One thing that was inadequately addressed in both my childbirth education and doula training was supporting women who have cesareans. The reason may be that the focus is so heavily placed on treating birth as a normal, natural process, that the reality that a third of all women give birth surgically somehow gets lost.
For this reason, I decided to attend the International Cesarean Awareness Network’s (ICAN) 2016 annual conference in Birmingham, AL. I packed up my kids and a friend to help out, drove the 11 hours south, checked into a campground and left my family each morning to attend the conference in the city.
The first speaker I heard was Hermine Hayes-Klein, a lawyer, lecturer and action researcher. Her lecture was entitled, “Claiming the Right to Respectful Support in Childbirth.” She was uncompromising in her support of a woman’s right to plan a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), asserting a woman’s human and legal right to make this choice:
- Decisions in which women were forced to have RCS (repeat cesarean section) were erroneous.
- When informed consent exists, the Dr. is not responsible if the woman refuses.
- Finances, not liability, is the driving force behind unnecessary cesareans (lots of research to support).
- Having sacred rights respected is a human right:
- Right to spiritual freedom
- Right to cultural integrity
- Legal right to birth at a location and with provider of choice falls under right to privacy. When midwives are sanctioned, this right is violated.
In the historical portion of her lecture, she described how the Witch Hammer, a 14th century guidebook used during the Inquisition, was used to annihilate midwives. She quoted the text as saying, “No one does more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives,” who were blamed for a baby shortage since they had knowledge of contraception. I cried while listening to how a group I so closely align myself with were systematically persecuted, but I’m glad to now have this knowledge.
Regarding birth plans, Ms. Hayes-Klein said, “Women like birth plans, but providers don’t.” She gave the following advice:
- Use specific language: “My birth plan is that I will make all the decisions about my care on the basis of info, advice and support from my providers.”
- Ask provider: “Is there any circumstance in which you would override my wishes or act without my consent?”
For women who believe that their rights have been violated during pregnancy and/or birth, she advised women to “Tell your provider what went wrong.” She said that providers need to hear about how their patients experience their care.