Where Do Birth Quest Clients Deliver?

Most Birth Quest clients deliver at Hackley, Gerber, Spectrum Health Butterworth, or home.

Here at Birth Quest, a lot of people ask Beth and I where we most often support birthing clients for their deliveries! Here is the answer with some reflections on each from a doula’s perspective:

1.) Mercy Health Hackley: Over 1/3 of our birth doula work is at Hackley. Beth and I were both born at Hackley and we both live less than a mile from the hospital, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. It also makes sense because we strive to serve our community and this is our community hospital! Being located near downtown Muskegon means there are some good food options, like Ryke’s Bakery, near-by. Design aspects we like about the hospital include having separate bathrooms in the hallway for visitors, a waiting room with an ice machine and being able to enter and leave the floor without having to pass through a security door. We’re not crazy about the separate Labor, Delivery & Recovery and Postpartum floors. Hackley is the only hospital on the lakeshore where midwives still deliver and I like how the nurses treat me like an equal. We’re curious to see the new labor and delivery unit that opens in summer of 2019.

2.) Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial: Many of our lakeshore clients travel to Fremont to have their babies at Gerber because of their reputation for supporting natural and patient-centered births. This support is backed up by Certified Nurse Midwives and their Perinatal Nurse Educator and blogger, Samantha Kauffman, who is both Hypnobirthing and Evidence Based Birth certified! Their Director of Clinical Nursing, Beth Coulier, and I worked together on the FIMR Case Review Team when I worked for Public Health – Muskegon County. She brings a lot of experience and compassion to Gerber and this is reflected in the quality of care her staff provides. Gerber gained a national reputation under the leadership of Dr. Tami Michele, who was innovative in overcoming an official ban in order to support trial of labor after cesarean (ToLAC) and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Dr. Michele currently works at the Butterworth campus. We like that birthing people can labor, deliver, and recover postpartum all on the same floor. Negatives include being located in a small town with few food options, especially late at night, having to be buzzed in and out of the unit by staff and not having visitor bathrooms on the unit. Although the staff are accommodating, it would be nice to have coffee, ice water and a fridge available without having to ask. You know, like a doula station? A doula can dream!

3.) Spectrum Health Butterworth: Although I would love to assist someone in the Natural Birthing Suites, we have not yet had the opportunity. When women we serve plan to deliver at Butterworth, it’s usually because they are high risk or planning a VBAC, making them ineligible for this option. In these circumstances, all of West Michigan is fortunate to have access to the state-of-the-art care provided there. There are pluses and minuses to being in such a large hospital. On the one hand, most of my clients have no idea who is going to be there when they deliver with a practice. On the other hand, when a woman’s care is transferred, there is a good chance that the care she seeks is available. Some of my favorite birth memories as a doula at Butterworth involve supporting women who want to do something that is met with staff discomfort and do it anyway!

4.) Home: There is nothing like the flexibility and comfort of home, even someone else’s home! Whether small or large, the gathering is always intimate, peaceful and festive. When present, I love spending time with other family members, friends and pets. There is never a struggle to support a natural birth plan, especially when it pertains to newborn interventions, at a home. Cost is the biggest barrier to home birth for those who desire it and fit the criteria. I also hope for a future with more diversity among midwives, to help increase access for all women.

West Michigan VBAC Access Update

Source: 2015 Geocoded Michigan Birth Certificate Registry.
Division for Vital Records & Health Statistics, Michigan Department of Health & Human Services

A year ago, I wrote a blog about how hospital bans against vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) limit options for Muskegon families. I used birth data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to compare percentages of people with low-risk pregnancies who have a cesarean after a prior cesarean in Muskegon and surrounding counties. Not surprisingly, VBACs are more common where hospitals support them.

The data available that I used was from 2008 to 2014. Since then, 2015 data has been released. I wanted to update this information to see if there were any changes, explore what might be impacting this change and predict how this situation might change in coming years based on current developments in healthcare policy and services.

Statewide, there has been improvement. In 2015, a total of 2,006 people had VBACs, compared to 1,882 in 2014, an increase of 124. When we look at West Michigan counties, however, only Muskegon County and District Health Department #10, which includes Oceana, Newaygo and eight other counties, saw an increase. Kent county births included 40 fewer VBACs and Ottawa county had 3 fewer than the year before.

There are a few issues with this data and that make it difficult to draw conclusions from. First, the two-to-three-year lag time from when the year ends until the data becomes available makes it less useful. We can reflect on what may have happened two years ago to impact these changes, but it is less relevant than being able to access real-time data. Secondly, the online database only provides this particular piece of information by county. In a large county, like Kent, it would be interesting to see how being in an urban, suburban or rural area or proximity to a specific hospital may impact access.

When applying this information to our doula practice, we see clients make a lot of different choices when it comes to choosing a provider and location for their planned VBAC. While some Muskegon area families are happy to travel to Spectrum Health Butterworth in Grand Rapids to deliver, others prefer the intimacy of the small practice at Gerber Memorial Women’s Health, also under Spectrum, in Fremont. Still others have decided to stay in Muskegon and show up in labor at Mercy Health Hackley, while home birth after cesarean (HBAC) is a clear choice for others.

Things may change in 2018. Dr. Tami Michele, who has practiced at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial for many years, is switching over to Spectrum Health Medical Group Ob/Gyn, with locations on 68th St. and on Mid Towne in Grand Rapids. Some say the move is to help increase the access to VBACs at Butterworth, which serves more patients. Dr. Michele is former doula, whose advocacy for those who wish to plan a VBAC has earned her a national reputation. What is less known at this time is how her moving from a small, rural hospital to a large metropolitan one will impact access to VBACs for those outside of Grand Rapids. Some will surely follow her, while others may feel that they lost a resource.

Another recent change on the national landscape was the publication of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists updated guidelines on VBAC, which appeared in the November issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology. According to Mark Turrentine, MD, chair of ACOG’s Committee on Practice Bulletins-Obstetrics, the guidelines are meant to ensure delivery at the safest facility, “However, this absolutely should not result in women having limited access to VBAC.”

According to Jen Kamel, founder of VBACFacts.com, the guidelines are an improvement over those released in 2010. She quotes the new guidelines, “Available data confirm that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] may be safely attempted in both university and community hospitals and in facilities with or without residency programs.” She interprets this to mean that if a hospital can handle deliveries, they should offer VBAC, because an emergency cesarean may be required in any birth, even a low-risk one.

How local staff changes and changes in the ACOG guidelines will impact local access remains to be seen. Will more people be able to access VBACs at Butterworth, or will support at Gerber decline? Will the 2017 ACOG guidelines result in a reversal of bans at Mercy Health Hackley, North Ottawa Community Hospital and Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial, or will the liability concerns prevail? Time will tell, but we won’t be able to see the data until 2020!

In the meantime, we will continue to support families in all their choices, whether they choose a repeat cesarean, a VBAC at a hospital or birth center of their choice, or at home.

Muskegon Momma Shares her VBAC Birth Story

Adorable VBA1C baby!

My VBA1C Story.

So here it goes! I am a little late but I just finished up with school and having a newborn baby, and her being baby number two with a 5 year old boy at home has been quite the adjustment for me, but things are really coming along great and he is an amazing big brother to her!!! I had my amazing VBAC! I gotta say, my story is one of these stories you mommas trying for a VBAC MUST READ. I read stories like mine everyday during my pregnancy and they gave me so much encouragement. Because after what I had been through with my son, I honestly had a lot of doubt deep down. I was 17 when I got pregnant with him. I did not educate myself, I thought having a baby was nothin! I figured everyone else seemed to have a baby no problem, so why can’t I!? But as we all know birth can be very unpredictable. So as far as what happened with my son I will try to make a long story short, I went in for my last OB check up, which was a day before my due date and my blood pressure was extremely high so I got an ultra sound to check my fluids, everything seemed fine, but they did schedule me to be induced for June 13th. Hours after pitocin started I was making little progress even after they broke my water, ended up getting the epidural and after 24 hours of labor and 4 hours of pushing I ended up with a c-section. My son was posterior and was showing signs of stress. I just remember, after being told that I was going to be having a c-section, all I kept telling my sons father is “I feel like a failure, why can’t I do it!?” It was all very traumatizing. The anesthesiologist was a complete smart ass when came time to bring me in for the c-section, cuz I mean there was so much to joke about, right!? Afterward I was shaking so bad, I couldn’t hold my baby for nearly a half an hour after the c-section, not to mention I was so doped up on morphine and whatever else, I could barely function. I will say my son was absolutely perfect. 8 pounds 2 ounces and 21 ½ inches long, and very healthy. When the surgeon paid me a visit in the recovery room he informed be that I would HAVE to have the rest of my children a c-section in the future. I was highly upset. I was upset about the outcome of my birth, I felt everything had went wrong, and that I failed. Recovery was also very painful and lengthy!! But, my recent experience with my daughter was very healing. I feel empowered, strong, hopeful, blessed and so many other beautiful things that birth can possibly make you feel, but most importantly, I got my baby girl, who arrived healthy! And I was healthy! But enough rambling and on to the best part!

Ok, so I found out I was pregnant March 1st of this year. I guess I wouldn’t say it was planned, but we weren’t necessarily trying to prevent it. At first I was just like ok, I guess I’m going to have another c-section, that really sucks. But then my stubborn bitch side kicked in and I was like wait, no, they can’t make me do s***! I mean they can’t really force me to have surgery, I’m not doing it, I refuse. Most people thought I was crazy and I heard a lot of “oh but you have to” and “you’re not allowed” but I was determined. I was also determined to breastfeed which I was unsuccessful with my son as well. (which has been going great as well ) But anyway, I told my midwives that I really wanted to have this one natural and they told me I better go in when time to push or the more safer route would be to go to Spectrum, so that is what I planned to do. But then I was actually talking to my stepmom and I was explaining to her that I really wanted to have this one natural and she told me to look into hiring a doula. I heard of a doula, but didn’t really know what they did or anything about them. And then a few different people referred me to Faith Groesbeck. What a real kind hearted, and genuinely beautiful soul she is. So explaining to Faith what I wanted as far as birth and telling her about my first experience she suggested I go to Gerber Hospital in Fremont. I made my appointment to meet with the VBAC supportive provider for the first time and when I got there I couldn’t meet with her because she was in delivery with one of her patients. I could have rescheduled but I wasn’t going to be able to meet with her until closer to the end of my pregnancy. I was a little frustrated, understanding that things happen and it wasn’t her fault, I just decided I would go to Hackley. It’s right down the street from my house, yes they are not as VBAC supportive as I would like, but I just kept in mind that they can’t force me to do anything and that I CAN DO THIS. And I did eventually accept that, if I HAD to, if there were extenuating circumstances that required me a c-section, than I would because my daughter and my safety was number 1. But unless it came to that, I was determined to have my VBAC, at Hackley Hospital. No matter the risks (because I did an extensive amount of research and there were risks, yes, but very unlikely considering my circumstances. I was not high risk.), the paperwork I had to sign or the attitude that was given, because honestly, no one’s attitude was going to be bigger than mine, and paperwork..??? Give it here!

Other than all of the morning sickness I had at the beginning of my pregnancy, it went really well. I had a little bit of preterm labor scare at about 25 weeks, but was most likely due to lack of water. After that I would have Braxton-Hicks here and there but nothing to get to excited about. I was very patient up until the last 3 weeks of course. The anticipation really started killing me. On Halloween though, I lost part of my mucus plug. I did feel some excitement because I knew my body was making changes, but my due date was in 10 days so I also knew that it didn’t necessarily mean anything. I could have been pregnant for another 10 days, or longer!! So I went about my week as normal, but was definitely trying to get last few things done around the house in case she decided to come a little early. I was supposed to go visit my grandma in Grand Rapids that Saturday but I called her Friday because I was having Braxton-Hicks very consistently and had a feeling the baby would be here soon so I wanted to spend my weekend doing the final last touches to the house and the kids room. So Friday morning I woke up feeling fine, I had sex about 11 am-ish I think it was and about noon I started having the Braxton-Hicks. I went to the grocery store, came home and was hanging out with my son for a bit. He was supposed to spend that whole weekend with his dad but I didn’t want him to because I knew when the baby came he was going to go with his dad for about a week or so so I could recover a bit (my kids have different fathers, so you’re not confused lol) I didn’t want him to go though because I was sad that it was my last little bit of time left with him being my only child. So I told his dad that he could go that night but I wanted him back Saturday if I could so that I could soak up the time with him. So anyway, my son went with his father that evening and I got this huge burst of energy and cleaned everything. I mean everything. I also cooked dinner and made brownies! Meanwhile the contractions were starting to be more consistent and somewhat uncomfortable, they weren’t anything unbearable. It was about 9 pm when I noticed they were at about 10 minutes apart. I was not concerned though because I was still in minimal amount of pain. At 10:30 I lost the rest of my mucus plug and then I thought, ok my body is making more changes, GREAT! I think I may have somewhat been in denial. As I’m communicating with a good friend of mine, she’s all like “baby time, you’re going to have her tonight watch” and I’m all like yeah right, I wish! Although I did feel she was going to come soon I just didn’t think it was going to be that night or anything in the near-near future. Lol. Anyway I decided that jusssst in cassse the baby came that night I decided I Should take a shower and do my eyebrows lol. So it was about midnight and my daughter’s father showed up, he works second shift and gets out of work at 11. I told him I wasn’t sure, but I thought labor may be on its way. Lol denial at its finest…and at 12:30 I crashed really hard, so I laid down. I woke up at 2am from the sharp pain of a contraction. It wasn’t anything excruciating, but enough to wake me out of my sleep. I sat up and just dealt with them as they were a little uncomfortable. I texted my grandma and told her I thought I might be in labor. She called me immediately and asked me how far apart my contractions were and I told her about 3-4 minutes apart. She told me to go in, I told her that i didn’t want to go in because they would send me home. Yeah my contractions were close together but I wasn’t in that much pain yet. You would think if you were in real labor you would be in a great deal of pain right? So I called a close friend of mine and asked her how much pain she was in when she decided to go in and she said she was in so much pain but they kept sending her home. So Brandon, (my daughter’s father) said we should go in, and here I am like no I just don’t really want to get sent home… but with him and my grandma hounding me I said okay, I’ll go in, but watch me get sent home. Right before I left my house the heat turned up a notch! It was about 2:45 when we arrived to the hospital and when I got out of my truck I knew then it was real labor because I couldn’t walk through the contractions anymore. I could still talk, and was breathing through them, but they had me hunched over. They got me checked in and the Nurse checked me and said “okay they will probably be keeping you but the Doctor will be coming in shortly to check you again, now I understand you had a c-section with your first” I told her I wasn’t having a c-section and she says “Well, do you know our policy here at Hackley on VBAC’s?” Of course I went in there with my diehard attitude and I said, I know you guys are going to try to make me have a c-section and its not going to happen. She says “Well we aren’t going to make you do anything, but we do have to let you know the risks” Her name was Lauren, She was awesome and I will never forget her. I won’t forget any of those residents there that night. I also reminded all of the residents that I did not want an epidural or any other form of pain medication. The Doctor that came in, his name was Dr. Thomas Duncan, and right away he checked me and told me that they were going to do what they could to help me have a successful VBAC and went through the ricks with me and that it was going to be either him or Dr. Gale-Butto that would be helping me deliver. So wait am I dilated though? I asked him. “Yes, you’re dilated to 9, your water is bulging and I can feel baby’s head” he says. I got scared. It was really happening, I was about to have this baby, SOON! I was in a good amount of pain by this time but was breathing through the contractions and felt I was doing okay. I was scared mainly of what was going to come when my water broke. As they moved me to the room where things were getting much more intense I suddenly felt the urge to push and my water broke. They wanted me to hold off a little bit because I tested positive for group b strep but its kind of hard to hold off when your body is taking over. At one point i asked if it was too late for the epidural, and Lauren the sweet nurse I will never forget, encouraged me that i was so close and she believed i could do it without, along with my daughter’s father and one of my Doulas Elizabeth (Unfortunately Faith was not able to make it due to important life events in which I do not hold against her for we were communication the entire time, and she was very encouraging as well) . You can do it they kept telling me. One of the other nurses came in and wanted to check me again but I refused firmly. I was in so much pain by this point, hands feeling in my vagina is the last thing I wanted! And besides when they checked me last i was at a 9, what do you need to check again for!! I thought. I told them I wanted to push when I felt ready and that I wanted to listen to my body. So after my water broke I could not fight the urge to push any longer. It was time to start working that baby out! I would say when I first started pushing I didn’t feel like anything was happening but i was in all this pain and i felt like I was trying my hardest. So after a number of pushes and feeling like it would never end I got fed up with the pain and decided I would take in that deep breath and push with all my might. The harder I worked, the sooner I could hold my baby girl in my arms. It’s truly amazing what you body can do. When she was crowning I reached down and felt all of hair and it was almost relieving and it made me so happy to just be able to touch her and know it was almost over. Unfortunately there is no picture of me touching her head, but Brandon, her father did say the look on my face was priceless and he will never forget it. What’s also crazy is pushing your baby out, and wanting the pain to end so badly, but having the doctors tell you to push, but don’t push so hard, because they were working her head out and her shoulders. Lol That took some control, but had I not listened I may have tore worse than I did. But after pushing for an hour and enduring that great amount of pain that I had no idea I could handle, my beautiful baby girl arrived at 6:12 am weighing 6 pounds 8 ounces and 19 inches long, HEALTHY and PERFECT. It was instant relief and all I could think about was how perfect and beautiful she was and that I DID IT. She came out eyes wide open and sucking on the back of her hand. She was ready to nurse and latched on right away, no problem! I feel like a momma lion!!! I knew I could do it, and the encouragement i received from those around me helped so much!!! I will never forget the residents that helped me deliver at Hackley hospital. I am truly blessed and I hope you mommas who are trying for a VBAC get some encouragement from this, you CAN do it!!

VBAC Resources for Muskegon Families

If you are planning a pregnancy after a cesarean, you may be considering a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC. For people in Muskegon and along the West Michigan lakeshore, you may not know anyone who has ever chosen this option, so finding support is key. I have compiled this list of VBAC resources to help you educate yourself about your choices.

Doulas

Research shows that having a doula reduces the risk of having a cesarean and increases the chances of a successful VBAC. As with a primary cesarean, the biggest factors to influence the success of a planned VBAC are the provider and facility. Doulas are aware of all of available options, so find one early in your pregnancy.

Only 6% of birthing families hire a doula, so it may be hard to start your search. When asked why they chose a specific doula, most people say that they clicked, or had a good vibe. For this reason, most doulas, including myself, offer a free consultation in your home or the location of your choice.

Resources for finding doulas in your area include your healthcare provider, DoulaMatch.net, birthingnaturally.net and Doulas.com. The Facebook page for the Lakeshore Doula Network includes a list of doulas that practice in the greater Muskegon area.

International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN)

ICAN of Grand Rapids, the nearest chapter, supports pregnant people who are looking to avoid an unnecessary cesarean, those who are recovering from cesarean surgery and those who are planning to have a VBAC. People gather once a month to share their stories, increase their knowledge and get support.

As a doula who has only had vaginal births, I attended a couple of meetings to listen and learn more about how to support my clients who have cesareans and are planning VBACs. While the focus of birth is often on the physical health of the birthing person and infant(s), ICAN is a nonjudgmental space to get support for the emotional aspects of birth. Knowing they are not alone and being able to tell one’s story is often a first step toward healing.

Childbirth Education

Here are some of my favorite resources for learning more about VBAC:

  • VBAC Education Project (VEP): VEP was created by Nicette Jukelevics, MA, ICCE to “empower women to make their own decisions about how they want to give birth after a cesarean and to provide VBAC-friendly birth professionals and caregivers with the tools and resources to support them.” All materials are downloadable for free. I had the pleasure of meeting Nicette at the 2016 ICAN conference and she was very passionate about getting her materials to people who can benefit from them. I’ve used VEP materials in my own teaching and am grateful for such an accessible resource!
  • Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC): Informed and Ready: This is a Lamaze childbirth education online class for parents. Curious about the content for my own teaching, I paid the $29.95 and watched it myself back in May of 2015. It covers the emotional aspects of a cesarean, factors affecting VBAC success, the risks of repeat cesareans for moms and babies, the risks of VBAC, how to choose a provider, resources for parents and more! Not a bad deal to receive guidance in childbirth after cesarean from the comfort of your own home.
  • VBACFacts.com: Jen Kamel founded this website, which provides “realistic, powerful, non-biased, research-based, trustworthy and balanced” information on VBAC for parents and professionals. Her online course for parents, “The Truth About VBAC for Families,” is $299 and includes many resources. Jen Kamel is more than an authority on VBACs, she is a strong advocate for childbirth choices! Her current work helping to reverse hospital VBAC bans will positively impact many.

Childbirth After Cesarean: Lakeshore Women Have Options

From module 12 of the VBAC Education Project (VEP).

From module 12 of the VBAC Education Project (VEP).

Women in Muskegon and elsewhere along the West Michigan lakeshore have several options for childbirth after cesarean. What are some of these options?

Repeat Cesarean

The majority of women in Muskegon County who have a prior cesarean have a repeat cesarean section (RCS). This may be because they decide this is the safest option for them based on their medical history, while others prefer the certainty and convenience of scheduling their birth. Other times, women don’t realize that they have other options or don’t have the support to access them.

Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)

I’ve heard Muskegon birthing people being prepped for surgery be told that they can deliver vaginally in the future, but that they would have to go to a Grand Rapids hospital. That’s only part of the story. While currently, all three of the hospitals in Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health Butterworth, Metro and Mercy Health St. Mary’s, offer VBAC, distance makes this option a challenge for many people. Holland Hospital also offers VBAC as an option.  Others are intimidated by the prospect of receiving prenatal care and delivering with a large practice and facility, which feels impersonal compared to the care they are accustomed to in their community. Despite the challenges, some Muskegon people will travel out-of-county for their VBAC.

Another option that appeals to some families is to deliver in a community hospital that has a VBAC ban, or policies that discourage VBAC, but is known to have supportive providers. Dr. Michele and her colleagues at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial have an excellent reputation for supporting those who choose to have a VBAC. Others receive their prenatal care locally, put off scheduling a RCS or do not show to appointments, with the plan to show up in labor at their local hospital. Local community hospitals include Mercy Health Hackley in Muskegon and North Ottawa Community Hospital (NOCH) in Grand Haven. I have heard of people having VBACs at Hackley, despite the ban, but not at NOCH.

Free-standing birth centers are an option for women who want to deliver with a midwife in a home-like atmosphere outside of, but close to, a hospital. There is some evidence that choosing midwifery care through a free-standing birth center increases VBAC success rates. Simply Born Birth House is the only free-standing birth center in West Michigan. Sara Badger, a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) is the provider there. Birth centers have criteria they use to screen women to see if they are good candidates for this type of care. If this is something you are considering, I recommend scheduling a consultation before pregnancy to learn more.

The final option is to plan a home birth after cesarean, or HBAC. In the event of a rare complication, like a uterine rupture, this may not be the safest option, but some people are willing to take the risk to birth on their terms, in the privacy of their own home, with a provider who believes in their body’s ability to birth. As with birth centers, home birth midwives have criteria for screening clients who are candidates for HBAC. You may have to interview several in order to find the right one for you.

As with any birth, there are many decisions to be made. Since providers vary a great deal in their support of VBAC, it isn’t a bad idea to do some research prior to your next pregnancy. A provider may also have good advice to increase your chance of having a successful VBAC, like the amount of time to wait between pregnancies and how to optimize your health.

While those in Muskegon and along the lakeshore may not have all of the options available to birthing people in large, metropolitan areas, they do have possibilities. Knowing what those are is the first step to choosing the course of care best for you and your family.