to calculate the opposite, or percentage of women with a prior cesarean who did not have a repeat cesarean, subtract the percentage given from 100).
Not surprisingly, when compared to surrounding counties, Muskegon ranks last. In fact, in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, only 16 women in Muskegon had a VBAC! This was not always the case. When women were encouraged to plan VBACs and deliver at local hospitals in 1999, this number was 83! VBAC bans make a difference.
Kent County leads West Michigan in the percentage of women having VBACS. When it comes to options, Kent County women can choose from three hospitals, Metro, Spectrum Health Butterworth and Mercy Health St. Mary’s. All of these hospitals allow VBACs.
Why does this matter? Why should women be concerned about their access to options for giving birth after a cesarean? The truth is that laboring and attempting a VBAC is less risky for most women than having major surgery. Family size also matters. The risks decrease with each successful VBAC and increase with each subsequent cesarean.
While many providers inform women of the risk of uterine rupture when attempting a VBAC, women are almost never informed of the risks of repeated cesarean surgeries. Every year in the month of October, the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) works to educate women about one of those risks: accreta. Accreta is a condition in which the placenta attaches too deeply into the uterine wall. According to their website, in the presence of placenta previa, the risk of accreta is 3% with the first repeat cesarean and increases to 67% for fifth or higher. Seven percent of women with placenta accreta will die from excess blood loss. Many women are encouraged to have a repeat cesarean without ever being informed of the risk of accreta. In fact, many women first learn about what accreta is when they are diagnosed with it!
When I speak with women in Muskegon about what influences their decision on how to birth after a cesarean, most tell me that the distance to travel to a hospital without a VBAC ban is just too far. They don’t want to travel for care or risk having a baby in their car. Some don’t have reliable transportation or gas money to make it to a hospital that allows VBAC. Most women want to give birth in their own community with the providers they know and trust. This is where their support system is and they don’t want to accept additional challenges by having a baby far from home.
One of the roles of doulas is educating the public on their options. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy after a prior cesarean, hiring a doula may be a first step in learning about your available options.
At Birth Quest, we’d like to hear from you! Are you a Muskegon woman who planned a VBAC? If you chose a repeat cesarean, what were the factors that influenced your decision? Your experiences may help another woman in a similar situation. Thanks for sharing!