After some long and deep thinking about this topic over the last couple of years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Vaginal Birth After Cesareans (VBACs) should be permitted to birth at home (a Home Birth After Cesarean – HBAC). I’ve been vocal about my belief that homebirth midwives need more education and skills training and have intimated that breeches and twins should not be born at home, but this is the first time I’ve spoken clearly about my feelings about HBACs.
As I considered this, I re-read the entire National Institutes of Health VBAC Summit’s recommendations a couple of times, read statistics in a variety of journals and then read both pro and anti sites regarding both VBAC (at all) and HBACs. I also tapped into my own cesarean and VBAC experiences as a doula and homebirth midwife, but tried to take the hard data at least as valuable, if not more so, than mine. In my ponderings, I’ve also put myself in the place of a birthing woman; what would I do if I were considering a VBAC/HBAC? Also, I’ve taken my own daughter’s situation… a primary cesarean, wanting a VBAC… and wondered how I would counsel her. I honestly feel I am infinitely more conservative with her life than I ever was with my own.
While I acknowledge there is risk in VBAC and surely more risk in HBAC, I feel that weighing the risks between a possible rupture versus the risks that can and do occur during and after a cesarean can lead a woman to, with true Informed Consent, to choose to VBAC/HBAC. And in some ways, having an HBAC can be even safer (safer being relative) than a VBAC in the hospital because women are able to be mobile and not be induced or augmented. Of course, women having an HBAC do not have continuous fetal monitoring so there is the argument that early signs of rupture can be missed in a homebirth. I’ll accept that and women choosing HBAC will have to, too. Women at home, however, are able to feel the rupture when an epidural’d woman would not. Not that all ruptures can be felt.
The great majority of ruptures are slow, not the catastrophic ones usually thought of when discussing this topic. While time is of the essence, there can be enough time to transfer to the hospital if a non-catastrophic rupture begins. (Catastrophic meaning sudden and imminently life-threatening… not that a uterine rupture isn’t a horrible event all on its own.)
In my opinion, the ideal HBAC client looks like this:
- has had a previous vaginal birth
- has had only one previous cesarean
- has had at least two years between pregnancies (not births)
- does not have insulin resistance issues or gestational diabetes mellitus
- has not had a previous baby over 9 pounds
- is not expected to deliver a baby over 9 pounds
- does not go over 41 weeks 3 days (Seems arbitrary, I know, but will explain below.)
- has a midwife who is highly educated and amply skilled
- is within 15 minutes of a hospital, 15 minutes car driving, not ambulance driving (ambulances coming to the home and then getting to the hospital can take 15 minutes or more)
But, ideal is probably pretty rare.
I’ve written that the safest place for birth is in the hospital. Ample staff, access to technology, an operating room and blood products are in hospitals, not at home. So, if one is wanting the safest (with regards to the mother’s and baby’s lives) place for any birth, the hospital wins, hands down. But, there are trade-offs and they do not always have anything to do with “the experience.” At home, technology isn’t foisted on women and babies, technology that can hinder labors and cause more problems than they solve (induction and augmentation as one huge example). Women are also treated as human beings and while this might seem “experience-y,” civility can help women relax and allow their labors unfold as well as trust the provider more and, therefore, be more inclined to share worries or concerns about what is happening in the labor.
Regarding delivering before 41 weeks 3 days as the ideal time frame, if a woman is wanting a VBAC, this timeline allows hospital interactions if the birth doesn't happen before then. That labor might begin after that and an HBAC happening, that's certainly true, but I am inclined to want to offer the mom every opportunity for a VBAC and, to me, that includes the hospital "interventions." Again, it does seem awful arbitrary, but just how I feel.
This is, in no way, meant as The End of the VBAC/HBAC discussion, but a beginning. Women must play out every scenario, discuss every concern with their partners and providers (ideally, a medical and midwifery provider in order to get a balanced perspective) and ultimately decide, for themselves, if the (extremely) minimal risk of a catastrophic rupture is worth staying at home. Remembering that uterine ruptures also happen before labor even begins can help them consider the risks.
In this discussion on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page, women have shared their stories of uterine rupture and fetal death, so acknowledging that possible reality is crucial. Weighing each location’s pluses and minuses is vital. The only two uterine ruptures I've had with clients have been with women having their first babies and the women were induced/augmented with pitocin. I've known of other ruptures, but have no experience with any catastrophic ruptures. But, even so, I absolutely understand the risks. (I have seen a maternal death, so totally get risks in birth.)
For me, I would, with the above ideal situations, attempt an HBAC. Even though my daughter hasn’t had a previous vaginal birth or a baby under 9 pounds, I believe that, with care, she could attempt an HBAC next time. That, above everything else I’ve said, speaks volumes. (Not that she would want or try to HBAC; she isn’t pregnant, so moot at the moment.)
I look forward to thoughts and concerns, though I did try to address most of them.