Posts Tagged ‘Pamela Vireday’

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part Three: Supporting The Mothers

November 12th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday

“Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.” – Helen Keller

cbac part 3Today we conclude our three part series on Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Last week, Pamela discussed the unique grief that CBAC women may experience. Two days ago, Pamela examined the limited research available on CBAC births in part two.  Today, Pamela will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  There is also great set of resources in the post to share with the families you work with or include in a CBAC Resource packet you provide after birth. You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

In the first post of our series –  Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part One: A Unique Grief, we discussed how women who want and work for a VBAC but end up with a cesarean have a unique grief that is different from a primary cesarean or an elective repeat cesarean. Many women who have experienced a CBAC say they felt unsupported and isolated. They had nowhere to tell their stories, nowhere to process their anger, and got little sympathy from those around them.

In the second post – Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part Two: The Forgotten Mothers, we examined what research there is on CBAC mothers and found limited wisdom to guide us. In the absence of research on how best to help CBAC mothers, we must rely on the words and experiences of CBAC mothers to tell us what they need.

In the final part of our series today, we suggest concrete ways that birth professionals can support CBAC mothers, based on suggestions made by CBAC mothers themselves. Keep in mind that each story and woman is unique, and the needs of one may be different than the needs of another. The best thing to do is to follow the lead of the CBAC mother; she will tell you in word and deed how best to support her.

Create a Safe Space for the Birth Story

One of the most important things that birth professionals can do to help CBAC mothers is to give them a safe space to tell their stories ― their full stories.

CBAC mothers often edit their stories for others, leaving out their disappointment or scary details because people only want to hear the happy parts. When they try to tell the full story, they may hear, “Just get over it already” or “Oh, we’re not going to talk about that again, are we?” CBAC mothers also often self-edit their stories in order not to discourage or scare other expectant mothers. But an untold story is one that weighs heavy on the heart.

Be the safe person to whom the full birth story can be told. Be truly present while listening. Don’t armchair-quarterback her story; suspend your judgment, put aside your own birth agendas, and focus only on supporting this woman, right now, in this situation. Eliminate distractions, use attentive body language, and really focus on the woman so that she truly feels like she is being heard.

Realize that she may need to tell the story multiple times; each time she tells it, she processes it on a new and different level. Ask her, “What do you need from me right now?” so she can tell you if she wants something more than just listening. If possible, check in with the woman’s partner, who may also need help processing or understanding why the mother is still coming to terms with her experience.

“Listen. Listen. And don’t contradict. Just listen. Don’t compare. Just listen. And don’t try to make me feel better. Just listen.”     – Kristina R.

Use Creative Support Techniques

Once the mother is ready to start processing the birth story further, use reflective listening techniques. Listen to what she says, seek to understand what seems most important to her, and paraphrase back to see if you understood her point. Don’t make assumptions about how she is feeling or add judgments. Ask open-ended follow-up questions that invite her to explore her feelings if she is ready. Give her the time and space to come to her own conclusions about her experience.

Many women find that journaling, making art, singing, writing poetry, and participating in rituals is helpful in processing their emotions. This can be particularly helpful for those who get stuck in a negative feedback loop or who need to process significant trauma. Don’t be afraid to refer to a good birth-supportive therapist in your area if needed.

Validate the Mother

CBAC mothers need to have their experiences and feelings validated. Mothers need to be reminded that their hard work and accomplishments during birth are still valid, however the baby was born. Acknowledge the amazing sacrifice she made in giving up her own dreams and bodily integrity for her baby.

“CBAC women need validation. They need encouragement that every birth can be different. Above all, they need to be appreciated for the work they did both before and during the experience, the sacrifices made for their babies, and the special place inside themselves that now carries yet another scar.” – Teresa Stire

“Effort does not always equal outcome. Give yourself credit for that effort, and don’t boil it all down to the moment of birth alone.” -Melek Speros

Encourage Bonding

Bonding can be especially difficult after a physically or emotionally traumatic birth. Others may have stepped in to care for their babies, which can leave some mothers feeling incompetent or disconnected.

Start by encouraging more time with the baby. Promote as much skin-to-skin contact as possible; this helps produce more oxytocin and may help breastfeeding too. Some women find bathing or napping with babies to be very healing.

It can be helpful to compartmentalize grief behind an emotional door so women can focus on their baby’s immediate needs, on their older children, and on their own physical needs. However, it’s important that women schedule time periodically to take out the grief, actively work through it, and then put it away. Otherwise, grief may intrude on the bonding process.

Give the Mother Support Resources

Create a CBAC Resource Packet that you can email or hand out as needed. Include a list of CBAC support sites, CBAC brochures, and names of local postpartum doulas or birth therapists. Edit it to each woman’s unique situation.

The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) has a new brochure about CBAC, which will be available soon in its store, as well as a website dedicated specifically to CBAC, including an archive of CBAC stories. In addition, there is a closed ICAN support group on Facebook just for CBAC mothers.

Although not all CBAC mothers experience post-traumatic stress symptoms, having birth trauma resources in the CBAC Resource Packet puts the ball in the mother’s court and lets her decide the emotional ramifications of her experience. It also gives her concrete options for reaching out for further support, possibly even long after your working relationship with her is over.

Help Her Connect with Other CBAC Mothers

CBAC moms are their own best mentors. This may be the only place CBAC women find others who truly “get” what they are going through.

The unique feelings around CBACs may mean that birth groups, especially those centering on VBACs, could be uncomfortable for a while. Many CBAC mothers feel intensely jealous when hearing other women’s easy birth stories. They may need to insulate themselves for a bit. Taking a break from birth-related groups for a while can be healthy and self-protective; she can return when she is ready.

Of course, not every support resource is perfect. Encourage CBAC mothers to be careful about whom they seek support from. Many well-meaning people say hurtful things like, “Just be grateful you got a healthy baby,” or “You’re just lucky you didn’t die!” CBAC mothers need to find support that will not inadvertently trigger or hurt them more.

Acknowledge Unique Circumstances

Each CBAC is unique, and each may carry its own particular color of pain.

Some women had CBACs because their providers suddenly withdrew support for VBAC at the end of pregnancy or during labor. Some faced so many interventions and conditions during their labors that a CBAC seemed almost inevitable. Some experienced mistreatment and abuse during their experience.

On the other hand, some women had very supportive providers but still ended with a CBAC. Others felt they had a “prudent CBAC,” a difficult but sensible choice because of fetal distress, poor fetal position, rising blood pressure, or other complications. Some had an “empowered CBAC,” where there was powerful learning and healing to help balance the disappointment.

Some women have multiple CBACs, each with their own emotional resonance. Some have a VBAC and then a CBAC, which has its own particular pain. A few have had the bitter experience of having lasting physical and emotional damage from their CBAC, including uterine rupture, hysterectomy, or loss of their baby.

As always, each person’s experience is different, and each CBAC mother needs their unique experiences honored.

“Try on” a CBAC

“Trying on” a CBAC can help birth professionals have a deeper empathy for the unique grief of a CBAC mother.

Consider what it might feel like to have a CBAC. Let yourself feel what it might be like to hope and dream for a VBAC and then not have one, to have to tell everyone afterwards that you didn’t VBAC after all, to listen to the naysayers who believe your body really is broken and who tell you that you should have just scheduled a cesarean section, to listen to other women’s easy birth stories and feel envious all the time.

Walking in someone else’s shoes for a while gives people a better appreciation for the difficulties and the bittersweet feelings surrounding disappointing life events. More empathy for CBAC mothers is definitely needed in the birth community.

Contact the Mother Periodically to Check In

CBAC is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and feelings will change over time. The way the mother feels immediately after a CBAC will probably not be the same as a few months or a year later. Check in with her periodically to see how she is feeling about everything and whether there is any way you can support her further. This is especially important for CBAC mothers who have experienced a major trauma.

It’s not unusual for CBAC mothers to experience emotional upset around the six month mark, on the child’s first birthday, or even later. A quick check-in can affirm that someone remembers and cares about what she is going through.

Discuss Future Pregnancies

Another common point of emotional crisis for CBAC mothers is when the mother considers having another child. At that time she revisits her fear and trauma from past births, decides whether to have more children, and if so, may be torn over whether to choose a repeat cesarean or another VBAC trial of labor (TOL).

Although conventional medical wisdom holds that once a woman has had a CBAC, she has shown she cannot birth vaginally, the reality is that a number of CBAC women go on to have a VBAC in future pregnancies, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is supportive of VBAC after two cesareans. Women who choose a TOL in this situation may need particularly strong emotional support as they work through their fears and concerns from both a primary cesarean and a CBAC.

However, it’s also important to remember that sometimes a VBAC is truly medically contraindicated, the woman is done having children, or does not wish another TOL. Although VBAC is no longer an option, that doesn’t mean these women are at peace with past or future CBACs. They may still need support too. Little research has been done on how to support this group as they integrate their experiences into their lives. In particular, information is needed on how to support women who experienced significant emotional trauma during birth (Beck and Watson, 2010).

Believe That Healing Can Be Had

Life gives us all disappointments and sometimes these remain bittersweet forever. As with other griefs, you never truly “heal” from a CBAC; the disappointment and loss of that birth is always there, and it never goes away. However, birth professionals need to communicate that – with time and distance – women often come to some sort of peace with the experience.

If given the chance to process their feelings thoroughly, women eventually have enough distance from it to not grieve as sharply, to find lessons or growth in the experience, and to be able to integrate the disappointment of it into their lives.

Some transform the power of the CBAC experience into advocacy, becoming health care workers themselves or advocates in birth-related fields. Others practice micro-advocacy by informally helping birthing women they encounter in their personal lives.

Women don’t have to ever be grateful for their CBACs, but in time they can recognize that good things can spring from difficult things, and that great trauma can lead to great growth. The process is not quick or facile, but it can happen. And birth professionals can be a vitally important part of that process.

“My joy [in my births] has gradually returned. I am learning now to honor my experiences…We are not failures, we are no less brave than the women who accomplish the VBAC goal. I keep reminding myself that I will never climb Mount Everest, either, and will probably not accomplish some of the other things I think I want in my life. Maybe this missed childbirth opportunity is just that ─ another missed opportunity ─ and maybe we can find some other accomplishments/ life experiences to compensate. Maybe.”       -K

“Today, 12.5 years after my first CBAC, I can honestly say how much growing and learning came from it and for that I am grateful.” -Teresa Stire

“My CBAC made me the compassionate advocate I am today.” -Melek Speros

Resources for CBAC Mothers

Here are a few select resources that may be helpful to CBAC mothers. If you know of more, please add them in the comments section.

CBAC Resources

CBAC Support Groups

General Birth Trauma Support Organizations

Articles on CBAC Recovery

Birth Trauma Articles



Beck CT, Watson S. Subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth. Nurs Res 2010 Jul-Aug;59(4):241-9. PMID: 20585221

About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, PTSD, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , ,

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part Two: The Forgotten Mothers

November 10th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday

“CBAC mothers have powerful lessons to teach, if you are willing and able to hear us.”  — Melek Speros

CBAC part 2We continue our current series on Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Last week, Pamela discussed the unique grief that CBAC women may experience. Today, Pamela examines the limited research available and part three (on Thursday) will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  We will also conclude the series with a useful resource list to share with the families you may work with who find themselves in this situation.  You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.


In Part One of the series – Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen, we discussed how women who work for a VBAC but end up with a cesarean have a unique grief that is different from that of a mother who has a primary cesarean or who chooses to have a repeat cesarean.

There is a pressing need for better support for CBAC mothers, but often birth professionals and family members have no idea how to go about offering this support. Does research have any insight on improving CBAC support to these women?

CBAC Research

Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on CBACs. Most VBAC-related research deals with VBAC rates, complications, cost-effectiveness, or the woman’s decision-making process. Women who choose VBAC but don’t end up with one are largely ignored in academic studies.

However, there are a few studies with implications for the CBAC mother, including those that address physical recovery and a few that address emotional recovery.

Physical Recovery

Most CBAC research focuses on physical morbidity, which can certainly have an influence on how a woman feels after a CBAC.

Although most CBAC mothers recover just fine, women who have a trial of labor cesarean do have higher rates of infectious morbidity, postpartum hemorrhage, hysterectomy, blood transfusions, and neonatal morbidities (El-Sayed 2007, Hibbard 2001, Durnwald and Mercer 2004).

One study found that 2.1% of women with a trial of labor experienced major maternal morbidity (Scifres 2011). How much more complicated is emotional recovery if the mother is also dealing with the aftermath of a serious infection, a sick baby, surgical injuries to nearby organs, anemia from a major hemorrhage, or heaven forbid, a uterine rupture, hysterectomy, or stillbirth?

The lesson here is that some mothers will be dealing not only with the disappointment of CBAC, but also with significant physical fallout afterwards. This can greatly complicate emotional processing, but sadly, these are often the mothers who receive the least emotional support afterwards. It’s as if their complications have made them toxic to the birth community because their experiences represent the rare worst-case scenarios no one wants to acknowledge.

The first step in helping a CBAC mother is to help her focus on her physical recovery, especially if there have been complications, even as you help her explore her emotions around the CBAC.

Emotional Recovery

There is only a small amount of research available on the emotional impact of CBACs. How do women feel about the CBAC experience? Do they regret having tried for a VBAC? Would they want to try again? What can be done to help women process the experience emotionally?

One study surveyed CBAC mothers.(Chigbu 2007) Not surprisingly, they found CBAC mothers, particularly those with no previous vaginal birth experience, often had feelings of:

  • Dashed expectations
  • Inadequacy as a mother
  • Frustration of experiencing the pain of both labor and surgery

Some women experience long-lasting trauma from birth. Although many people have written about Post-Traumatic Stress in childbirth, it is unclear from the research what the most effective approach is for dealing with PTSD in birth.

Some research indicates that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment (EMDR) can be helpful (Sandström 2008, Stramrood 2012). However, research trials have been extremely small and limited in the childbirth field.

A recent Cochrane review (Bastos, 2015) concluded that there was little high-quality evidence for or against using debriefing interventions to prevent psychological trauma after childbirth. Still, many women find counseling helpful after a traumatic birth, and EMDR helpful if flashbacks are frequent or intrusive.

From anecdotal evidence, anger is a common theme among some CBAC mothers. They may be furious with care providers who let them down, with the seemingly random nature of birth fortunes, or with their bodies for “not working right”:

It was very important to me that someone recognize and validate my anger. I was SO FREAKING ANGRY!!!!! And I needed to hear, “You have every right to your anger!”    – Jer 

This kind of anger is uncomfortable for birth professionals to hear. We want women to have happy endings and just be enthralled with their babies. But denying anger doesn’t make it go away; it just makes it burrow down more destructively. Helping a mother speak her anger without taking it personally vents it and takes away some of its toxicity so that healing can start to take place.

Many CBAC mothers deal with a strong sense of shame and failure, of feeling broken. Health care providers make this worse when they blame women by telling them their pelvises are “too narrow,” their cervix is “horrible,” or that they have “too much soft tissue” around their vaginas. Health care providers must be careful in issuing judgments such as these because many women told these things have gone on to have vaginal births. More often it’s a case of “this baby, this birth, this time” didn’t work, not that the woman’s body is defective.

Some CBAC mothers obsess over the “what-ifs” of birth decisions or spend a lot of time analyzing what went wrong. This can be a way of asserting a sense of control over what feels uncontrollable. Analysis can sometimes be useful, but it also can lead to a never-ending rabbit hole of self-blame. Sometimes we just don’t know why birth turns out the way it does, and it can help when health care providers and birth professionals share this.

“Pregnancy/childbirth is one of the most unfair endeavors I’ve encountered. Realizing that has set me free in a way. If something as commonplace as childbirth has so many variations even despite what is actively chosen/done, then how can anything else in our lives go the way we want if we just. work. hard. enough. Life isn’t fair. Childbirth, the ease for some, the struggle for others, just isn’t fair. And that’s been liberating for me.”  – L  

Common Recovery Arcs

Recovery from a CBAC can be an emotional roller-coaster. Many women experience ambivalent feelings and these feelings can change considerably over time.

Immediately after a CBAC, some women are so traumatized that they need to process it immediately. Yet the people around them may feel threatened by any negative feelings around the birth; they don’t understand that women can love their babies but still feel upset about how the baby arrived.

Some CBAC women find a place of temporary peace about the experience. They may be reconciled to its necessity, or may simply need to focus first on the baby and put aside any other feelings. It may only be later that more ambivalent feelings rise up and must be dealt with.

Sometimes right after the birth, women wish they had just chosen a planned repeat cesarean. However, with time, this feeling changes for many CBAC women. One study found that, while women were disappointed at not having a VBAC, 92% of CBAC women “were pleased that they had attempted a vaginal birth” (Cleary-Goldman, 2005). The authors concluded that “Although the most satisfied patients were those who succeeded at vaginal birth, most women valued the opportunity to attempt a vaginal birth regardless of outcome.”

This result was also found by Phillips (2009). Indeed, Chigbu (2007) noted, “This survey revealed that most women still would prefer to be delivered vaginally after 2 previous cesarean deliveries.”

What few surveys have been done show the emotional impact a CBAC can have, but the topic is glaringly understudied. More research is urgently needed on the experiences of CBAC mothers and what can be done to help support them.

In the absence of research to guide us, we must trust what CBAC women tell us they need. More on that in Part Three of the series on Thursday.


Bastos MH, Furuta M, Small R, McKenzie-McHarg K, Bick D. Debriefing interventions for the prevention of psychological trauma in women following childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 10;4:CD007194. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007194.pub2. PMID: 25858181

Chigbu CO, Enwereji JO, Ikeme AC.  Women’s experiences following failed vaginal birth after cesarean delivery. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2007 Nov;99(2):113-6.   PMID: 17662288

Cleary-Goldman J, Cornelisse K, Simpson LL, Robinson JN. Previous cesarean delivery: understanding and satisfaction with mode of delivery in a subsequent pregnancy in patients participating in a formal vaginal birth after cesarean counseling program.  Am J Perinatol. 2005 May;22(4):217-21.  PMID:15906216

Durnwald C and Mercer B.  Vaginal birth after Cesarean delivery: predicting success, risks of failure. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med 2004 Jun;15(6):388-93.  PMID:15280110

El-Sayed YY, Watkins MM, Fix M, Druzin ML, Pullen KKM, Caughey AB.  Perinatal outcomes after successful and failed trials of labor after cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2007 Jun;196(6):583.e1-5; discussion 583.e5.  PMID: 17547905

Hibbard JU, Ismail MA, Wang Y, Te C, Karrison T, Ismail MA. Failed vaginal birth after a cesarean section: how risky is it? I. Maternal morbidity.  American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  2001 Jun;184(7):1365-71; discussion 1371-3.  PMID: 11408854.

Phillips E, McGrath P, Vaughan G.  ‘I wanted desperately to have a natural birth’: Mothers’ insights on Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC).  Contemporary Nurse 2009 Dec-2010 Jan:34(1):77-84. PMID: 20230174

Sandström M, Wiberg B, Wikman M, Willman AK, Högberg U. A pilot study of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing treatment (EMDR) for post-traumatic stress after childbirth. Midwifery. 2008 Mar;24(1):62-73. Epub 2007 Jan 12. PMID: 17223232

Scifres CM, Rohn A, Odibo A, Stamilio D, Macones GA.  Predicting significant maternal morbidity in women attempting vaginal birth after cesarean section.  Am J Perinatol 2011 Mar;28(3):181-6. PMID:  20842616

Stramrood CA, van der Velde J, Doornbos B, Marieke Paarlberg K, Weijmar Schultz WC, van Pampus MG. The patient observer: eye movement  desensitization and reprocessing for the treatment of posttraumaticstress following childbirth. Birth. 2012 Mar;39(1):70-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2011.00517.x. Epub 2011 Dec 19. PMID: 22369608

About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Research, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen , , , , , , ,

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part One: A Unique Grief

November 5th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday 

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  –Helen Keller

CBAC part 1I am delighted to share with you a three part series that begins today, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Today, Pamela discusses the unique grief that CBAC women may experience.  Part two will examine the limited research available and part three will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  We will also conclude the series with a useful resource list to share with the families you may work with  who find themselves in this situation.  You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

It is a hard truth that not all women who want a VBAC will have one.

In a typical high-intervention hospital setting, about 60-80% of women who attempt a VBAC will have one. (Grobman 2010) That’s a terrific, strong reason to support VBACs.

The underappreciated flip side of this statistic, however, is that about 20-40% of women who attempt a VBAC will have another cesarean instead, often after a long, hard labor. Yet little attention has been paid to these women and their families. How do they feel about their experience? How is their emotional journey different than after a primary cesarean or an elective repeat cesarean? What do these women need to integrate this experience into their lives?

Anecdotally, many women report that they did not feel supported after a VBAC attempt  (referred to as TOLAC – Trial of Labor after Cesarean) that ended in another cesarean. Some even felt judged or deserted by their care providers and friends. Research shows that the physical recovery is often harder, too. Yet little attention has been paid in the research to the needs of these women, and few resources exist that directly address their experiences.

Where is the support for women who have an undesired, unplanned second cesarean? Where is the acknowledgement of all the work they put in towards a VBAC, the hours of labor, the pain, the worry? Does all that preparation and work not count if one does not end up with a VBAC?

How can we in the birth field better support the women who do not have a VBAC? How can we help all mothers feel supported, regardless of outcome?


The first thing that we can do is to be mindful of our terminology.

Obstetric research typically uses the terms “Failed VBAC” or “Failed Trial of Labor After Cesarean” (Failed TOLAC). Many women feel that this terminology is judgmental and insensitive, adding to their emotional wounds at a time when they feel most vulnerable. Women who did not get a VBAC are not failures. The reality of birth is much grayer than a black-or-white, success-or-failure binary equation.

The term, “trial of labor cesarean,” is a better alternative than “failed VBAC.” However, it is cumbersome and perpetuates the mentality of being “on trial.”

Members of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) created the more-neutral term “Cesarean Birth After Cesarean” (CBAC) as an alternative. It helps distinguish between a repeat cesarean that was gladly chosen and one that occurred when a mother planned and worked for a VBAC but didn’t get one.

Most of the time, CBAC refers to a woman who labored and then had a repeat cesarean. However, sometimes CBAC can also refer to an unwanted repeat cesarean performed before labor for legitimate medical reasons, because the mother was coerced or scared into a repeat cesarean, or because she was unable to find a supportive provider. The point is that an undesired cesarean is going to have a different emotional resonance than one which was wanted.

Some women prefer “CSAC” (Cesarean Surgery After Cesarean). We will use “CBAC” here because its meaning is intuitive and it is a logical companion term to “VBAC” but women should choose the term that feels right for their experience.

Women’s Stories

Women who have had CBACs often report that they did not receive adequate emotional support from birth professionals, friends, or family after the birth.

“When it comes to support, I had tons when PLANNING the VBAC but once it turned into a CBAC? Everyone disappeared. No one was willing to talk to me about it. No one really had information to GIVE me about a ‘failed VBAC.’ “Sarah Vincent

“I remember after my failed [VBAC] attempt how much I needed to share my story, talk about my disappointment and sadness, and process what went wrong. But it seemed as though nobody wanted to hear it. It was almost as if my CBAC might be contagious so I should refrain from talking much about it.” Teresa Stire

Personally, I had a CBAC after 5 hours pushing with no progress. My doula made me feel like I had given up too soon. She left soon after the cesarean and I never saw or heard from her again, despite the fact that she was supposed to do a postpartum visit. Her abandonment spoke volumes. Sadly, her judgment was only the first of many from the birth world.

CBAC mothers often feel their decisions are second-guessed like this. Well-meaning people will go through a CBAC mother’s birth story, looking for “wrong” decisions that caused the CBAC. Sometimes CBAC stories are used as cautionary tales to other hopeful VBAC mothers. Even when there are things a CBAC mother might have changed about her decisions, being held up as an example of “what not to do” is incredibly hurtful.

Furthermore, the grief around a CBAC is different in some ways than that around a primary cesarean; women tend to feel more “broken” after a CBAC, as if their bodies had truly failed them, and many feel isolated and unsupported. Yet the birth community treats CBACs as if they are no different from primary cesareans. CBAC mothers have shared:

“I personally felt screwed by careproviders after my 1st CS, but after my 2nd I felt screwed by my body― I truly was broken.” Elaine Mills

“The isolation of CBAC is another aspect that may be relatively unknown. I felt very isolated ― from vaginal birth moms, from Elective Repeat Cesarean moms (ERCS) moms, and very much from VBAC moms. This has been very toxic for me.”   Rebecca H.

“Validating the…compounding nature of that loss (as opposed to a primary c/s) ― the nail in the coffin feeling ─ is so important.” Caroline Kelley

A CBAC is not experienced in the same way as a primary cesarean or an elective repeat cesarean. The grief resonates differently, even if the CBAC was prudent or necessary. Yet seldom is the unique nature of this loss acknowledged. How can we, as birth professionals, recognize these differences and support these women through this emotional journey? More on this in the Part Two of the series on Tuesday.


Grobman, W. A. (2010, August). Rates and prediction of successful vaginal birth after cesarean. In Seminars in perinatology (Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 244-248). WB Saunders.

About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Birth Blogs Every Childbirth Educator Should Be Reading

September 17th, 2013 by avatar

Today on Science & Sensibility, I wanted to share with readers some of my favorite birth related blogs, after Science & Sensibility of course! I subscribe to over 400 blogs, on a variety of topics, not just birth. I hope that someone has a larger blog list then I do, otherwise I will start to worry about how this might be an obsession.

I really enjoy reading what experts in the field of maternal and infant health have to say on their blogs and frequently find myself sharing information in my classes and with the families that I work with as well as with other professionals. I appreciate the effort, the research, the time and the energy that goes into making my favorite blogs so rich and useful for me, and so relevant to the work I do as an LCCE. 

Here are six of my favorite blogs, in no particular order:

1. Spinning Babies Blog

Midwife Gail Tully has long been well known for her website, Spinning Babies and her blog is an added bonus!  Gail frequently answers questions from readers, describes some new research she came across or shares a new technique to help babies move easier through the pelvis.  Here you can frequently find a video snippet you can use in your childbirth class, a book review or an inspiring birth story usually related to babies who chose to do things their way, as they work to be born.  

2. Evidence Based Birth

This blog burst onto the scene in mid-2012, and has been a fantastic resource ever since.  Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN is an assistant professor of nursing at a research university in the U.S. She teaches pathophysiology and pharmacology, but has a strong personal interest in birth, and hence the blog was created.  The mission of Evidence Based Birth is to “promote evidence-based practice during childbirth by providing research evidence directly to women and families.”  Rebecca takes a look at the big issues (failure to progress, big babies, low AFI, for example) that face women during their pregnancy and birth, and does a thorough job of evaluating all the research and explaining it in a logical, easy to understand post.  Rebecca sums up her posts with recommendations based on the evidence and gives readers the bottom line and take-away.  Additionally, there are “printables” that are concise versions of some of her blog posts that families can print out and take to appointments with their healthcare providers in order to help facilitate discussions about best practice.

3.  VBAC Facts

Jennifer Kamel has created a plethora of useful information on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) facts and statistics.  She founded her blog after doing a huge amount of research on the benefits and risks of VBAC, after her first birth ended in a Cesarean and she prepared for her second.   The amount of information, statistics, research summaries and discussion found on her blog is amazing.  Jen is a “numbers gal” and does a great job of explaining risks and numbers in an easy to understand presentation.  I frequently find myself going to her blog when I want to know the risk of placental complications after a cesarean or to better understand some of the new research and policy statements from ACOG and other professional organizations.  When 1 in 3 women in the US will give birth by Cesarean, it is good to have a resource such as VBACFacts.com to go to that can help me understand and explain options to families birthing after a cesarean.

4. The Well-Rounded Mama

Pamela Vireday has written “The Well-Rounded Mama” blog since 2008 and it has been a valuable resource for women of all sizes, when they are looking for answers and facts about options for birth.  The mission of the blog is “to provide general information about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, to discuss how to improve care for women of size, to raise awareness about the impact of weight stigma and discrimination on people of size, and to promote health by focusing on positive habits instead of numbers on a scale.” Pamela does an awesome job of gathering, explaining and summarizing research, particularly related to women of size, but in all honestly, extremely relevant to all birthing women.  I appreciate her plus size photo galleries of pregnant and breastfeeding women of size. If you might be a  woman who is larger than many of the models in today’s pregnancy magazines, seeing the gallery of women who look beautiful pregnant and breastfeeding, with a wide range of body shapes, can be comforting.  In addition to providing evidence based information,  Pamela answers some of the questions that plus sized mothers might have, but are hesitant to ask their healthcare provider, such as concerns about about whether fetal movement will be noticeable if they are larger sized.  A great blog, with relevant articles for all women!

5. Midwife Thinking

This blog is written by Rachel Reed, an Australian PhD midwife, who enjoys taking a look at the research and sharing her thoughts on how well the research is applied to application.  I enjoy reading her blog for that reason, and often find myself amazed that she chooses to write about the very topics that I wonder about and want to learn more on.  Rachel’s aim is to “stimulate thinking and share knowledge, evidence and views on birth and midwifery. ”  I also appreciate her “Down Under” perspective and celebrating the commonalities of birth across the many miles.  Rachel is not afraid to agree when the science backs up the “less popular” treatment and care amongst childbirth advocates, allowing the evidence to speak for itself and carefully explaining why.   Rachel does a great job of normalizing many of the topics that bog women down during labor and birth, such as the “anterior cervical lip” or “early labor and mixed messages.”  I like to share Rachel’s posts with families who are experiencing the very situation she is writing about.

6. ACOG President’s Blog

Every week, the current president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) writes a blog post on a matter of importance to women.  Not all the posts are on birth related topics, but I find it very interesting to see what Dr. Jeanne A. Conry, M.D. PhD shares with readers.  While some of her blogs are directed at her fellow physicians, many of the posts highlight information and resources directly related to women’s health, especially during the reproductive years.  I enjoy learning more about what Dr. Conry feels is important, and especially what messages and information she is directing to her colleagues. I appreciate her middle of the road approach and look forward to a new post every week.

I hope that you might consider following some of the blogs I mentioned here, if you are not already doing so.  I would also love if you shared your favorite blogs with myself and our Science & Sensibility readers.  I always have room for more good birth related blogs in my blog reader!  What blogs do you read?

ACOG, Authoritative Knowledge, Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Research, Science & Sensibility , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Welcoming All Families Series: Welcoming Women of Size & Promoting Optimal Birth Outcomes

November 8th, 2012 by avatar

Continuing along in our occasional series on “Welcoming All Families” to our childbirth classes, this two part guest post is written by Pam Vireday,  creator of the Well-Rounded Mama blog.  Today, Pam shares how to promote optimum outcomes at the births of plus sized mothers. Click here to read the first post in the series, where Pam shared how to create childbirth education classes with women of size in mind. – Sharon Muza, S&S Community Manager


In part one of the series,  we discussed how birth professionals can make women of size feel more welcome by creating a size-friendly space, by addressing special needs, by finding size-positive images and birth stories, and by addressing potential risks in a proactive, non-judgmental way.  Today, in part two, let’s discuss ways to promote optimal outcome in women of size.

Nutrition and Exercise

photo courtesy of Pamela Vireday

Many women of size find they feel better and have more stable blood sugar when they combine carbohydrates with protein instead of consuming carbohydrates by themselves. Modestly limiting carbohydrates at meals, eating smaller and more frequent meals, and using whole grains instead of refined carbs may also help promote euglycemia.

An even more powerful tool for optimizing blood sugar is exercise. Intensity of exercise is far less important than regularity of exercise, with daily exercise being optimal. Many women of size find walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, and water aerobics particularly friendly to larger bodies.

Nutrition Diaries

One of the most trying things for some fat women is the pregnancy nutrition diary. If used, these must be done with care.

After years of having every bite nit-picked, pregnancy food diaries can be very triggering for women with long histories of dieting or eating disorders. In addition, many providers don’t believe women of size no matter what they say. As one mom shared, “[My midwife] refused to believe what I recorded. She flat-out accused me of lying, telling me that I ‘must be living on ice cream and donuts.’”  This can be very disillusioning.

If you decide to use food diaries, question your assumptions about what fat women “must” be eating.  Some people eat normally and are still fat, while some thin women have terrible habits and yet are thin. Leave out assumptions, scolding, and lecturing, and find a way to neutrally help women analyze their own intake and gently adjust if needed.

Prenatal Weight Gain

Current weight gain recommendations from the Institute of Medicine are 11-20 lbs. for obese women, and 15-25 lbs. for overweight women.  However, many care providers these days are strongly pressuring obese women to diet to restrict weight gain, or even to deliberately lose weight during pregnancy.

This is a dilemma for women of size, because research suggests that very low gain or gestational weight loss may actually increase the risk of small-for-gestational-age or premature babies. Some research suggests differing weight gain recommendations for differing classes of obesity, but studies on limiting weight gain have many design flaws, so providers must tread carefully to balance potential benefits and risks.

Another alternative is to take a Health At Every Size® approach. Good nutrition and regular exercise is promoted, but without the scale as a goal.  The finger-wagging, shaming approach of most dietary intervention is absent, and although particular weight gain goal ranges can be encouraged, good nutrition is put ahead of rigid goals. Many women with a long history of dieting find a Health At Every Size® approach very freeing because it still emphasizes healthy behaviors, but without the scale as judge and jury.

Weight gain among women of size is extremely variable. A lot depends on the woman’s individual circumstances. Differing amounts can be normal as long as you are eating nutritiously.

As one big mom notes:

Talk about weight gain, but explain that every body is different. Some people gain lots and have healthy babies. Some people gain very little or even lose and have healthy babies. Don’t focus on the scale, but on healthy eating and assure people their bodies will then do what they need to do.

Another mom agrees, saying, “Providers can get across the point that excellent nutrition is key to a healthy pregnancy and birth without making mom stress over it.”

Finding a Size-Friendly Caregiver

Finding a size-friendly caregiver is critical to having a positive birth experience. Unfortunately, bias and mistreatment are not uncommon. Some of it is egregious mistreatment, while other examples show a more subtle bias.  In particular, many well-meaning care providers overutilize interventions in the labors of women of size.

Research shows that obese women are induced at much higher rates, experience a higher rate of interventions, and that caregivers have a lower threshold for surgical intervention in their labors. Although it is commonly believed that obesity predisposes to a cesarean, recent research suggests that cesarean rates can vary dramatically within the same weight class, depending on how the labor is managed.  This suggests that labor management and attitudes may be more of a factor in c-section rates than obesity itself.

High-BMI women need to ask careful questions about special protocols they may be pressured into (like early inductions for suspected macrosomia, early amniotomy, internal monitoring, or early epidurals) and how much wiggle room there is for working around these.

 One plus-sized postpartum nurse states bluntly:

As far as labor, the best advice I could give another [plus-sized] mom is to STAY MOBILE!!!!! Staying in bed, getting an epidural too soon, not being able to change positions frequently [equals] dysfunctional labor and c-section.

Other tips for lowering an obese woman’s chances for a cesarean can be found here and here.

Like other women, women of size need information on patient rights, how to advocate for themselves, their right to decline procedures, and information on filing a complaint if needed.  Knowing that they have the right to stand up for themselves and say “no” is a new concept to far too many plus-sized women.

Pay Attention to Fetal Position

There is some research and anecdotal evidence that suggests that women of size have a higher rate of malpositioned babies, and that this may play a role in their increased cesarean rate. Talk with women about fetal position, discuss ways to promote optimal fetal positions, and mention the possibility of chiropractic adjustments for those who are interested.

Since some very heavy women have pendulous bellies which may make it harder for the baby to engage in the pelvis, include some information about the “abdominal lift and tuck” exercise, as well as other positions that can help babies to engage during labor.

Birthing Positions for Women of Size

Encourage women of size to experiment with finding useful laboring and birthing positions that work with their bodies. Remember that like all women, women of size will vary in how athletic and flexible they are. Explore each position without judgment.

Many women of size find the all-fours position or a forward-leaning kneeling position useful. If the woman has an epidural, side-lying can be extremely helpful. Although “soft tissue dystocia” is an unproven concept, if there is any question of pelvic capacity frequent position changes and asymmetric positions like lunging may be helpful.  A birth ball (appropriate for height and weight) can also help relax the perineum, open the pelvis, and allow easier rotation among positions.

Many women of size report loving laboring in water. The buoyancy of the water allows position changes with greater ease, and eases pressure on the knees. The pain-relieving effect of water is another bonus, since epidurals can be harder to place in larger women.

Further information (and pictures) on birthing positions for women of size can be found here and here. Some care providers actively discourage mobility in women of size, so having a supportive caregiver is key. Practice multiple positions beforehand, emphasize the importance of frequent position changes, and promote having a labor support person who can help women utilize position changes more easily.


Although women of size are more at risk for certain complications, remember that women of all sizes can experience complications. All women benefit from the same basic advice for excellent nutrition, regular exercise, reasonable weight gain, choosing good providers, attention to fetal position, and use of flexible birthing positions. Emphasize proactive health behavior across the board.

What has been your experience in helping prepare women of size for birth?  How have the women you might have had in your classes or practice found the experience of pregnancy and birth as a large sized woman?  Do you have suggestions to add about your observations and favorite resources? Please share with our community.- SM

Plus-Sized Resources

Finding Size-Friendly Care

http://www.cat-and-dragon.com/stef/Fat/ffp.html – size-friendly providers of all types
http://plussizebirth.com/plussizedoulaconnections – size-friendly doulas
http://plussizebirth.com/midwife-ob-gyn-connections – size-friendly midwives and OBs
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0101/p81.html – guidelines from the American Academy of Family Practitioners for improving care for obese patients
www.amplestuff.com – catalogue with products sized for larger people, such as larger blood pressure cuffs, scales that go to higher weights, larger exam gowns, etc.

General Size Acceptance and Health At Every Size® Resources

http://www.jonrobison.net/Health_Every_Size.pdf – pamphlet on Health At Every Size®
http://healthateverysizeblog.org/ – blog about Health At Every Size® issues
www.sizediversityandhealth.org – Association for Size Diversity and Health
www.cswd.org – Council on Size and Weight Discrimination
http://www.lindabacon.org/HAESbook/excerpts.html – info on Health At Every Size®
http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/blog/ – size acceptance and Health At Every Size®
http://www.healthyweight.net/cntrovsy.htm – Healthy Weight Network
www.naafa.org – National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance
http://www.cat-and-dragon.com/stef/Fat/ffp2.html – tips on obtaining good health care
http://www.fwhc.org/health/fatfem.htm – Large Women’s Healthcare Experiences

Books on Health At Every Size®

• Bacon, Linda. Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. BenBella Books, 2010.
• Campos, Paul. The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession With Weight is Hazardous To Your Health, Gotham Books, 2004.

 About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 17 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, informed Consent, Maternal Obesity, Series: Welcoming All Families, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

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