Joy Szabo Travels 350 Miles for Vaginal Birth

Joy Szabo recently drew nationwide attention when she refused to have a repeat cesarean section at her local Page, Arizona, hospital. Instead, Joy and her husband Jeff decided that Joy (alone) would move 350 miles from home to Phoenix where they could, according to CNN, get “the birth they wanted” – a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Many are calling Joy’s vaginal birth a victory, but Jenn at Knitted in the Womb acknowledges that while on one level getting the VBAC is a victory, on a larger scale she wonders was it really a victory?

Photo courtesy CNN
Photo courtesy CNN

Here’s a little history. While seven months pregnant with her fourth child, Joy Szabo was told by her local hospital that she would be required to have a repeat cesarean section rather than allow her to have the birth she wanted, a VBAC. It didn’t matter that she had already had one VBAC at this hospital, the policy had changed and VBACs were no longer permitted there.

VBACs carry a less-than-1-percent increased risk of a uterine rupture, which could cause brain damage in the baby or even death, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.”

According to CNN:

After their discussion with their doctor, the Szabos made an appointment to speak with Page Hospital’s CEO, Sandy Haryasz. When the couple told her about their desire for a vaginal birth, they say Haryasz would not budge, even telling them she would get a court order if necessary to ensure Joy delivered via C-section.

The Szabos thought that seemed extreme and rather than succumb to the hospital’s new policy, a few weeks before her due date Joy moved into a Phoenix apartment 350 miles away from her husband and three children while she waited to go into labor. At the Phoenix hospital Joy gave birth to her fourth son Marcus Anthony in an “uncomplicated vaginal delivery.”

Emily from Laundry and Lullabies said, “Joy, you’re an inspiration. Thank you for standing up for yourself, for bringing attention to the state of maternity care in America, and for making it just a bit easier for other women to follow your example.”

Danielle who blogs at Birth, Babies & Everything In Between believes VBAC is much safer for healthy, low risk women than elective repeat cesareans. She likes to use the example of Michelle Duggar to demonstrate the safety of VBAC. Michelle has had four c-sections and 13 VBACs and recommends the organization International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) for those wishing to gain information about VBAC.

On the Duggar’s website, Michelle describes how things have changed from her first pregnancy to her 18th.

I would say the greatest change that I have seen in the field of obstetrics, and I might add that it is very troubling to me, is the idea that once you’ve had a C-section you must have a C-section for any other pregnancy. It is much healthier for mom and baby to avoid major surgery and all the complications that go along with a C-section if possible. Granted, there are health situations that would warrant such, but for years obstetrics encouraged TOL (Trial Of Labor after previous C-section) with many successful healthy vaginal births. It was quite alarming to be told that I could no longer have a vaginal birth due to hospital or insurance companies regulations. It appears that what is best for the patient is not the priority with this decision. I feel our health care is being jeopardized by this unhealthy approach. Doctors are having to tell their patients that they no longer offer VBAC assistance due to hospital regulations and some might even state to the patient that they are not safe so as to avoid confrontation. Statistics prove much differently. For the many women that find themselves in this situation, ICAN is an organization that is very helpful in gaining more information on this topic.

Jenn at Knitted in the Womb, who I mentioned above and questions the “victory” aspect, says:

I am glad that Joy got a vaginal birth, and on that level the birth was a victory. But on the larger scale level…the extreme hoops she had to go through make it less than that. The “victory” that I see missing is an acknowledgment by the Page Hospital administration that A) VBAC is safe and B) even if they disagree with “A,” they have no right to force a person to have surgery. For a woman who does not have the financial means to do what Joy did – move away from her home for over a month – surgery is still a forced situation.

…this could easily be used by hospital administrators as “precedent.” “You want a VBAC? So sorry, we don’t offer that here. Do what Ms. Szabo did, go move to be near ‘hospital X.’”

I agree with Jenn in that the CNN article headline, “Mom fights, gets the delivery she wants” is misleading. When I first read it, I expected that Joy Szabo had fought the Page hospital and had her VBAC there. I wasn’t expecting that she had to move six hours from her home, leaving her children and husband, to get a VBAC at another hospital.

Yes, the fact that she got a vaginal birth is a victory, but this story also shows that birth advocates still have a lot of work ahead of them. As more hospitals ban VBACs, there will be more and more cases of women who are forced to make difficult choices.

The fact that this situation got the national attention that it did, that CNN covered it and posted “some tips for what to ask your doctor (or midwife) in the delivery room if the suggestion is made that it’s time to give up on a vaginal birth and head to the operating room” is a step in the right direction. It might not be the big victory that many of us are hoping for, but it’s a small victory and that counts too.

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Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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