(Photo: Corbis Images)
Many pregnant women spend months deciding on a birth plan — how and where they want to deliver, in a way that’s best for them and their baby. But one Florida hospital recently told a pregnant woman ahead of her birth that it planned to overrule her wishes and force her to have a Caesarean section she didn’t want. On Friday, it did just that.
Jennifer Goodall of Cape Coral, Florida, got a letter earlier this month from nearby hospital Bayfront Health Port Charlotte, where she had been planning to give birth naturally, saying that it would not allow her to try to have a vaginal delivery because she had had C-sections in the past. A VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian) is a controversial procedure for some doctors, who think it’s too risky to pursue. Goodall’s three previous children were all delivered via C-section.
The letter, sent when Goodall was already 38 weeks pregnant with her fourth child and therefore very close to her due date, stated that if she refused to get the C-section, she would be reported to the Department of Children and Family Services. Her lawyer, Patricia E. Kahn, filed a motion to get a temporary restraining order against the hospital, but the request was denied by a judge, who said that Goodall didn’t have the “right to compel a physician or medical facility to perform a medical procedure in the manner she wishes against their best medical judgment.”
Goodall gave birth via C-section on Friday. On Sunday, dozens showed up in front of the hospital to stage a protest. The partcipants, mainly women, held up signs with slogans like “Honk if you hate forced surgery.” Goodall supporters also began a #JenniferIsNotAlone campaign on Twitter and Facebook and launched a petition on change.org.
“Every woman deserves the right to make choices about their birth and every woman deserves the right to say no if she doesn’t want to consent to surgery,” Shannon Mitchell, a mother of four, told local news station WZVN. “Florida’s patient bill of right says we can refuse any procedure we want. And refusing cesarean is a procedure,” she added. Mitchell says that she, too, was also pushed into having C-sections.
Health care professionals are still mixed about whether how safe VBACs are. According to Dr. Roger Harms, MD, an obstetrician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota”The risks associated with a vaginal delivery are lower than the risks associated with a C-section overall— as long as you can deliver the baby at a facility equipped to handle a C-section in case of emergency — and the recovery time is faster,” Roger Harms, MD, an obstetrician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, wrote in a 2012 article.
In an extreme worst-case scenario, a woman’s uterus can rupture and greatly injure her and possibly even kill her baby. Because of that, some doctors do not want to take the chance.
For Harms, one factor in making the decision about whether to choose a VBAC is whether a woman expects to have more children. “If you’ve had one C-section and you’re certain this is your last delivery, the difference in risk between VBAC and a second C-section is probably minimal. However, if you’re planning more pregnancies in the future, VBAC becomes a better option with each subsequent delivery,” he explained. Goodall isn’t the only woman who has run into resistance when opting for a VBAC. Michelle Duggar, who stars alongside her husband and children on TLC’s reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” also made the decision to go the VBAC route. Of the 17 times she has given birth (she has two sets of twins), four were C-sections. With her 15th child, son Jackson, she had a C-section, and her doctor advised her to continue having C-sections after that. However, Duggar opted to get a second opinion and switched to another obstetrician who agreed to let her labor for a while before making the decision on how to deliver her baby. Duggar’s decision process was documented on the series.
For Goodall, speaking out about her hospital’s attempt to force her to undergo surgery is a way to make other women aware of their medical choices. “My decision to allow labor to proceed before consenting to a surgical intervention is based on years of research, careful consideration of the risks to me and my baby, and my family’s needs. All I want is to be able to go to the hospital when I’m in labor and have my medical decisions respected — and my decision is to proceed with a trial of labor and not have cesarean surgery unless some medical complication arises that makes cesarean surgery necessary for my or my baby’s health,” Goodall said in a statement released on her behalf by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). The statement was written before she went to the hospital and gave birth. “Instead of respecting my wishes like they would for any other patient, my health care providers have made me fear for my safety and custody of my children. The people who are supposed to be caring for me and my baby have put me into an even more dangerous situation. I know I’m not the only one to go through this; I’m speaking out because pregnant women deserve better.”