Making the Case for VBAC: A Three-Part Interview with Dr. Hélène Vadeboncoeur (1)
[Editor's note: For the remainder of this week on Science & Sensibility, we will feature an in-depth, three-part interview with childbirth researcher Hélène Vadeboncoeur, author of the recently released in English book, Birthing Normally After a Cesarean or Two. You will find the dialogue contained in this interview (and the contents of Vadeboncoeur’s book) both informing to childbirth professionals, as well as to the women we serve.]
Science & Sensibility: Tell us about what inspired you to write this book.
Hélène: I wrote this book to let women who had a cesarean know about the possibility that they could give birth themselves, afterwards. In this era of ever-increasing cesarean rates, and of less and less access to VBAC, it’s important that women know about this possibility so they can ask for it, if they wish to have one. I personally had my first child by cesarean, and the second one was born naturally. These experiences changed my whole life, and led me to work for humanization of childbirth and to get a PhD in order to do research in this area.
Science & Sensibility: Based on your research and experience, what are the compelling reasons we can share with our expectant clients as to why a woman should consider VBAC and why clinicians should support them?
Hélène: Because a VBAC is safer for the woman and it helps the baby adapt to extra-uterine life, lessening the risks for him or her to suffer from respiratory distress (some studies point out a smaller risk of death also for the baby).
Because most women can have their baby vaginally.
Because a VBAC facilitates mother-baby contact right after the birth, facilitating bonding.
Because giving birth can be for the woman an empowering, transformative and fulfilling experience that can have a positive impact on her, on her relationship with her baby, and on the rest of her life.
Science & Sensibility: In the Introduction, you mention this book as being for pregnant women who’ve had a cesarean section before, and for their partners. Are there other people out there who should read this book as well?
Hélène: I have many times realized that caregivers don’t always have a good knowledge of VBAC, which hampers women’s access to it or desire to have one. Often this lack of information on their part can make them say scary things to pregnant women. I had lots of comments by readers (doctors, nurses, midwives), that health care professionals should also read my book!
Science & Sensibility: In your introductory “birth frame,” you describe your own experiences with both a traumatic cesarean section, as well as a vaginal birth after cesarean. You depict your efforts to find a consultant (obstetrician) who would, in fact, be willing to attend a VBAC as harrowing. Why does this type of difficulty so often still exist today for most women seeking a VBAC?
Hélène: Since the middle of the 90s, after a climbing rate of VBAC following two consensus conferences on cesarean (in USA and in Canada), VBAC rates started to decline. There are many reasons that could explain why:
- One is that inductions became more and more common, in general, and medical milieu were not aware of the increased risks of this intervention for VBAC. More uterine ruptures followed. We had to wait until 2001 before a large-scale study warned about the risks of induction, in particular of the use of prostaglandins (Lydon-Rochelle et al, 2001). Caregivers got scared of VBAC uterine ruptures, without realizing the role of induction in it. And even if induction was seen to be the risk factor, the results of this study (and others) were communicated either by editorials in journals (NEJM) or by newspaper journalists in the following way “VBAC is dangerous.” Medical associations, who had initially been supportive of VBAC, became more and more cautious in their recommendations. However, the basic risk of VBAC (uterine rupture) has not changed : it’s small, being between 0.2 or 0.6 % (NIH says between 0.3 and 0.7 %).
- Lawsuits happened following VBAC that did not turn out good.
- Cesarean is becoming so common that it’s considered a ‘normal’ way to have a baby, and its risks are forgotten or not talked about much.
- The atmosphere of fear that surrounds childbirth in general has also an impact on VBAC. We all live in this culture of fear : the caregivers, the women, their partners, etc. It’s one of the biggest roadblocks to want – and obtain – a VBAC.
- Cesareans are seen as ‘perfect care’ or as ‘better for the baby’ (neither of this is necessarily true) and women can be considered selfish because they want to have a VBAC for the sake of it, ‘forgetting’ their baby’s well-being.
Science & Sensibility: Many people believe birth options are only a “big deal” to birthing women and yet, you beautifully included your husband Steven’s memories about the births of your children in this book. Why was this an integral part of your manuscript?
Hélène: Because when I wrote the first edition of my book, in French, I did it as a woman helping other women who were in the situation I found myself in. So it was natural for me to include my birth stories. And since men experience emotions around the birth of their child, it seemed important to include my husband’s views. Having a baby concerns both, the pregnant women and her partner/husband.
Science & Sensibility: Chapter One begins with a depiction of the current situation surrounding VBAC. Can you give us a primer on what this looks like?
Hélène: VBAC is now only happening for a small minority of women, because lots of hospitals banned access to it, because caregivers became afraid of it, so did women. It’s a lot more convenient for doctors to do a cesarean than to wait until labor starts… And in a private health care system, it also pays more.
Also, as is summarized at the end of the chapter, “our modern view of childbirth is linked to our deep-seated values, particularly in relation to the emphasis on technology, the control of our lives in every aspect, the avoidance of pain and our frenetic lifestyles, etc.”
[Stay tuned: In Part Two of this interview, Dr. Vadeboncoeur addresses success and risk assessment associated with VBAC, non-evidence-based reasons for moratoriums on VBAC, the March 2010 NIH Conference on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean and top controversial reasons c-sections are performed.]
Posted by: Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE