Monday, April 30, 2012


[H+BAC stands for Home + Birth After Caesarean]

I have written about births after caesarean from time to time on this and other blogs. Last August I focused briefly on 'A scarred uterus', in the context of guidelines that had been hastily put together by ACM, and which were subsequently adopted by the National Board as its regulatory position on homebirth [link].

Yes, according to this statement homebirth is contraindicated for the 'scarred uterus'. Just to put the 'scarred uterus' in perspective, the Australia-wide rate of caesarean birth is more than 30% of all births [See Australia's Mothers and Babies 2009 report, published Dec 2011]. That's a lot of scarred uteruses.

Q. When a woman who has one of those scarred uteruses wants to have another baby, and she wants to optimise her chances of vaginal birth (vbac), to whom does she turn for professional help?
A. An experienced midwife who is committed to working with each woman, protecting promoting and supporting healthy physiologically normal processes in pregnancy and childbirth.

Q. Where do you find a midwife like that?
A. A midwife in private practice is able to make a personal commitment to the individual woman, and work professionally with her as her primary carer.

Q. Where does the midwife work?
A. The midwife's work is limited to the home, because (except in a few cases) midwives in private practice are unable to be recognised as a woman's midwife once admitted to hospital.

Q. What does the woman with the scarred uterus need to do in order to plan vbac?
A. The woman who is healthy with a healthy fetus at Term, who experiences spontaneous onset of labour, and who progresses in labour under the natural hormonal environment without medical assistance (augmentation or analgesia), is most likely to give birth spontaneously without complication.

Q. So, coming into spontaneous labour - that happens best at home?
A. Correct.

Q. And progressing without medical assistance - that happens best at home?
A. Correct.

Q. And that's where the midwife is experienced and competent?
 A. Correct.

Q. So, why is homebirth contraindicated?

[But there's a hole in the bucket, dear Eliza ...]

Of course this little Q&A sequence is overly simplistic.

But the point I am trying to make is that 'home' is not the key issue.  The central issue is that a midwife is the most appropriate and expert primary professional care provider for any woman who intends to give birth under normal physiological conditions, using natural oxytocin, natural adrenalin and catecolamines, natural endorphins, natural anti-diuretic hormone, and all the other amazing substances that work together in the healthy body to bring a woman to safely and proudly give birth to her baby.  The woman who is able to proceed in labour with the confidence that her midwife is protecting the birthing space, and that her midwife will identify and act appropriately to protect the wellbeing of both mother and child if needed, is able to look forward to BAC, whether they are at home or in a supportive hospital environment.

Achieving vaginal BAC is core business of midwifery.  It's where the midwife's skill is most needed, and where an experienced midwife is confident and in her element.

Yet, BAC is 'contraindicated' in the one place where the woman is most able to proceed well, and the one place where the midwife is able to work without restrictions.

Midwives who are facing up to this dilemma that has come about as a result of hasty bureaucratic processes that failed to consult with the midwives or the women it affects most, do not have many choices.  Either we continue to attend women with scarred uteruses professionally, or we refuse to do so.  The latter alternative is likely to result in some women facing unnecessary repeat caesarean surgery, with the inherent compounding risks of abnormal placental implantation and severe haemorrhage; and some will take the other extreme pathway - freebirth.

The central issue is not about the big 'H' - homebirth.  The central issue is the midwife's right to engage in professional practice.  A midwife who is attending a woman in labour, with or without a scarred uterus or any other of the listed contraindications, or complication, is professionally able to work with the woman to make appropriate decisions.  In some cases that may mean going to hospital; in others it means staying at home.  At all times the wellbeing and safety of mother and baby guide the midwife's professional advice.  Home is only a setting.  Healthy mothers and babies are the outcome we desire.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bungee jumping on a short cord

Midwives who attend strong, healthy women for their births are used to seeing mothers give birth unassisted, unmedicated, and with an ecstatic and triumphant cry. We are used to seeing labour establish and progress in a purposeful way. We are used to the power of the birthing process, which takes the woman beyond any limit that she imagined she possessed.

Occasionally we are surprised, even confused.

Especially when the woman has other babies who have all followed the standard 'normal' journey. ... when labour seemed to be established in the morning, so the midwife and the birthing team were summoned. After the greetings, and a cup of tea, and some conversation, and another cup of tea, and talk about what we should do for dinner, and mother lies down because she's feeling tired ... and the fetal head is still floating high and mobile. This mother has given birth previously, and there is nothing apparent in the size or presentation of the baby. Her contractions appear strong when she stands up and walks, but they become weak and infrequent when she rests. 

I could name several women who fit this picture, the most recent last week.  When I looked at the placenta with the mother we commented on the short cord.

The image I have in these 'slow start' multiparous births is that the baby was bungee jumping – pressing down on the cervix when the contraction’s there and mothers upright, and floating away when mother lies down or is not contracting. 

The cord may be short because of entanglement, or simply short.  The distance from the baby's umbilicus to the point of insertion of the placenta on the uterine wall does not change.  The distance between the placenta and the cervix can be reduced by amniotic fluid release, by contractions, and by the mother's position. The critical 'tipping point' will be reached only when that fetal head can dilate the cervix and enter the birth canal.  Then, it's "coming, ready or not!"

This is an article from Midwifery Today 
The Cord and the Strength of Life 
I have observed babies being birthed with the placenta detached and following right behind them for over 20 years. Throughout that time I have kept mental notes, observing, recording, pondering.

Then one day, finally, it all added up. The explanation is a short umbilical cord, a phenomenon that requires us to allow time for the baby, the cord and the placenta to descend slowly through the birth canal, in the wisdom of nature, for a healthy and natural birth. My first encounter with a short cord began with a false labor. The mother thought this was the day. She called me, and I stayed with her until labor ceased several hours later. The mother and baby were fine. There was no good reason to intervene, despite the fact that she was multiparous with 4 cm dilation and the baby was not engaged. I warned her of possible cord prolapse and asked her to be aware of her baby’s activity. A couple of days later she called me again. The birth was very quick and the baby was born with shoulders and body entangled in a barely pulsing cord. The newborn had some blood on his bottom because the placenta had separated at the time of birth. He required stimulation and oxygen, but it was all resolved quickly and within the realm of the normal. I have watched vigilantly for short cords ever since.

Two weeks ago, some twenty years after I noticed it for the first time, it happened again. This time it was with a mother who had had three babies. The last two had been very fast. She had always had mild contractions before going into labor, but this time she had more. As she was multiparous, I initially did not think there was a problem. About ten days after her due date I thought she was going to have her baby. Her uterus looked so low that it was “by her knees.” But it did not happen. “Something is strange,” I thought while checking her. I sighed. The baby was floating, even though the uterus was very low. It seemed the baby ought to be engaged, but he was not. I then listened to the baby’s heart tones and found normal heart tones but with minimal decelerations. The heart tones were at 140 and descended to 126 or so in the middle of mild contractions. I listened to the heart tones every three days. The mother was noticing movement. We decided she should try to induce herself through nipple stimulation and an enema of medicinal plants. I gave her an exam in which I stimulated the opening of the cervix. The contractions began, and she dilated another centimeter easily. The heart tones remained within normal ranges.

... However, everything stopped after a few hours. The mother was already at 5 cm, but the cervix remained inflexible. Although the baby’s head was in a good position, he was not engaged, and therefore was not exerting pressure. After the second attempt I sat down to think. I concluded that we were dealing with a short cord. In any other situation a vaginal exam, some nipple stimulation and an enema would have produced labor.

But beyond the mother and me, the wisdom lies between the baby, the cord, the placenta and the uterus. You can confirm that you are dealing with a short umbilical cord by observing the abdomen. During contractions, and sometimes without them, the baby appears engaged, even though a vaginal exam reveals that she is floating. It is important to avoid interventions that force the mother’s body to enter the birth process before the placenta and uterus are ready. The fundus has to descend with the baby. This process takes time. Contractions that cease despite dilation of 2–5 cm in a mother with previous fast births and no other complications indicate the possible existence of a short cord. Observation without intervention is important in these cases. 
—  Marina Alzugaray Excerpted from “The Cord and the Strength of Life,” Midwifery Today, Issue 70

Saturday, April 21, 2012

a career in private midwifery?

... continuing thoughts on this topic from the MIPP blog.
with Sue and baby Benjamin - photo taken by Amy, used with permission

Today I want to focus on questions that arise for midwives and midwifery students who are considering a career in private midwifery practice. If you want to practise privately, independent of the mainstream maternity hospitals (public or private) which provide employment for the great majority of midwives in this country, you need to find a sustainable way to work.

Most midwives who practise privately in this country rely for 'business' almost exclusively on individual women who seek the one-to-one midwife who will work with them when they labour and give birth.  Midwives in private practice have caseload bookings, with individual women, usually across the spectrum of pre-, intra-, and postnatal services.

Most births at which the woman's chosen midwife is the primary/leading professional in attendance - the one who takes responsibility for the conduct of the birth and ensuring the wellbeing of mother and child in that acute episode of care - are in the woman's own home. There are midwives with clinical privileges in hospitals in the South-Eastern corner of Queensland (Toowoomba, Ipswich, Brisbane, Gold Coast), and Sydney. I don't have the details, but can follow up if anyone wants to know more.

What does a private midwifery practice look like, from a business perspective?
We need to consider the practice (the acts and being of midwifery) separately from the business (structure and financial aspects).

The midwife's practice can be 'solo' (working as the only professional midwife booked by a woman for the episode of care) or in arrangements where two or more midwives work together to provide the primary care for each woman who is booked with them. This is often described as a 'group practice'.

The private midwife's business arrangements for earning a living can be a simple 'fee for service' in which the woman/client pays that midwife directly, or the fee may be paid to an employer/company which in turn remunerates the midwife for the work she undertakes. The employer in the latter instance could be a midwifery group practice, or another business such as a group of obstetricians. The midwife may or may not be a partner in the practice.  Whatever the arrangement, laws applying to tax, employment and superannuation must be complied with.

My system for management of payments is that any money that is transacted, whether by cash, credit card, cheque, or electronic transfer, and whether by the woman or by Medicare (bulk billing) is immediately recorded by hand in a small 'Cash Receipt' book with carbon copies.  This automatically generates a number for the receipt, as all the pages are numbered, and I add a prefix which refers to the number on the outside of the booklet - at present the prefix is 17.  The top page is placed in the client's file, and the carbon page stays in the receipt book.  The receipt number and information will be entered into my Quickbooks accounting system when I get to it.  This is the basis for my income tax, and quarterly BAS returns.  Midwifery services do not generate the goods and services tax (GST), but the GST charged on purchases by the midwife in carrying out her business can be claimed from the ATO.

Most of my midwifery practice is 'solo', with some bookings made in which I practise with another midwife.  Recently I have enjoyed working with my colleague and friend, Jan Ireland from MAMA, in providing midwifery services for a woman who was booked with Jan.  I will describe this case from the perspective of the new Medicare arrangements, as it demonstrates how midwives are able to work together within the collaborative arrangement and maternity care plan set up by the midwife who has made the primary booking.

In this case, from the Medicare perspective, the second midwife is able to act as a reliving midwife or locum for the primary midwife.  The locum is described in legislation
Health Insurance (Midwife and Nurse Practitioner) Determination 2011, Health Insurance Act 1973,

Part 4 Interpretation

(1) In this Part: collaborative arrangement, for a participating midwife’s patient, means a collaborative arrangement mentioned in regulation 2C of the Health Insurance Regulations 1975. delivery includes episiotomy and repair of tears.

(2) For this Part, a participating midwife is a member of a practice that provides a patient’s antenatal care if the midwife:

(a) participates (whether as a partner, employee or otherwise) in the provision of professional services as part of the practice; or

(b) provides relief services to the practice; or

(c) provides professional services as part of the practice as a locum.
The arrangement by which I have provided (b)'relief services to the practice' or (c) 'professional services as part of the practice as a locum' is under (a) 'otherwise', since I am neither partner nor employee of MAMA.

Midwives who are beginning private practice, and who have Medicare eligibility, may consider the 'relief/locum' model, either as partner, employee, or otherwise, as a means of getting started.  

I commenced this post with a question, 'a career in private midwifery?'.  I believe there is a great potential for midwives to aspire to extending their midwifery practice when they step out of hospital employment into private practice.  However there are also significant risks, which all would do well to consider. 

Midwives who practise privately in a community are able to support each other, with relief/locum services, on one hand, while on the other they may be competitors for business.  Being able to accept and work constructively with this dynamic is a key to sustainability in private midwifery practice, not just for the individual midwife, but also for the community served by midwives over generations.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Another reflection on practice

Photo used with permission
The mother in this picture, Cynthia, gave birth at home to her second child at home against medical advice. Her first child, born at a Birth Centre, had been too large, and she was told she had bled too much, so she was not permitted to book at the Birth Centre for her second birth: the advice was that she would require obstetric management.

This is a not uncommon situation, even when 'alternative' birthing services, such as midwife-managed birth centres, are accessible. It presents a challenge for midwife as well as mother, as we find our way through the often unpredictable terrain of pregnancy and birthing. Yet it could be argued that all home births are against medical advice.

Cynthia gave birth to baby Willa at home, early in the morning, as the first light of the new day filtered through the glass above the door on the Eastern wall.  I hold that memory of hushed ecstasy, as we who were witnesses to the miracle of birth watched the mother welcome her newborn daughter.

Cynthia has given me permission to use this beautiful photo, and to use her name as I tell a small part of her story. I am taking the opportunity to reflect on aspects of this birth, and the conversations I had with Cynthia in the months before the birth. Cynthia was strong in her resolve; she had discovered within herself a deep and precious knowledge of her birthing potential, and she asked me to accompany her through the most demanding part of this birthing journey.

With this recent birth in mind, I have been delighted to start reading a new book The Heart in the Womb, by Amali Lokugamage, an obstetrician who defied her profession's wisdom and gave birth to her son at home in the UK.  Amali writes:
I was prompted to write about this very personal experience because, prior to my pregnancy, I was never fully able to understand why a woman would actively choose to give birth at home, outside of a hospital safety-net." (p6)

The idea that being in a hospital for every birth provides a safety-net is one of the great 'lies' under which most Australian maternity services operate.  When a woman discovers her own strength, she arranges her life so that she will not be denied that potential when she is at the peak of her labour.  She chooses her team: midwife, sister, friend, and lover - each in a different partnership relationship with her, and each fully committed to being with her.

I cannot teach a woman how to discover her own innate birthing potential.  It is truly a discovery that she makes as she welcomes the hormonally mediated activity that her body leads her through.  I cannot predict who will progress unassisted to an ecstatic birth; who will gently guide the head of her own baby across the threshold of totally streched perineal tissues; who will enjoy that amazing dance of the breast crawl, and feel the pressure as the placenta presents for expulsion.

But I can reflect on my own memories of my birthings, many years ago, and I can confidently accompany women who are willing to engage in trust and reciprocity, and explore their own journeys as they give birth to their babies.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Reflection on practice

Today I am using Gibbs' reflective process in reviewing an experience I have had recently, attending a woman, who I will call Linda (not her real name), giving birth in hospital. I do not want to approach this from an idealistic standpoint, or to 'deamonise' the hospital. Birth, as with the rest of life, is full of unpredictable moments when those who are present are called upon to do their best.

Alena welcomes her baby brother, Christopher

I want to assure readers that mother and baby are well.  However, I am left with some difficult questions. I question my own actions as well as those of colleagues in the hospital.

1. What happened?
Linda was treated unnecessarily (imho) and aggressively for obstetric haemorrhage.

2. Feelings: What was I thinking and feeling?
I was shocked, surprised, and bewildered when I realised that there was a full-scale emergency 'code' being performed, with not only active management of the Third Stage, but additional oxytocic drugs intramuscular Syntometrine, intravenous Syntocinon (40 IU in 1 litre of fluid) administered urgently.

3. Evaluation: What was good and bad about the experience?
What was good? Having experienced respectful care from the doctors and midwives through the pregnancy, and engaged in carefully informed decision-making up to the moment of birth, this incident was an over-reaction to Linda's known risk factors (including multiparity, and a previous caesarean birth)
What was bad: I realised that I had facilitated this chain of events, because I encouraged Linda to agree in early labour to having the IV cannula sited in her arm.

4. Analysis: What sense can I make of the situation?
I can understand why this incident happened, because I know about other very difficult incidents that this group of midwives were dealing with.

5. Conclusion: What else could I have done?
At present a midwife practising privately is not able to have visiting access for clinical privileges in hospitals in Victoria. I cannot over-ride the clinical decision of another midwife, and when an emergency code has been called, I would be foolish to interfere. My long term hope is that I will be able to have clinical practice rights in public hospitals, and in this case I would be able to take responsibility for my own clients.

6. Action Plan: If it arose again, what will I do? 
As I noted in #3 above, I had encouraged Linda to agree to the hospital's policy and have an IV cannula sited in preparation for an incident such as a post partum haemorrhage (pph). I believe Linda would have declined the offer if I had not spoken to her about it. In this case I think it was the fact that the cannula was in situ, and the hospital midwife was basically 'set up' for a pph, that somehow set the pathway.

In another similar situation, I will be careful to inform the mother that once a cannula has been sited, it is easier for staff who may be on edge for totally unrelated reasons, to 'jump the gun' and treat her as though she is in an emergency, when this is not the case.