Imagine having the doctor you choose to deliver your baby threaten to call the police on you to forcibly bring you into the hospital to have a c-section against your wishes. If this happened, I would say it is a form of birth rape. This is what happened to Lisa Epsteen, 35, who specifically chose Dr. Jerry Yankowitz, OBGYN chairman of the University of South Florida, to be her advocate to have the best birth possible.
It's not like this mom was mentally unfit. It's not even that Lisa was completely against having a c-section because she knew it was probably necessary as she had four cesareans prior, but was hoping for a VBAC. She just didn't feel it was time. She didn't trust the due date her doctor gave her and wanted to wait one more week. But Dr. Yankowitz sent her a sternly worded email.
Tampa Bay Times reported that the email from Dr. Yankowitz to Lisa Epsteen read:
I am deeply concerned that you are contributing to a very high probability that your fetus will die or your child will incur brain damage if born alive. At this time, you must come in for delivery. I would hate to move to the most extreme option, which is having law enforcement pick you up at your home and bring you in, but you are leaving the providers of USF/TGH no choice.
This of course caused Epsteen, a stay-at-home mom, to panic. Never good. Cops showing up to drag a pregnant woman away from her kids so a doctor can perform an unwanted surgery?! This is not how birth should ever be. This should never be the birth story this baby hears someday. But then she became angry. She knew her rights. She contacted a lawyer for the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women who then reached out to Dr. Yankowitz telling him to stop the threats.
The whole reason Epsteen went with Dr. Yankowitz was because he was known to work with high-risk women who wanted a VBAC. He was highly regarded. The doc must have realized he was in the wrong and a nurse contacted Epsteen to schedule her c-section for Friday, just as she originally wished and consented to. Moms of preemies especially know that every single day counts when it comes to birth. This mom didn't feel her child was ready. And she trusted her doctor to be on board with her plan. She said:
Honestly, I feel abandoned. There has to be a level of trust between provider and patient, and that has been betrayed. It's circumstances like this that make women feel like they have no options but to birth their babies on their own — and put themselves in more dangerous circumstances — because they feel bullied.
We also have to remember that due dates are guesses -- it's not an exact science. Epsteen just wanted to delay the c-section one week to be sure it was necessary. She wanted her child to have a chance to come naturally and if not, she was prepared for a c-section. The doctor wrote her back:
I personally recognize and respect your right to make the medical treatment decisions for both you and your unborn child. ... In that regard, please understand my frustration as I truly believe you and your child are in jeopardy.
I'm also fascinated that the doctor and patient were emailing -- seems so progressive and in this case we are able to see the doctor's concern verbatim. And I do understand his concern -- he's a doctor and he does need to talk about the risks involved and recommend what he thinks is best. Epsteen did have gestational diabetes -- she did have four prior c-sections. She knew the risk and the probability of having another surgical birth. But the threat of sending the police to forcibly take her to birth her child was wrong. Would they have removed her from her home, her children, in handcuffs? Would she have been tied down at the hospital as well? I'm so glad it didn't come to that. That in itself would cause so much stress to the mother and therefore the child.
Women should never be bullied when it comes to child birth. Doctors need to trust their patients as well -- it needs to be a mutual trust without threats. And it's not like there isn't a risk with a c-section -- it is major surgery and should only be performed when absolutely necessary. Far too many cesareans are performed in this country without being necessary and that is a problem. It's also a problem when doctor and patient cannot work together in a healthy way, without threats.
On Friday, the day she agreed to, Epsteen delivered her baby, a healthy 11-pound boy via c-section. Both mom and baby are said to be doing very well.
Have you felt bullied or pressured into having a c-section? What do you think of this case?
Image via spaceodissey/Flickr