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Mother Accused of Child Abuse for Not Agreeing to C-Section

Imagine giving birth to a beautiful baby and then immediately having that child taken away from you.

That’s what happened to a New Jersey mother, identified in court papers as V.M., who refused to sign a pre-consent form for a c-section at St. Barnabas hospital in Livingston.  A c-section she didn’t need, since her baby was born vaginally without complications.

Pregnant women hear lots of talk from hospitals and doctors encouraging them to take charge of their labor and delivery.  Indeed, even the St. Barnabas website says, “You should take an active role by talking with your physician or midwife and asking specific questions such as when a c-section would be recommended; what steps would be taken prior to performing a c-section; whether to seek a second opinion.  It is important that you feel comfortable with the views of your physician or midwife on c-section deliveries.”  But St. Barnabas has a 50% c-section rate, and New Jersey hospitals have the highest overall cesarean rate in the nation.

We know c-section rates have been steadily on the rise.  C-sections are easier and more convenient for doctors to perform, but they generally require more recovery time for the patient.  Plus, if hospitals are going to encourage women to breastfeed by making them bring their own formula, then they should be encouraging drug-free vaginal birth as well.  Time reports that among “women giving birth for the first time, those whose labor was induced were twice as likely to have a c-section delivery.”  And Pitocin inductions are known to cause breastfeeding problems.

So who can blame V.M. for not wanting to pre-authorize a c-section?  As it turns out, St. Barnabas could.  Court records indicate that “hospital staff referred V.M.’s case to the Division of Youth and Family Services at least in part because of concerns regarding V.M.’s decisions during labor, including her decision not to preauthorize consent to cesarean surgery.”

But it gets worse.  V.M. had a history of psychiatric issues, “having been on a range of medication including Zoloft and Prozac and in psychotherapy prior to her pregnancy.”  Newman writes, “She went off her medication during her pregnancy for fear of its effect on her fetus. Prior to coming to the hospital to give birth, there was no indication that she was a danger to herself or to others.”

Since hospital staff described V.M.’s attitude during labor as “combative,” she was deemed a danger to her unborn child and has not been able to raise her baby, who is now 3-years-old.

New Jersey law states, “Family court judges may not consider pregnant women’s medical decisions in terminating parental rights” because “that law does not apply to pregnant women or their fetuses.”  Though a New Jersey Superior Court ruled last week that V.M. should be reunited with her child, “there is a possibility that the NJ Department of Youth and Family Services will repeal the Appellate court decision; they have thirty days to do so.”  Even if they don’t, the family cannot be reunited until the case goes back to lower court.

I simply cannot imagine the horror of having to go through something like this.  Despite being assured throughout my pregnancy that I would be in charge of my birth experience, I know first-hand how easy it is to feel like you’re in the back seat once you’re in the delivery room.  Based on the training I’d received in my Lamaze classes, I came prepared to walk around and stretch the pain away during my labor, but since I was induced, I was hooked up to all kinds of tubes and monitors almost immediately and told to stay in bed.  And while I did sign a waiver while I was being prepped for my c-section, the thought of being asked to sign one upon entrance to the hospital – especially in hindsight – seems to me to be a terrible abuse of power.  

Amie Newman wrote on The Huffington Post, “If women are consenting to a c-section right off the bat (not to mention fetal heart rate monitoring, antibiotics, episiotomies and epidurals!) regardless of whether one is actually medically indicated, it’s certainly blurring the lines between what’s medically necessary and the power of suggestion from a medical ‘authority’.”

But what is beyond horrifying is the punishment St. Barnabas – a religious institution! – has executed against this woman.  Not only did they try to bully her into getting a c-section, but then they stole her precious child.  This is truly incomprehensible to me.  Home births have never looked so good.

Photo: Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway

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