Last week, a mom in Alabama was awarded $16 million by a jury to compensate her for damage; they found the hospital “violated the standard of care for labor and delivery and participated in reckless misrepresentation of fact.” Evidently, the hospital had a pattern of what the jury described as “Bait and switch”. Of note was that they hospital’s advertising touted waterbirth until At least July of 2015, even though water birth had been banned since January of 2013.
Waterbirth bans happen. In April of 2014 in response to one of the dumbest, most illogical opinions ever published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Allina hospitals banned waterbirths. At the time, I blogged about the controversy, writing,
Rebecca Dekker over at Evidence Based Birth does a really good job talking about the evidence to support (or not support) the practice of allowing women to labor in a tub and to give birth in the tub. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, so go read it on her website. The upshot? This isn’t an easy thing to study due to logistics and ethical standards, but it has been studied. It’s been studied enough that the practice is considered safe throughout much of Europe. And guess what? Their water works the same there as it does here.
So, here’s the problem: According to an archived copy of The MotherBaby Center’s (really just Abbot Northwestern, an Allina Hospital) website from June 6th, 2014, waterbirth was still an option.
Despite the fact that there was ample media coverage of the waterbirth ban, this page is, essentially, the very same bait and switch that the Alabama hospital was sued over. Waterbirth is being actively marketed, but it is not available.
This is not OK. It isn’t OK in Alabama, and it isn’t OK here.
While it’s true that Alabama ranks as one of the worst states in which to give birth in the US, with very poor outcomes for both moms and babies, cases like what this mom experienced happen all the time. As a doula, I have witnessed obstetric violence. I have been in the room as OBs told moms that if they didn’t comply, their babies would die. I have seen moms get episiotomies even though they explicitly stated that they did not consent. Some of these cases happened at hospitals that otherwise had good cesarean rates. Many of these actually happened while a patient was under the care of Nurse Midwives. Backlash from the medical community in response to last week’s verdict was severe; some doctors claimed that this verdict was not actually a victory for birthing families, but that hospitals would respond by caring even less about what her patients wanted and refusing even more obstetric choices. However, it’s important to point out that it took one mom who knew her options and knew her rights to stand up.
As expectant parents, it’s on your shoulders to take responsibility for making informed choices. Looking at a website and marketing is not making an informed choice. Staying blissfully unaware of the ins and outs of the maternity care system IS NOT assuming any responsibility for the outcome of your pregnancy and birth. You are the ones who need to ask questions. Put as much time researching your options as you spend researching cribs. Find out the difference between the different kinds of doctors and midwives that provide care. Look at freestanding birth centers. Tour hospitals and for heaven’s sake– ASK QUESTIONS. If they say they have waterbirth, ask to know the average times they use it a month. They know. If you must, tell them that you want to make sure what they market is really available. And on the flip side, every single time something like the above happens, we need to make sure lots of people point it out and stay critical of it. Hold both marketing and maternity services to the highest standards. If nobody says anything, nothing will change.
In the MSP and surrounding communities, the voices of patients can and have produced profound change. And as much as I want to paint birth as a magical, shiny, unicorn-filled time, reality doesn’t always match that. Let’s talk about when it sucks, and when the places and people we trust create trauma, we need to raise our voices.
If you’ve seen a bait and switch in maternity care, I’d like to hear about it.