Nursing Birth

One Labor & Delivery Nurse’s View From the Inside

The Good, The Bad, and The Icky on Vomiting in Labor October 19, 2009

vomiting logo


Submitted on 2009/10/18 at 9:43pm

Comment left at: Top Ten Things Women Say/Do During Labor (And trust me… they are totally normal!)



Dear NursingBirth,


Hello, I know this is an old post, but I’ve been searching information on vomiting during labour for a few hours (lol!) and can’t quite find what I’m looking for.  So with the housework waiting I thought I should just come out with it and ask!  Your post is very informative and you seem lovely so I hope you are able to help me! (Or others who have been through it!)


I have emetophobia (fear of vomiting), and find I am able to calm myself about the potential of vomiting (because I have had to face that fact that I can’t just escape it!), if  I


#1: Know that “everything will be ok” if I do vomit. (i.e. Mainly that people won’t be disgusted, or freaked out and that someone will be able to deal with, well, the result, if I’m not able to.  Even though I’ve never vomited anywhere except in a toilet, it’s just the potential that terrifies me!  My husband is a wonder, and it’s only actually since being with him that I’ve begun to get over the phobia because he’s not scared about it, and not fazed by it).




#2: Remember that I can handle vomiting much better if it isn’t preceded by hours and hours of painful nausea.



SO, I find myself trying to prepare mentally for the possibility of throwing up during labour, and I have some questions stemming from this for you (I know it is an irrational fear, and these questions seem trivial but they are things that really stress me out – I actually lose sleep over them – so I appreciate your answers):


#1 Will the midwives be ok if I throw up all over the place? Will the staff get disgusted or freaked out?


#2 Will the staff clean it up or will I or my husband have to?


#3 What happens if it gets in my hair?


#4 Will I choke because I might be lying down?


#5 Will everything be okay if I do vomit?


And, finally


#6 Is it a different kind of vomiting – one that just kind of happens, rather than following hours of terrible nausea?



Anyway, I don’t mean to waste your time, and many thanks in anticipation of any answers – I’m just trying to mentally calm myself so I can focus more on the really important things about labour – like my baby!!









Dear NervousMumToBe,



First of all I am sending you one MAJOR cyber *HUG* right now complete with back patting and me saying “You can do this!!”  🙂



Second, you are NOT wasting my time so don’t mention it!!  I have written before about worrying, that is that “WORRY is the WORK of pregnancy!”  In her book Birthing From Within, certified nurse midwife Pam England tells the story about a patient of hers (Hannah) that worried a lot about having a natural birth experience after having had a highly medicalized birth with her first baby.  She writes that Hannah longed to hear her say things like “Don’t worry” and “Everything will be alright” but instead England encouraged her to face her fears.  She instructed Hannah to write down all of her worries and explore each of them with questions like “What, if anything, can you do to prepare for what you are worrying about?” and “If there is nothing you can do to prevent it, how would you like to handle the situation?” 



 England lists the “Ten Common Worries” of Labor as:


1)      Not being able to stand the pain

 2)      Not being able to relax

 3)      Feeling rushed, or fear of taking too long

 4)      My pelvis not big enough

 5)      My cervix won’t open

 6)      Lack of privacy

 7)      Being judged for making noise

 8.)      Being separated from the baby

 9)      Having to fight for my wishes to be respected

10)  Having intervention and not knowing if it is necessary or what else to do

I would like to add #11:

           11) Fear of pooping in labor/Fear of embarrassment regarding bodily functions


 As you know I am a labor and delivery nurse and have estimated that I have been present at over 300 births during my career and still, I would have to say that when it is my time to give birth, #1 through #6 are top on my list of worries!!  And I witness the amazing power of women everyday!!  So NervousMumToBe, don’t *worry* about “worrying” about vomiting!  I am so happy that you are FACING YOUR FEARS!!  If vomiting is something that you are really concerned about, no matter how trivial it might seem to others, it is important to you and that is all that matters!  So I applaud you! 


Okay now that the most important thing is out of the way (i.e. the hug) lets get down and dirty about the #2 thing on every pregnant woman’s mind…VOMITING IN LABOR!!  (If you are wondering what the #1 thing on every pregnant woman’s mind is it is POOP.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out here.)  I want to preface the following post with a few things in the interest of full disclosure:


  • I am drawing from both my experience as a labor and delivery nurse (as well as a medical/surgical nurse and nurse’s aide) and the research I have read on this subject to write this post as I do not have any personal experience with going through labor myself.  That being said…


  •  I have thrown up a time or two myself (I did go to college after all 🙂 ) and know how it feels to do so.


  • Some readers might have personal experiences that are different than what I describe.  However it is important to remember that if I make a statement like “In general I have found most women in labor to do x, y, or z” I do not mean to say that there isn’t anyone out there that had a different experience.  There are exceptions to every rule. 


  • Although I have only been working as either a nurse or nurse’s aide for approximately 5 years (which I understand does not make me the most experienced nurse out there) I have certainly been working directly with patients for long enough to know a thing or two about bodily functions, including when they are likely to happen, how to make someone feel better, and how to clean them up.


  • I cannot speak for every labor and delivery nurse and midwife out there.  After all, I have only worked in one labor and delivery ward (not counting nursing school clinical).  But since you asked me I will answer your questions as if I was your nurse or midwife.  I will also take into consideration what the other nurses and midwives I work with on a daily basis would do and how they too would react to the situations you present.   



Now to some answers!!  I will take your questions one at a time:



#1 Will the midwives be ok if I throw up all over the place? Will the staff get disgusted or freaked out?

Yes and No!!  YES!  The midwives and the labor and delivery nurses will be okay if you throw up all over the place and actually, they probably will not even bat an eye if you throw up!  And NO!  The staff will not get disgusted or freaked out if you throw up!  If bodily functions bothered us, we wouldn’t be working in healthcare!  I have been thrown up on before…more times than the average person for sure!  I have been splashed with blood, amniotic fluid, pee, spit, and mucus.  I have also cleaned up my fair share of explosive diarrhea.  And if I do get splashed with something I just kept on doing what I was doing until I have a break where I can go change.  (Remember L&D nurses usually have to wear hospital scrubs just in case they end up in the operating room.  The other bonus to this set up is that if you get splashed with something gross then you just go in the locker room and change into a new pair of hospital scrubs!)  I am sure over the course of time there has been some burnt out nurse that has said something really nasty or insensitive to a mother if she has thrown up but in reality, it’s all part of the job and the vast majority of nurses and midwives don’t get bothered by vomit!



#2 Will the staff clean it up or will I or my husband have to?

This question is assuming two thing:  #1 That you are going to vomit (remember not all women vomit in labor) and #2 That if you do vomit that you will make a mess (remember not all women who vomit miss the bucket or don’t have a chance to throw up in a bucket).  That being said…


I know I can’t speak for every single nurse out there but I would NEVER EVER expect a husband (or any coach for that matter, including the mother herself) to clean up something like that.  After all it is the husband’s (or partner, coach) role to support the mother and if the mother did throw up, say, on the floor, I would ask the husband (partner, coach) to stay with the mother while I went to grab some towels to clean it up.  And then I would clean it up quickly.  And then it would be a non issue!  Done! 


One time I had a mother who was taken off guard by her need to vomit and accidentally threw up all over her bed.  She was very apologetic but apologies were not necessary.  I knew that she didn’t mean it!  With the help of her husband I walked her into the bathroom and had her sit down on the toilet to pee.  Her husband stayed in the bathroom with her.  Within 5 minutes I had the completely remade the bed with clean sheets.  Then I helped her into a fresh, new, warm gown and then back to bed.  It was like it never happened!  We all moved on and no one mentioned it again.  After all, who was thinking about a little vomit when there was a BABY about to be born! 


I learned from that experience and ever since then I always make sure that I give every mom a bath bucket when she is admitted and I put it right on her bedside table so that if she needs to throw up, it is right there for her.  Because I do this, I have rarely ever had a mother throw up in labor and not use the bucket.  Since you have a concern about vomiting, I would recommend that you ask your nurse for a bucket when you get to the hospital, just in case.  And when I say bucket I mean bath bucket (or wash basin), not those ridiculous kidney shaped “emesis basins” that wouldn’t even be helpful to catch ladybug vomit!


emesis basin and wash basin


Remember, although it is not rare for a mother to throw up in labor, it is rare that she throws up all over the place, or has no idea that it is coming.  In my experience the vast majority of moms who vomit in labor do indeed make it into the bucket and therefore, there is nothing to clean up!  Also remember that labor vomit is different that “stomach flu” vomit.  That is, there is no risk to me as the nurse of getting sick from a laboring woman’s vomit because it is not caused by illness.  I’d rather clean up your labor vomit over my own stomach flu vomit any day!



#3 What happens if it gets in my hair?

If you were my patient and you started to vomit I would hold your hair back.  And I am sure that your husband would do the same for you too.  That way you wouldn’t get any vomit in your hair at all.  Have you considered putting your hair into a pony tail or clip while you are in labor?  If your hair was up it would be very unlikely that it would get any vomit in it.  Perhaps you can pack a few extra clips or elastics into your hospital bag just in case you need them.  If you don’t usually wear your hair back you may want to consider wearing a few hair elastics around your wrist so that they are readily available if you need them to tie your hair back if you feel nauseous.  I also have been known to cut the opening off a rubber glove and use it as a make-shift hair tie for just this type of circumstance! 


However if a little bit of throw up did get in your hair and if I was your nurse I would probably wet a warm washcloth and clean it out.  And then I would put your hair into a pony tail or clip for you to get it out of your face.  If it was really bad (I have never seen this but I suppose that technically it could happen) and if your midwife allowed, I would help you into the shower.  After all, many women find laboring in the shower to be extremely soothing and helpful!



#4 Will I choke because I might be lying down?

NO!  You will not choke, even if you are lying down.  Only people that are unconscious, have an impaired gag reflex, or are debilitated in some other way have a risk of choking on their own vomit.  I have never seen a conscious laboring mother choke on her own vomit…NEVER.  Why?  Because every single healthy, able-bodied, conscious person sits up or leans over automatically when they start to vomit.  I have never even seen a mother who was positioned flat on her back and numb from the breasts down for a cesarean choke on her own vomit.  Why?  Because every single healthy, able-bodied, conscious mother in that situation automatically turns their head to the side to vomit. 


If necessary every hospital room and operating room has (or at least should have) a suction canister in it with a yankauer suction set just in case a mother does lose consciousness and her mouth needs to be suctioned.  You might not have seen it when you toured your hospital because most birthing suites keep that kind of equipment behind pictures or in cabinets so that the room doesn’t look too “hospital like.”  But they are there.  I personally have only had to use the yankauer suction set ONE TIME as a labor and delivery nurse and I used it because my patient had an eclamptic seizure (a rare complication of preeclampsia) and when she came too she was really out of it (“post-ictal”) and her mouth needed to be suctioned because it was full of secretions.  That’s it, one time only.   



#5 Will everything be okay if I do vomit?

YES!  In fact, labor and delivery nurses get excited when they see a patient vomit because vomiting is usually a sign of transition which is the last stage of active labor (usually 7-10 centimeters) right before a women begins the pushing phase.  Remember whether or not she has been eating throughout early labor, a woman may still vomit when she enters transition so it is not necessary to starve yourself on purpose because you are afraid to vomit later on.  In fact, some women vomit because they have done just that!  (I know I personally get very nauseous as well as get a headache if I haven’t eaten anything all day).  I always think of it as a way the body is “making more room” for the baby! 


Also since vomiting, like holding your breath or making a bowel movement, is a vagal response, it inadvertently helps your cervix dilate and hence, is a great sign to a labor & delivery nurse!  The body does awesome things to help the process along!  So really it is not just okay if you vomit, it is GREAT if you vomit because it may help you cervix dilate!  I also want you to know that you will not hurt anything if you vomit, including the baby or your cervix.




#6 Is it a different kind of vomiting – one that just kind of happens, rather than following hours of terrible nausea?


In my experience as a labor and delivery nurse most women who have a natural, unmedicated, spontaneous labor do NOT have hours and hours of nausea before they vomit.  Instead, once there labor really starts to ramp up for the last few centimeters they get a feeling of nausea that gives everyone enough warning to grab the bucket and then they throw up.  After throwing up, the vast majority of women have told me that they feel better.  It is very rare that I have taken care of a woman who continues to throw up once they are 10 centimeters dilated and begin to push or is nauseous for hours and hours before they vomit.  That being said…


Nausea and vomiting are very common side effects of narcotic pain medications (e.g. stadol, nubain, demerol, morphine etc.) as well as ALL forms of anesthesia (including labor epidurals as well as spinal blocks often performed for cesarean sections).  Because of this, some physicians and midwives prescribe an anti-emetic (aka anti-nausea medication) like Phenergan, Zofran, or Reglan to be administered with the narcotic, epidural, or spinal to counter act this side-effect.  Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.  Because you have such a fear of vomiting I want you to be aware of this fact.  



So there you have it: the skinny on vomiting in labor!  I hope this has helped calm your fears and worries however if you have any more questions about this topic please feel free to leave a comment!! 


Thank you for writing in to me.  You are certainly not alone in your fears!!!  I know that your question will help other women out there who experience the same fears as you!  GOOD LUCK with your upcoming birth and CONGRATULATIONS to you!!!  And remember, although birth might be one of the messiest experiences of your life, no amount of fluids, cursing, farting, pooping, striping naked, howling, crying, peeing, bleeding, or vomiting will take away from how honestly empowering, mind blowing, and touching this experience can be for you and your family!!







No Doula in the Name of Privacy? Oh Come On! September 26, 2009

This comment was recently left by a reader named Jessica under one of my older posts.  Since I read every comment that is posted on my blog I happened to stumble upon it this morning.  When I read it I couldn’t help but think “I Hear Ya Sister!!!”and felt that it was so well stated that it needed to be its own post!  I know that there are quite a few doulas out there that read my blog and I just wanted to take this opportunity and give a shout out to them all and say thank you for all you try to do to educate women before they get to me on L&D!  Unfortunately, they don’t all listen but I hope you know that there is at least one L&D nurse out there that appreciates your efforts, both before and during labor!!!


For all you expecting moms out there please check out DONA’s website to learn a bit more about what a doula is, how you can find one, the effects a doula can have on your birth outcome and experience, and how a doula can advocate for you!


And just for the record, there is NOTHING private about a hospital birth experience.  Even in the most well meaning hospitals with the most well meaning birth attendant and the most well meaning nurse(s).  Albeit some women’s hospital births might be more private than others and I personally have had the priviledge to be a part of a few totally amazing hospital births.  But to not hire a doula for your hospital birth (especially at a university hospital!) because you want a “private” experience is a very VERY naive and misguided idea!  I am not saying that to hurt anyone’s feelings and I am certainly not judging anyone out there who decided not to hire a doula for one reason or another.  I am just telling it like it is.  Some food for thought…




Hi NursingBirth!

I am a certifying doula and have recently had an interview with a perspective client. She is 36wks pregnant with her first. She was strongly considering a doula, but everyone else in her family was on the fence, and pushing a “private” birth experience. However, they are planning a delivery at a university hospital, she has yet to see the same health care provider throughout her prenatal care, she has no idea which one will be at the birth, or if it will even be someone she has met. They are planning a natural birth. She assured me that the hospital she is birthing at offers a multitude of birth options, including water birth, birth ball, position changes, etc… and the childbirth education from the hospital has given them confidence in their ability to get what they want from this birth. After much “deliberation” they decided that they were not going to hire a doula, based solely on their confidence in the hospital to give them what they want, and their desire for privacy. While I can completely respect their privacy request, I fail to see how birthing in a university hospital will give her much if any privacy…AND if she doesn’t even know who will be her health care provider at the birth…how is she confident that the hospital will give her what she needs? I wish there was some way to help open her naive eyes to the reality of birth in hospitals today. Her chances of getting to work with a mother friendly doc that understands and respects natural birth have got to be low! Reading your blog was comforting (because I know there are others who struggle with this) and depressing(because we have to struggle with this). I don’t want to have her hire me for her VBAC next time around. I want her to have the birth she desires now. I realize there isn’t much I can do for her at this point, which is why I am here, leaving my frustration with a bunch of like minded individuals. I am hoping things will go well for her and in the mean time, I’ve let her know that I am and will be available until the baby is born. just in case. Thanks for the space to rant.







Jessica, you can rant here anytime!!!  I Hear Ya Sister!  Loud and clear!!


And now I leave you with one of my FAVORITE Monty Python skits of all time.  I have seen it a million times but it is still as hilarious (and eerily true) each time I see it.  Notice how the doctor invites in an army of people to watch.  It often feels like that where I work no matter what I do!!!



The WORST Idea Since Routine Continuous Fetal Monitoring for Low Risk Mothers September 7, 2009

My husband (being the techie cutie that he is) reads CNET news, a website about computers, the Internet, and groundbreaking technology as part of his morning routine.  The other day, while I was enjoying my Kashi cereal and checking out the latest blog posts on my Google Reader, my husband hollered over to me from his office and said,“Hey Melissa, have you heard of LaborPro?”  Until that moment I was having a pretty good Sunday morning.  I mean, I woke up refreshed and smiling, the sun was shining, and I was looking forward to what I felt was going to be a “good” day at work.  But my attitude quickly turned from happy-go-lucky to blinding rage when he uttered those eight little words. 

(Okay, okay, so I think I am being a bit dramatic.  Maybe blinding rage is a bit strong.  But I was pretty upset!!)

So what is LaborPro and why did it put me into such a tizzy you ask?  According to Trig Medical’s website (the Israeli company that is developing and recently won a Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation of the Year Award for this GARBAGE), LaborPro is “a novel labor monitoring system that using ultrasound imaging measures continuously and objectively fetal position, presentation and station along with cervical dilatation. LaborPro quantitatively assesses and records vital labor parameters in real-time to enable obstetricians to make informed and accurate decisions throughout the labor process to improve both the quality and cost of obstetric care.”




The website lists LaborPro’s capabilities as able to:  

  • Determine continuous station & position of fetal head by ultrasound imaging,
  • Provide radiation-free pelvimetry & birth canal modeling.
  • Perform one-step computerized “non-invasive” trans-vaginal digital examination (I’ll touch on that in moment)
  • Determine intermittent or continuous accurate measurement of cervical dilatation
  • Record comprehensive labor data recording


It also toutes its “unique benefits” as the following: 

  • Non-invasive, precise measurement of station & position
  • Improves assessment of non-progressive labor
  • Supports decision-making before operative delivery
  • User friendly, on-screen display of all labor parameters
  • Enhances patient comfort and sense of security


Okay okay okay….Just HOW does it do this you ask?  Well it’s EASY!  (*rolling eyes*)  Well according to the website’s one mintute educational video (check it out here, it’s worth it).  FIRST you have to place “just four little electrodes” externally on the mother’s pelvis in order to continuously assess fetal station and position and also enables the user to “recognize CPD early”.  SECOND you just have to clip (or screw) “just a few position sensors” to the woman’s cervix to accurately and continuously measure cervical dilation.  And THIRD you just have to screw “just a small little electrode” into the baby’s head.

Fetal Scalp Electrode  (notice the little corkscrew tip)

Close up of a fetal scalp electrode, or FSE (notice the little corkscrew tip, that screws into the baby's scalp.)

According to Frost & Sullivan, the organization that awarded Trig Medical for the LaborPro technology writes, “The LaborPro is staff and mother-friendly and requires only basic training in ultrasound usage, obviating the need for an obstetric ultrasound expert,” adds Ms. Prabakar. “Moreover, the technology employs non-invasive, radiation-free pelvimetry as well as a single-step computerised digital examination. All labor progress tracking data including the fetal heart rate monitor are integrated in the LaborPro display and automatically recorded by the system, which helps reduce staff workload.”


Oh great!  We only need “basic ultrasound skills” to work it!  (*double eye rolling*)  Here’s a novel idea!  How about every hospital (including my own) in the United States that has a L&D floor actually provide labor support training to their nurses instead!  That would go a lot farther for us than freaking ultrasound skills!! 

(Just for the record, my hospital does NOT include labor support training as part of orientation and we are NOT alone.  At my hospital, if you want to learn how to provide labor support you have to seek out other learning opportunites on your own, like I had to.  But we do get extensive training on how to work and interpret the fetal monitor.  Oh and about 1/3 of our three month orientation is dedicated to learning how to care for a patient who is being induced.  In fact, I had to teach myself how to do intermittent auscultation and hence, I am one of the only nurses that I work with that isn’t “scared” of intermittent auscultation and will actually advocate for it!) 

The most terrifying thing is that although at this time LaborPro is not available in the United States (Oh Hallelujah!!!) there is another company called Barnev based out of Andover, MA that has developed an almost identical product they call BirthTrack™ Continuous Labor Monitoring System which they describe as “a revolutionary continuous labor monitoring technology that provides obstetric caregivers invaluable, precise, objective, real-time information about the physical progress of labor. The BirthTrack System provides tools for a more informed decision making process through which hospitals can reduce the risks and costs of childbirth and assure the safety and comfort of mothers-to-be and their babies.”  I remember hearing about this product a couple of years ago when it was still in “development.”  Well guess what?!  Development is over!!  Marketing here we come!!  (GAG me!)


So now there are at least TWO companies that are actively marketing this HORRIFIC, INHUMANE, and OUTRAGEOUS product.  Just wait  until LaborPro makes it to the United States (which according to their website they are actively persuing).  Then they will probably start to compete with eachother!  Now now only will labor & delivery wards around the country have to deal with Similac and Enfamil representatives competing for our money and attention in house (which already makes me sick to my stomach), but now I have to worry about this??!!  THIS IS TERRIFYING!!!


I’m telling you right now, I will UP AND QUIT my job and never look back if either LaborPro or BirthTrack EVER  appears in even just one, JUST ONE of my hospital’s labor rooms.  QUIT ON THE SPOT!  And I will make a Hollywood exit too!  A HUGE scene!!!  Hooting and hollering!  You just wait!!  LOL!  As if our moms aren’t already strapped down enough with the often unnecessary and sometimes downright harmful technology we already have.  This is just TOO MUCH TO BEAR!

I have taken care of MANY a laboring woman (often as a result of an induction, mind you) who are connected to:

 (1)  an IV line with IV fluids and Pitocin running through,

(2) an electronic fetal monitor to measure fetal heart rate,

(3) a tocodransducer to measure contraction pattern

(OR a fetal scalp electrode to measure fetal heart rate and an intrauterine pressure catheter to measure contraction frequency and strength),

4) an epidural catheter in the back giving a continuous flow of anethetic and narcotic medications into the spinal column,

(5) a foley catheter in the bladder since it is very rare that one can empty their bladder with an epidural,

(6)  a pulse oximeter to continuously measure blood oxygen level (necessitated by the epidural),

(7) a blood pressure cuff to record one’s blood pressure every 15 minutes since an epidural can drop your blood pressure dangerously low, and finally

(8) if the baby has shown any signs of distress, an oxygen mask for your face!



Furthermore, LaborPro and BirthTrack are a slap in the face to every labor and delivery nurse that cares about giving appropriate, effective, competent, physiological, and compassionate care to childbearing families.   Unfortunately I would bet my hard earned money that at least half of the doctors I currently work with would think that this is a good idea. 

Okay, okay, now that I am all riled up again I have to go to work  😦   Please check out Rixa’s post over at Stand and Deliver about BirthTrack.  It was written about a year ago and I stumbled upon it when I was searching for a picture of a fetal scalp electrode!!

Change has GOT to come!  It’s GOT to!  For the health and wellness of our mothers and babies!!  Remember ladies, YOU actually have more power than ME and all the other L&D nurses out there!!  That’s right!  If you do not hire birth attendants that do not support evidenced based medicine and physiological birth and do not patronize hospitals that do not support a family-centered approach to maternity care then and only then will they start to listen.  You know why?  Because when the customers aren’t comin’, it hits them where it hurts… in their WALLET!!


Super Comment!: Maternal Death in the U.S., or TOP TEN Ways to Reduce Your Risk For Complications in Pregnancy and Childbirth May 27, 2009

Dear NursingBirth,

I’m a huge fan of your blog! Please keep the awesome entries coming! I am learning so much. I am just a novice birth-junkie rather than a birth professional and so am anxious to eat up all the great information you’re giving out here.

Anyhow…. Our state treasurer’s wife (that’s here in Arizona) died today in childbirth, and their baby is said to be in grave condition. They’re not giving causes or reasons. Here’s the link:

Can you think of occurrences in hospital-birth that would end up with a dead mother and a baby in really bad condition? I’d love to hear from someone who knows her stuff. The things that came to mind for me were amniotic fluid embolism, severe uterine rupture, and cesarean gone really wrong.

Keep up the amazing work!!!



Dear Diana J.,


I just read the story you linked to and my heart goes out to that family.  Unfortunately the story you linked to did not go into any details, including the most important detail which is: Did the treasurer’s wife have a vaginal birth or a cesarean section, as the risks are significantly higher with a cesarean section.  I think your question is a good one and since this story has the potential to make national headlines, I think that it is an important enough question to put as its own post on my site.  I hope, however in posting about your question that moms out there who read my blog are not unnecessarily worried or upset that we are talking about maternal death as it is still a relatively RARE occurrence when you think about all the other causes of death in childbearing women. 


Let’s put it into perspective.  As the Arizona Central story stated, “In late 2007, the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released a report showing that there were 13 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2004 in the United States.” And since in 2004 there were 4.1 million births in the United States, if you do the math that would make about 533 maternal deaths in 2004.  And don’t get me wrong…that’s 533 deaths to many for sure!  However take a look at this chart published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) entitled: Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, All Females- United States, 2004.  It shows the following:


Leading Causes of Death for 15-19 year old Females, 2004:

1)      Unintentional Injury (51.7%), 2) Suicide (8.8%), 3) Homicide (7.5%), 4) Cancer (7.3%), 5) Heart Disease (3.1%), 6) Birth Defects (2.8%), 7) Pregnancy Complications (0.9%)


Leading Causes of Death for 20-24 year old Females, 2004:

1) Unintentional Injuries (40.5%), 2) Homicide (8.4%), 3) Cancer (8.0%), 4) Suicide (7.6%), 5) Heart Disease (4.6%), 5) Pregnancy Complications (2.7%), 6) Birth Defects (1.9%), 7) HIV disease/Stroke (1.4%).


Leading Causes of Death for 25-34 year old Females, 2004:

1) Unintentional Injuries (25.3%), 2) Cancer (15.1%), 3) Heart Disease (8.2%), 4) Suicide (7.5%), 5) Homicide (5.8%), 6) HIV disease (4.4%), 7) Pregnancy Complications (2.3%).


And for women ages 35-44 years old, pregnancy complications don’t even crack the top 10. 


Okay so if you are a pregnant mom please know that dying of pregnancy/childbirth related complications is rare and I don’t want to completely freak you out.  But there is something very disturbing about the United States maternal mortality statistics which shocks most people when they hear it….


The United States ranks 42nd in the WORLD for maternal mortality rates, with 1 in 4,800 women dying from pregnancy complications in the U.S. in 2007.  That means that 41 countries other countries in the world have BETTER maternal mortality rates than the United States!


Many of our practices and current situations in this country, including our obsession with medically unnecessary labor induction, our over-medicalized maternity care system, the practice of defensive as opposed to evidenced-based medicine, the lack of a universal health care system, large differences in health disparities among different racial/socioeconomic groups, the obesity epidemic, and our skyrocketing cesarean section rate greatly contribute to our country’s maternal death rate. 


So what exactly is defined as “maternal death.”  According to the World Health Organization, “A maternal death is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.”  Therefore a death of a woman that died from complications arising from a cesarean section a month after she had the baby would be counted in the maternal death statistics where a pregnant woman who died in a car accident or murdered during a domestic violence dispute would not. 


Okay, but you are probably thinking Why?  Why are so many women dying in childbirth in an industrialized, developed country like the United States at a much higher rate than other industrialized, developed countries like Japan, many countries in Europe, or Australia? 


Ina May Gaskin, midwife and founder of the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, gives us some insight into the situation in her book Spiritual Midwifery, page 455, written in 2002:


“According to the CDC, there has been no improvement in the U.S. death rate (which is nearly twice as high as Canada’s) since 1982.  Sadly, the CDC estimates that the true death rate is as much as three times higher than that which is reported and that half of all the reported deaths could have been prevented through early diagnosis and good care.  Given the situation it makes sense for women to avoid unnecessary surgery while pregnant or in labor.  Women double or triple their risk of dying when they have an unnecessary cesarean.  Medical mistakes do happen, even to people who are well informed about their possibility.”


Also Ina May’s Safe Motherhood Quilt Project website also links to a Maternal Mortality in the USA Fact Sheet that is worth checking out!


The 2008 documentary Orgasmic Birth (which I highly recommend renting) has a 20- minute movie clip as part of the “special features” section of the DVD that provides some eye opening statistics about maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States as compared to other industrialized countries around the world.  In this short movie clip, entitled Birth By The Numbers, Eugene R. Declercq, PhD, Professor of Maternal and Child Health, Boston University School of Public Health, presents the sobering statistics of birth in the United States today.  It is a MUST WATCH CLIP for anyone who is or cares about a mother.


Also, here are some articles from mainstream news sources published in response to the 2007 maternal mortality rankings that provide some insight:


1) More U.S. women dying in childbirth: Death rate highest in decades; obesity and C-sections may be the cause  Associated Press, August 24, 2007

2) Maternal Mortality Shames Superpower U.S.  Inter Press Service, October 13, 2007

3) U.S. ranks 41st in maternal mortality  Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 12, 2007 


A flyer published by the medical journal The Lancet in 2006 entitled Causes of Maternal Death: A Systematic Review ranks the top 9 causes of maternal death related to pregnancy/childbirth complications in DEVELOPED countries as the following:

1) Other Direct Causes (21.3%), complication of the pregnancy, delivery, or their management which includes (among other things):

            –Anesthesia Complications* (responsible for about 3% of all maternal deaths by itself and includes:    management of the difficult airway in obstetric patient, aspiration of gastric contents under general anesthesia, local anesthetic toxicity, and high spinal or epidural block which paralyzes the breathing muscles of mother).

2) Hypertensive Disorders (16.1%), includes (among other things):



            –HELLP Syndrome*

3) Embolism (14.9%), includes (among other things):

            –Pulmonary Embolism (typically a complication seen post-op surgery)

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) (more likely to develop for women on bed rest or post-op surgery

Amniotic Fluid Embolism (rare and more appropriately known as Anaphylactic Syndrome of Pregnancy)*

4) Other Indirect Causes of Death (14.4%), pregnancy-related death in a patient with a preexisting or newly developed health problem like cardiovascular disease, seizure disorder, respiratory disorder, diabetes, kidney disorder, liver disorder, obesity, etc.

5) Hemorrhage (13.4%), includes (among other things):

  – Obstetrical Hemorrhage (most common causes being uterine atony, trauma, retained placenta, and coagulopathy)

  – Placenta Previa*

            – Placenta Accreta, Increta & Percreta

            – Placental Abruption*

            – True Uterine Rupture*

6) Abortion (8.2%)

7) Ectopic Pregnancy (4.9%)

8.) Unclassified Death (4.8%)

9) Sepsis Infection* (2.1%)  (most likely to occur post-operatively but can occur post-partum or antepartum)


*Comes to mind for me as having the potential to cause a critical illness or death for baby as well.

**Please note mothers undergoing cesarean surgery, especially repeat caesarean surgery are MORE at risk for anesthesia complications, pulmonary embolism, obstetrical hemorrhage, placenta previa, placenta accreta, and sepsis/infection than moms undergoing a vaginal birth.**




You are probably thinking, “So what does all of this mean for me?” “How can I reduce my risk?”  Both are GREAT questions.  It is important to remember that I am not claiming that 100% of maternal deaths are preventable or even foreseeable.  No one is.  I also do not want anyone to get the impression that I am blaming mothers or putting unrealistic pressures on mothers to control things that are sometimes just happenings that are an unfortunate and very sad part of life.  For example, who could have predicted a fatal postpartum hemorrhage for a healthy mom after a normal uncomplicated unmedicated singleton vaginal birth?  No one could!  But what about a mom who experienced a fatal postpartum hemorrhage after elective cesarean surgery….well that one doesn’t sit so well with me!   And which do you think is more likely?  If you guessed the latter you are correct…by at least 4 times as much! 


So how does a mother reduce her risk of maternal morbidity and mortality related to pregnancy and childbirth complications?  The following is a short list you might want to keep in mind.  (Not surprisingly, many relate back to avoiding unnecessary surgery.)


TOP TEN Ways to Reduce Your Risk For Complications in Pregnancy and Childbirth:

1)      Obtain good and thorough prenatal care, keeping all of your appointments, preferably beginning in your first trimester.


2)      Make a conscious effort to eat a well balanced diet during conception and pregnancy that includes adequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.  There are a variety of prenatal nutrition books out there as well as many childbirth books that have a section on prenatal nutrition.  If you don’t have one buy one or borrow one from the library!!


3)      If you don’t exercise, start!  Many gyms, community centers, and YMCAs offer low-impact, pregnancy-friendly classes for expectant moms.  Even a 30 minute walk three times a week will do!


4)      If you suffer from a chronic disease or illness or are obese, it is important to know that making appointments with health care providers and specialists that can help you to manage your disease and lose weight in a healthy way before and during pregnancy can ultimately help you to reduce your risk of life threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth.


5)      Consider hiring a birth attendant that practices a midwifery model of care.


6)      Do NOT agree to a medically unnecessary labor induction.


7)      Do NOT agree to a medically unnecessary or elective cesarean section.


8)      If you have a history of a cesarean section, seriously consider a vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC) if you have no reoccurring or new reasons or medical indications for a repeat cesarean.  If necessary switch to a birth attendant that supports VBAC and has the cesarean statistics to prove it.


9)      Seriously consider avoiding interventions in labor that evidenced-based research have shown could increase your risk of a cesarean section, fetal distress, and infection including early amniotomy (breaking of waters), accepting pitocin to stimulate or augment contractions without trying other more natural methods for augmenting labor first, going to the hospital during very early labor, accepting continuous external fetal monitoring as opposed to intermittent auscultation for a normal healthy labor and a normal, reactive, and reassuring fetal heart rate pattern, and requesting an epidural or narcotic pain medication (especially in early labor) before trying all methods of non-pharmacological pain management techniques first.  (Check out my post: Top 8 Ways to Have an Unnecessary Cesarean Section)


10)   Empower yourself to make safe, healthy decisions regarding your pregnancy, your labor, your birth, and your baby by doing your own research!!  (Check out my post: Birth Resources EVERY Woman Should Know About).


Consent for Anesthesia: Do You Know What You Are Signing? May 5, 2009

As an L&D nurse, one of the first questions we ask of our patients during their admission interview is if they have a birth plan and what their plans are for pain management during labor.  Here are the 5 most common responses to that question:

#1   I would like to have a natural/unmedicated childbirth, Please do not offer me any medications/epidural because I will ask for them if I decided I need them.

#2   I am pretty sure I want to have a natural/unmedicated childbirth, but I haven’t ruled out the possibility of any medications/epidural because I don’t know what to expect.  However, I’d like to go as long as possible without them.

#3   I definitely want pain medication but I do not want an epidural because:

a.  I don’t like the idea of a needle in my back,

b.  My best friend/sister had a horrible experience with it.

#4   I want an epidural as soon as I can have one but I want to try to avoid pain medication because:

a. I heard it can make you feel out of it/loopy,

b. My best friend/sister had a horrible experience with it.

#5   I want everything and anything you can give me as soon as you can give it to me…I don’t want to miss my “window” for an epidural either!   Can’t I just have the epidural now?


What I have always found interesting is that except for some women who answer #1, I rarely hear reasons for not wanting either pain medication or an epidural that include the very real risks of:

“Because it can negatively affect my baby.”

“Because it can negatively affect me.”

“Because it can negatively affect my labor progress.”

“Because it can negatively affect my chances for a vaginal delivery.”


After hearing the mothers’ responses and if time allows, I typically ask them how they prepared for labor and childbirth and how they came to their plan of wanting or wanting to avoid pain medications or an epidural.  Not surprisingly, the most common responses for women who answered #2 through #5 are: “I only took the hospital tour/childbirth class,” “I only read ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’”, “I only talked to my other friends/family who have had a baby,” or “I didn’t do anything really.”


I am going to be quite honest here.  It pretty much baffles me that women who are planning on utilizing pain medication and/or an epidural during labor typically have not learned much more about them besides when they can be given and how they are given.  That is, in my experience as an L&D nurse, the RISKS of the procedure are rarely if ever fully understood and the BENEFITS are often exaggerated.  Whenever I get the chance, if I feel that a woman has not researched the risks and benefits of pain medication/epidural during her pregnancy, I will try to go over them fairly and accurately if time and circumstances allow.  I typically only get this chance if they are being admitted for an induction.  On the contrary, if they come in during active labor and are very uncomfortable, I try to do my best to explain risks and benefits but I also struggle with trying to be sensitive to the fact that they are uncomfortable and probably aren’t or can’t completely pay attention to everything I am going over.  It’s really quite the predicament.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that women need to start taking control of their own bodies and health care decisions.  The fact of the matter is, “TRULY INFORMED CONSENT IS ONLY POSSIBLE BY CONSUMER INITIATIVE.  PERSONAL EDUCATION IS A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.”  ~ David Stewart, founder and director of NAPSAC***

What does that mean you ask?  To me, this quote means that true informed consent is only accomplished and insured when the health care professional (e.g. obstetrician, anesthesiologist and sometimes even the midwife or nurse) AND the consumer (i.e. the pregnant woman/childbearing family) are BOTH active participants in the informed consent process.

Regarding the role of the health care professional, the American Medical Association defines informed consent in the following way:

Informed consent is more than simply getting a patient to sign a written consent form. It is a process of communication between a patient and physician that results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention. In the communications process the physician providing or performing the treatment and/or procedure (not a delegated representative), should disclose and discuss with [the] patient:


(1) The patient’s diagnosis, if known;

(2) The nature and purpose of a proposed treatment or procedure;

(3) The risks and benefits of a proposed treatment or procedure;

(4) Alternatives (regardless of their cost or the extent to which the treatment options are covered by health insurance);

(5) The risks and benefits of the alternative treatment or procedure; and

(6) The risks and benefits of not receiving or undergoing a treatment or procedure.


In turn, [the] patient should have an opportunity to ask questions to elicit a better understanding of the treatment or procedure, so that he or she can make an informed decision to proceed or to refuse a particular course of medical intervention.



Now that you are informed about the role of your health care provider, I would like to remind all consumers of health care that might be reading this blog (i.e. pregnant women/childbearing families) that if you forfeit or ignore your personal responsibility to educating and preparing yourself for pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and postpartum, then IT IS YOU THAT HAS TO LIVE WITH THE DECISIONS YOU LET YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER MAKE FOR YOU!  David Stewart writes,

“Professionals do not always have the best answers.  This is not a criticism of professionals, but a simple recognition of the fact.  It serves neither professionals nor patients to disregard this fact.  All have limited experience and limited education.  The best health care is available to consumers who participate in medical decisions pertaining to themselves and their families.  …To be fully informed requires preparation and education before [the fact].  Doctors and medical institutions have a clear obligation to assist patients by providing unbiased pros and cons of policies and procedures.  They do not have the obligation to be a patient’s sole and complete source of education.”***



I know I would be better able to sleep better at night if more of my patients who come in requesting an epidural/pain medication (or really any labor intervention for that matter) have actually done their own personal research on the risks and benefits of the procedure and have made their decision based on a complete set of facts as opposed to just coming into the hospital requesting an epidural with the only “education” obtained on the matter being “my sister said she had one and it was awesome/nothing bad happened so I want one too.” Ugh!

One circumstance that I always find particularly bothersome is the fact that at many hospitals (including my own), the woman is typically signing the Consent for Anesthesia (which has to be signed with the anesthesiologist in the room) when she is extremely uncomfortable and demanding an epidural be given immediately!  So even if the anesthesiologist properly reviews all the risks and benefits with the patient, she is typically not listening, telling us she is not caring, and signing the consent without even reading it over.  Since I often feel as if I have little influence over this fact (I don’t always get the chance to show the patient the consent for anesthesia to read over when she is comfortable), I would like to take this opportunity share with all of you an actual hospital Consent for Anesthesia that is used for labor epidurals and cesarean anesthesia (including spinals and general anesthesia) so that you may read it over in the comfort of your own home and maybe even discuss it with your birth attendant and labor companions way before you ever feel your first contraction.


Anesthesia Consent


I consent to the administration of anesthesia under the direction of an anesthesiologist and to the use of such anesthetics and techniques as he/she may deem advisable.  I understand that anesthesia residents and/or certified nurse anesthetists may be involved in my care under the direction of the assigned anesthesiologist.  I understand that the type of anesthesia and/or the assigned anesthesiologist may have to be changed during the procedure due to changing circumstances.


The anesthesiologist has fully explained to me the risks and discomforts that may arise as a result of the proposed administration of anesthesia, as well as possible alternatives, for my labor/procedure.  I have been given an opportunity to ask questions, and all my questions have been answered fully and to my satisfaction.  The risks discussed include, but are not limited to: headache, nausea, pain, vomiting, aspiration, dental or voice injury, awareness during anesthesia, heart or breathing complications, unanticipated or prolonged hospitalization, blood clots, infections, adverse drug reactions, I.V. infiltrations, nerve damage, paralysis, blindness, brain damage, and death.  Since I am pregnant, I understand these risks extend to the unborn child I carry.  I understand and acknowledge that no guarantees or assurances have been made to me concerning the outcomes from the administration of anesthesia.


I confirm that I have read and fully understand the above prior to my signing.



(Patient signature/legal representative)                        


Do you know what you’re signing?!?!

In conclusion, as you prepare for your labor and childbirth experience, it is very important to remember that it is ultimately YOUR OWN responsibility to become educated on your options regarding pain management, including both non-pharmacological as well as pharmacological interventions.  Likewise, waiting to “learn all about it” once you get to the hospital is not very responsible.  It is also important to remember that any pharmacological intervention, including pain medications and epidurals, carry many risks to both you and your unborn baby and therefore you owe it to your unborn baby, your partner, and all of the people in your life that love you to LEARN about it before you consent to it.  Like author Henci Goer, one of my goals in writing this blog is to never hear another women ever say, “But I didn’t know that was a risk” or “I never would have agreed if I had known that could happen.”

For fair, balanced, research-based facts and information about pain medication and epidural use in labor please check out the following resources:






***As quoted on page 137 of Silent Knife by Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois J. Estner.  NAPSAC stands for “National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth”


Don’t Let This Happen To You #23: Alona & Dmitry’s Unnecessary Repeat Cesarean Section April 29, 2009

Continuation of the “Injustice in Maternity Care” Series


Throughout my time as a labor and delivery nurse at a large urban hospital in the Northeast, I have mentally tallied up a list of patients and circumstances that make me go “WHAT!?!  Are you SERIOUS!?  Oh come ON!”  Because of this I was inspired to start the “Injustice in Maternity Care” blog series, or more appropriately the “Don’t Let This Happen to You” series.  If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, this series is dedicated to you!  If haven’t already read it, I invite you to check out the first addition to the countdown: DLTHTY #25: Sarah & John’s Unnecessary Induction.




I was recently part of what I consider to be an absolutely unnecessary repeat cesarean section and a true example of what I consider the “control phenomenon” in today’s maternity care culture.  This very real trend stems from the fact that obstetricians (trained surgeons who are the only birth attendants capable of performing a cesarean section) have professional motivation and incentive to promote and perform interventions that only they can provide, hence increasing their control (e.g. vacuum or forceps deliveries and cesarean sections) as well as discourage and lobby against choices in childbirth that decrease their control and increase the control of the childbearing family (e.g. homebirth, natural/unmedicated birth, and VBAC).  After all, any properly trained birth attendant can attend a VBAC (including midwives and family practice physicians) but ONLY obstetricians can perform cesarean sections.  In their groundbreaking book Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & Vaginal Birth After Cesarean, authors Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois J. Estner describe this phenomenon,


“Cesareans are done for many reasons.  In addition to the legitimate ones, they include power, control, money, fear, and prestige.  However, we believe that the most important reason is that most physicians totally lack understanding and respect for women and for birth.  [Routine] Repeat cesareans are done for the same reasons, with risk of uterine rupture the excuse for this deplorable crime.  Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is not only safe, but generally safer than its alternative.  In spite of the research and evidence and documentation that appear on this subject, most obstetricians in this country continue to perform repeat cesareans simply because a woman has been previously sectioned.  There is always an excuse, it seems, why a woman cannot be a candidate for VBAC.  We know that most women who have had a cesarean are capable of delivering vaginally.  This includes women with a diagnosis of cephalo-pelvic disproportion (CPD), prolonged labor (failure to progress), or more than one previous cesarean.”


Now that the stage is set, let’s begin the story…




It was a beautiful and sunny weekend morning and I arrived to the hospital, changed into scrubs, and punched in at 11:00am as usual.  As I was looking over the patient assignment sheet, a young Russian** couple came to the desk.  Both had very thick accents and it was quickly evident that the husband spoke better English than his wife.  The husband described a “large gush of water” that fell all over the floor as she was making breakfast.  The young woman stated that she had put a towel in her pants that was now “very wet” and that she started having “pains” about 10 minutes after the leaking started, which happened to be around 10:40.  While at their house they then called their doctor who instructed them to come right to the hospital since, if she did break her water, she was going to be sent for a cesarean section today because she had a history of a previous cesarean section.  (In fact her “repeat” date was scheduled for the next week where she would be 39 weeks in gestation.)


I was asked by the charge nurse to escort the patient and her husband down to one of the triage rooms near the operating room (OR) (just incase she was indeed ruptured) and to pass her off to another nurse who would be waiting for her there.  I introduced myself to both the woman and her husband and asked the woman if she wanted a wheelchair.  She declined and although she was very quiet, almost stoic during our short journey, I could tell by her walk that she was very uncomfortable.  After I gave the woman a gown and assisted her into the bathroom, I told all I knew to her nurse Sally and went back to the main desk. 


For the next hour I was unassigned to any patients so I spent that time assisting other nurses.  Around noon I was assisting a fellow nurse whose patient was delivering when I got called out of the room by the charge nurse.  “We’ve got to run two rooms in the back and I’m going to need you to be ‘baby nurse’ for Dr. W’s case, the patient in room 2.” 


(Note: At my hospital we have three operating rooms on labor and delivery.  We try our best to only run one room at a time, if urgency and time allows us, since running two rooms can really put a strain on the staff.  To run two rooms at the same time you need 6 nurses total, three for each room (a scrub nurse, a circulating nurse, and a baby nurse).  The scrub nurse actually scrubs into the surgery and assists the surgeon by passing him/her instruments and sutures.  The circulating nurse usually is the nurse that knows the most about the patient and her job is to coordinate procedures and ensure the patient’s safety and comfort.  The “baby nurse” assists the anesthesiologist with administering anesthesia, preps the patient for surgery, and the gowns up to “catch” the baby from the surgeon, and then brings him over to the warmer to assess him.  Even though we have an OR team Monday through Friday during the day shift, between running the OR, staffing the recovery room, and admitting the next case, the OR team doesn’t always have enough nurses to run two rooms and in that circumstance the charge nurse has to pull nurses from the floor.  Therefore if we were running two rooms, I knew that something must be happening with one or both of the cases that increased their urgency.)


I grabbed my OR hat and mask and walked down towards the OR to talk to the circulating nurse and re-introduce myself to the patient (something I try to do if at all possible before they enter the OR).  The circulating nurse, Sally, was at the desk and gave me a very abbreviated report, “Her name is Alona.  She is a G2P1 at 37 weeks and 6 days and her first baby was delivered via cesarean for ‘failure to progress/failure to descent’ per her prenatal summary.  Her husband, Dmitry, told me that the doctor told them the reason she needed a cesarean the first time was that his wife’s ‘vagina was too small.’  They are both graduate students at XU.  She’s got an unremarkable history.  She’s scheduled for a repeat cesarean next week so we’re going to the OR.  We’re gonna move in about five minutes.” 


As I walked into the patient’s room, I quickly realized why everyone was rushing around…the patient was huffing and puffing through her contractions.  She was still on the monitors at this time and I noticed that her contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes with nature as the only influence acting upon them.  As I stuck out my hand to re-introduce myself to the couple I had escorted here not one our ago, I realized that the patient was uncontrollably grunting and pushing at the peak of her contractions.  At this point the circulating nurse came in to administer her pre-operative antibiotic, followed by the anesthesia resident who started to unplug the bed from the wall.  My mind was racing…this woman is in LABOR!  This woman is PUSHING!  Why is everyone ignoring this?!  At this point the anesthesia resident and the circulating nurse started to wheel the patient out of the room and I was having none of that! 


Me:  “Sally, she’s pushing.”


Sally: “What?”


Me: “She’s pushing!  We need to get her checked.  We can’t wheel her back there like this.”


Sally: “We just checked her 20 minutes ago and she was 5cm/90%/0 station.”


Me: “Was she pushing 20 minutes ago?”


Sally: “Well no but…”


Me:  “Well then I don’t care how long it has been since you last checked her!  We need a resident in here to check her!!!”  (Note: At our hospital, because we have residents, we are actually not allowed to check our own patients even if we have the skills to do it!  I am not exaggerating.  The head of the residency program feels that if nurses check their own patients then residents won’t get enough “experience.”  Therefore new nurses are not even taught how to perform a vaginal exam during orientation.  I feel that this is absolutely absurd and just another way the OBGYN department attempts to maintain the utmost control over all situations.  But I digress…)


At this point Sally poked her head out of the door and motioned for the resident to come in.  I was holding Alona’s hand and trying to coach her breathing, in, out, in, out, in, out…


Me:  “Alona, we are going to do a quick vaginal exam to make sure the baby isn’t coming, is that okay?”


Dmitry (the husband):  “The baby can’t come out!  Her vagina is too small!”


Me:  “Sir, it’s going to be okay.  Every baby is different.  Her vagina is not too small.”


And then the resident said the most OUTRAGEOUS thing I have ever heard…


Kate, the resident: “She’s 8cm/100%/ +1 station and that’s without a contraction.  If we don’t get her to the back right now, she’s going to have this baby!  Let’s go!”


[Have you ever watched a show and the cartoon character does a “double take” where they shake their head really fast back and forth and it makes a sound like something is rattling in their head?  I swear I did that when I heard the resident say that and I actually said out loud, “WHAT?!!?  That is ridiculous!”]


Me:  “Kate, we’ve got to get Dr. W in here to talk to her.”


Kate: “Dr. W wants to do a cesarean.”


Me: “Yeah, but don’t you think it’s more important to do what the patient wants?!  I think circumstances have changed enough to where someone should reevaluate this situation with her!”


[Kate left the room to go talk to Dr. W, as I think I made her really uncomfortable by calling her out and bringing up the patient’s needs.  God forbid!!  I poked my head out of the room to hear his answer.]


Kate: “Dr. W, she is 8/100/+1.  Should we counsel her about a vaginal delivery?”


Dr. W: (really frustrated and almost offended at even the thought) “NO!  We’re doing a repeat!  WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, GET HER TO THE BACK!”


(Note: “The back” is hospital lingo for the operating room)


On that note Sally and the anesthesia resident continued to wheel her out of the room and through the double doors to the operating room.  At this point I really thought I was going to start to cry.  There have only been a few times that I have cried at work (I’ve cried a lot more at home!) but this situation was really hitting a cord with me.  As we were wheeling the patient down the hall I looked at her and her husband and said, “Alona, you are 8 centimeters.  You do not have to have surgery if you do not want to.  This is your choice.”  Alona just stayed silent, and kept looking at her husband.  Perhaps this was a cultural thing, perhaps she was scared, perhaps she was too much in the throws of transition to hear any word I was saying.  We entered the OR at 12:30pm.  Sally and the resident pushed the bed up against the OR table and instructed the patient to move over.  Again, I held onto Alona’s hand, looked her in the eye, and said, “Alona, it’s not too late.  If you need more time to think about things we can give it to you.  If you want to talk to Dr. W about your options we can do that.”  Then I looked at Dmitry and said, “Dmitry, she is 8 centimeters now.  We do not have to do this surgery if she want to try to have the baby vaginally.”   But Alona just kept looking at her husband (who was allowed in the OR at this point because we needed him to help translate since Alona kept throwing down the language line phone during a contraction!) and he looked back at me and said “No, the doctor said she must have surgery!” 


And you know what?!  I don’t blame them one bit for not even listening to me.  After all, I am essentially a stranger, perhaps some kooky nurse to them whom they have never even met, while Dr. W was their “trusted” doctor.  If he couldn’t take (or didn’t want to take) the time to come in and talk about their options, then why should they listen to me!?  I found out after the surgery, when I looked back into Alona’s prenatal summary and previous OR report, that Alona’s first cesarean was performed after a 2-day “failed induction” to where she only progressed to 3cm/50% effaced/ -3 station.  A thorough review of the patient’s first OR report revealed a classic “cascade of interventions” including elective induction at 40.2 weeks with an unfavorable cervix for “postdates,” early amniotomy and pitocin administration after one cervidil placement, epidural for pain relief, fetal scalp electrode and intrauterine pressure catheter placement, and eventual cesarean section for “failure to progress/failure to descent.”  Although I support women’s rights, patient autonomy, and choices in childbirth, if the only thing that Alona & Dmitry learned from their last delivery was that her vagina was “too small,” I highly refute any claim by ANYONE that this patient was provided with true informed consent and an honest debriefing on ALL the factors that did or could have contributed to her last cesarean section. 


As I was assisting the anesthesiologist with the spinal by trying to keep a woman in transitional labor still (not an easy task), Dr. W burst through the OR doors, hands wet from scrubbing, and exclaimed in a most joyous way as he peered up at the clock on the wall, “Oh excellent!  I can be out of here by half past one at the latest and still make it to my golf game!” 






After that I pretty much turned my emotions off; I couldn’t handle it and I had to focus on the task at hand.  “Open” time for the surgery was 12:45pm.  Alona & Dmitry’s baby boy was born at 12:50pm.  “Close” time was 1:16pm.  As soon as the last staple was placed, Dr. W ripped his gown off, thanked the resident and anesthesia, said a quick “Congratulations” to Alona & Dmitry, and bolted out of the room, leaving the resident as the only OBGYN to escort the patient out of surgery and write all the orders. 


I gave the baby Apgars of 7 & 9 but at about 7 minutes old he started to have a  bit of a difficult time clearing his secretions and his oxygen saturation started to dropped so I had to suction him a couple of times.  The scale showed the baby weighed 7lbs, 3oz.  When it was time to leave the OR, I wrapped up the baby and walked out with the patient and her husband.  I had to keep him on the warmer in the recovery room for only about 10 minutes, basically, the time it took the team to hook her up to the monitors, do a fundal (“belly”) check, and give her some pain medication.  I then put the baby skin to skin with Alona under her gown and his vitals stabilized quite well after that. 


All in all despite the fact that Alona, Dmitry, and baby all appeared to be happy and healthy after surgery, my personal belief is that they were victims of medical malpractice and the current unjust maternity care system in this country.  I know malpractice is a loaded term but I think it describes the situation very well: “mal” = bad practice.  That is one of my biggest concerns with the rising rate of scheduled repeat cesarean sections.  Once the date is set it’s like everyone has blinders on;  the excuse “But she is scheduled for surgery” doesnt mean she qualifies for it now!  For one, consenting a patient for major abdominal surgery PRE-LABOR in the office and treating it as the absolute only course of action regardless of what situations might arise to the contrary is WRONG.  I can safely bet that when Alona “agreed” to a repeat in the office that she was mislead into thinking or mistaken that things were automatically going to go exactly the way they did last time .  I can safetly bet that she did not expect to show up to the hospital after going into labor spontaneously and progress from 5 to 8 centimeters in a matter of 20 minutes when she was “counseled” (term used VERY lightly) about her options and “consented” (again, used lightly) to a repeat cesarean section months before.  And you know what, if she had shown up at 10 centimeters with a head on the perineum I KNOW that her doctor would have STILL rushed her off to surgery even so because I see it happen at work ALL THE TIME.  It’s outrageous, it’s meddlesome, it’s arrogant, it’s tragic, and it’s untrusting of a woman’s natural and innate ability to push her own baby out!!


In their Patient Choice Cesarean Position Statement, the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) writes,


“The International Cesarean Awareness Network opposes the use of cesarean section where there is no medical need. Birth is a normal, physiological process. Cesarean section is major abdominal surgery which exposes the mother to all the risks of major surgery, including a higher maternal mortality rate, infection, hemorrhage, complications of anesthesia, damage to internal organs, scar tissue, increased incidence of secondary infertility, longer recovery periods, increase in clinical postpartum depression, and complications in maternal-infant bonding and breastfeeding, as well as risks to the infant of respiratory distress, prematurity and injuries from the surgery.


All physicians take an oath to “Do no harm”. This means choosing the path of least risk to patients. Medically unnecessary elective cesareans increase risk to birthing women. It is unethical and inappropriate for obstetricians to perform unnecessary surgery on a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy.”  


The fact of the matter is that I do not believe that Alona’s c-section was necessary and I believe that her doctor did do her harm by performing her surgery without at least revisiting her options with Alona before he ordered for her to be wheeled into the operating room.  She needed to hear and deserved to hear her options from Dr. W at that time and not anyone else.  Although the above position statement was written regarding patient choice elective cesarean section, I feel that it also pertains to elective repeat cesarean sections since I do NOT believe that “prior cesarean section” is an automatic indication that is well supported in the literature as being a good enough reason to just schedule another major abdominal surgery.  I agree with author Norma Shulman as she was quoted in the book Silent Knife, “Those who favor repeat cesarean because of its ‘ease’ and ‘safety’ need to be reminded that ‘all the factors that make cesareans so safe nowadays also serve to make VBAC safe, and more rewarding.”  To me, many other childbirth advocates, and to thousands and thousands of women in this country, the birth of a child is not the only goal of labor, it’s a very important one, but it’s not the only one.  Women aren’t just “fetal vehicles” and their experiences in labor and childbirth have profound effects on their self-esteem as well as their relationship to their partners, their babies, and their families for the rest of their lives. 


Are you pregnant and have a history of a previous cesarean section?  Did you know that you have the right to informed consent and informed refusal regarding repeat cesarean section vs. VBAC?  Did you know that there are resources out there to help you?  Please check out:


(1)  ICAN’s Cesarean Fact Sheet

(2)  ICAN’s Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) Fact Sheet

(3)  Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean by Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois J. Estner

(4)  DON’T CUT ME AGAIN! True Stories About Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) by Angela, J. Hoy (Editor)


And find a local ICAN support group near you!



**As always, all identifying information including names, dates, times, ethnicity, etc. have been changed or omitted to protect privacy and adhere to all HIPPA guidelines.


Must Read Blog: “It’s Your Birth Right!!” April 26, 2009

Stemming from a comment left on my blog, I was directed to check out a relatively new blog entitled It’s Your Birth Right!! and I have to report that this is quickly becoming one of my new favorite blogs J! 


Blog creator Nicole Deggins, CNM, MSN, MPH is an author, educator, childbirth enthusiast, and woman’s advocate.  She writes that the goal of her blog is “to help women and their families make INFORMED decisions about their birth experience based on HONEST/ UNBIASED information.”


I am most excited about two of Nicole’s posts entitled: Choose Wisely Part I & Part II.  These posts are great because they are better than any other article I have ever read about how and why families should be picky about choosing their best birth attendant.  In my opinion these posts not only give great, unbiased advice and reference variety of helpful resources, but they are also honest about the Top 4 TERRIBLE reasons for picking a birth attendant.


Nicole writes,


“I get questions, all the time from friends, friends of friends and even strangers.  They want my thoughts about pregnancy, labor and childbirth. I have spent HOURS talking with women providing answers and information they should be able to get from their prenatal provider/birth attendant.  I think to myself at the end of those conversations, “Why isn’t she able to get this information from her?  If  he doesn’t make her feel special, does not answer her questions, and doesn’t agree with her philosophy on childbirth and labor, why on earth is she allowing him to be her birth attendant?!”


When I pose this question to the women themselves, the answers unfortunately never include “Because I did my research and I found him to be the best match for me and my desired childbirth experience.”  Most of the answers I receive fall into the four categories below, none of which are good enough reasons alone to choose a prenatal care provider/birth attendant.”


The four categories that Nicole is referring to are:


1)     “She delivered my sister/girlfriend.”  

2)     “She is my gynecologist.” 

3)     “He is the best/most popular person in area.” 

4)     “Her office is so close and convenient to my office/house.”


I have to “second that” to every thing that Nicole writes about in her two posts.  I too am flabbergasted at how many women spend more time researching a new car, camera, computer, appliance, or handbag purchase than they do researching their care provider or birth options.  I am also floored by many of the women I take care of that seem to have NO IDEA how their doctor or midwife actually thinks, feel, and behaves in a labor & delivery setting.  One time, and I am not exaggerating, a woman I was assigned to care for looked up at me after a particularly upsetting encounter with her attending obstetrician (he was very rough with her vaginal exam, was down right pissed off that she refused an amniotomy and an epidural, and stormed out of the room) and said, “Wow, I didn’t realize he was so pushy!  He was really rude!  I don’t know if I want him to deliver my baby!”  I was thinking to myself, “HOW in God’s name are you just figuring out now that he is an asshole?!”  (Excuse my language but this particular doctor is a high intervention, low patience physician with the stats to prove it, on top of the fact that he treats nurses like his personal empty-headed gophers…ARG!)  Turns out the only research she did to find this doctor was that her cousin went to him and was happy with his services since he agreed to induce her early because she was “sick of being pregnant” (her words, not mine).


Of course there is also the lying phenomenon as well and this is one area where I feel the most sympathy for my patients.  That’s right ladies…people LIE and I hope that I am not the first person to tell you that doctors and midwives are people too!!  That’s why, as Nicole writes, interviewing potential birth attendants and ASKING FOR THEIR STATISTICS is so important.  Someone I know ended up switching her birth attendant at 36 weeks along because it had turned out that he flat out lied about his experience and philosophy regarding VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean).  For example, if you have a question about a particular intervention, say episiotomy rate, and the birth attendant you are interviewing either skirts the question or says something vague like, “I only do them when I deem necessary,” I encourage you to ask him for his STATS.  You might be surprised at how often he “deems it necessary.”  It is also important to note that you cannot make sweeping generalizations about a care provider just by their credentials, that is, not all midwives follow a midwifery model of care and not all obstetricians follow a medical model of care (although by the very nature of their education many of them do).  So it is still important to research your birth attendant even if you are planning on choosing a midwife!


Also, I wonder if many women do not research their care providers/birth attendants because they come from generations of women who nodded their heads, smiled, and did exactly everything their doctor told them too regarding their reproductive health.  I mean, if a woman’s mother, aunts, and grandmothers didn’t question their doctors, what influence does she have to act any differently?  The good news however is that in today’s day in age, unlike our mothers and grandmothers, we have a most wonderful thing called THE INTERNET J.  So you have no excuse!


But really, I am preaching to the choir here aren’t I seeing as if you are reading this blog you obviously are seeking out more information J.  Rock on!  But to all the ladies out there who might be thinking about getting pregnant or are currently pregnant who haven’t yet started to do their research, I hope at some point someone tunes you in to all of the fantastic, helpful information that’s out there J!! In my dream world, no women ever feels the need to say “If I had only known…”