Monday, April 1, 2013

two minutes

two minutes 

Two minutes is nothing - a wait in the drive-thru line, a skim through an email inbox, the tidying of an unkempt living room (my life with two schoolage kids). A phone call with an expectant woman. The time between two contractions in hard labor.

And yet, two minutes can stretch into eternity; when you have to pee, and the person in the stall is (apparently) spending her jolly-good time methodically counting out the toilet paper squares into a prime number equal to or greater than 167. When it's *almost* time to leave work - but not quite. When it's just about bedtime, and someone, for some strange reason, taught your offspring how to tell time (leaving no chance of tricking --- um, convincing --- them that it really, TRULY is 8 p.m.).


Any midwife, nurse, doula, birthing woman, goddess with a vague idea of the birthing process may have had an involuntary squeeze in the region of their kegels right there (sorry for any men that might have stumbled upon this particular post --- not sure what kind of physical response will be manifested there!). Shoulder dystocia --- or "shoulders" in the lay terms (that is, talk-fast-because-there-is-no-time-for-the-extra-three-syllables-dammit-get-the-stool-and-get-ready-for-suprapubic-pressure-NOW!!!") is one of the most terrifying, unpredictable, ready-or-not-here-I-come complications that may occur during childbirth. Sometimes you can get an inkling that shoulder dystocia may occur --- moms who have had previous deliveries with the complication, babies that are 'known' (* I could argue this "point" on and on, but we'll just leave it!) to be large, whether from serial ultrasounds or hands-on measuring, suspected pelvic anomalies, funky labor patterns --- but in the vast majority of cases, it's not until the bitter "oh meconium!" (midwife joke - hahahaha. sorry...!) moment that you realize just how deep things are going to get.

Backing up a tad, a quick refresher on shoulder dystocia. If you know all of this, go ahead and fast forward through this part. It's a bone-on-bone issue; while the first instinct one may have may be to cut a big ole episiotomy, few shoulder dystocias will be resolved by this. (The only benefit of slicing the vaginal tissue is to allow theoretical "roominess" in an otherwise snug tight area... more on this soon.) So what happens in a shoulder dystocia, for heaven's sake, if it can't be fixed with a big scissors and blood gushing everywhere?!

(Sorry if that sounded overdramatic... I imagined crazed readers, confused with the thought that a 'pis could fix everything, wildly glancing around at each other trying to figure out what the heck was going on here. I may have illusions of grandeur going on here. Also, there are a few people who could attest that though there was no snipping or clipping at any shoulder dystocias I have presided over... they still end up looking like massacres. In fact, all of the births I attend seem to resemble the Battle of 1812 for some reason. Let's pretend it's my own small rebellion at the outdated hospital curtains and furnishings, and little by little, I WILL get them all replaced...)

 Anyway. Woman labors, baby progresses through the cardinal movements (if you aren't familiar with these, I encourage you to do what any sane person would do and google that #&*%! In particular, look for some of the great videos out there, as well as the sites verbally outlining the process. I LOVE the Spinning Babies website - - both in general and for their nice description of the 7 cardinal movements). So, in a nutshell, the baby has to do some funky dance moves during labor and delivery, and so does mama*. Things tend to go okay if both partners are dancing together and to the same music, but if someone's hearing salsa music and the other is into those love ballads I associate with my junior high dances and sequined, cheesy dresses (think "Stairway to Heaven" with a rapid latino underbeat), things aren't going to work as smoothly as you'd like. In this awful analogy, the love-ballad may be a mom who's not coping with the intensity of contractions, or is *too* relaxed with an epidural on board, or whose uterus is putting out wimpy little contractions for whatever reason (an effort to induce before her due date, or what-have-you). So the dance is on, but it -again, oddly reminiscent of that 8th grade homecoming dance - looks like the short kid with pimples and the gawky, tall girl with braces trying to slow dance to "Mambo No. 5". Then, on top of everything you could have a pair of left feet (does it matter if they're mine? Does it? Does it!?! Oh, wait... Back to the present....) --- or a less-than-ideally-designed-pelvis (did you know there are four basic pelvic types, with each one possibly predisposing babe to "fit" a different way? True story.), and things really get fun. Or not fun, depending on your sense of humor.

So, anyway, the dance is on. If you're rockin' out with a first time mama, the first movement (engagement) could happen days or weeks before labor ever kicks in; with moms who've been to the dance before, it might not happen until somewhere after the punch and crackers are served. Not too big of a deal either way, except Mama will need to find the bathroom more often once it happens, so be ready. From then on out, the dance starts to resemble more of a tuck-and-roll kind of craze; the babe needs to curl up in a snug little baby roly-poly bug (but cuter and covered in amniotic fluid yet), chin to chest - this is known as flexion; next the snug little bug head continues pressing down on the vaginal floor (descent) while rotating into the ideal position to pass through the pelvis (internal rotation). Once through the pelvic arch, the babe's neck extends (appropriately called extension!) and within moments her body rotates - or "restitutes" - to face either maternal side (rather than face down as her face had delivered), allowing first one and then the other shoulder, followed by the rest of her lovely body, to slide under the pubic bone (expulsion). Beautiful! Angels sing! The Macarena plays, everyone dances in unison, arms undulating, baby crying but doing so rhythmically to the music. A successful, textbook birth!

Except when it isn't, of course. Sometimes, for whatever reason (see that bad-dance analogy above...) some of us are tone-deaf in relation to music itself, some of us unfortunately get set up for bad labor/delivery/birth experiences, some of us are blessed to be "lucky" when it comes to baby-birthin' - and (I'm a firm believer in this) some of us are just not quite as lucky. For anyone who gets set up with a bad mix of techno and 1970's country, it can get messy fast in the birthing room. Many times labor will progress veeerrrrrrrrry sllloooowwwwwwwly - but not always. Same thing for pushing - it might take hours and hours and hoooours - but not always. Usually it will be a first time mom - but definitely not always! Sometimes after the delivery of a squashed little eggplant head, it will appear to be sucked back in (the ominous "turtle sign") - but not always.

Once in a while, it seems the baby gets messed up in his dance steps somewhere. Maybe that extra "left" shoe of a pelvis coaxes him into rotating before he descends fully, or somewhere along the line something (toss in whatever you can come up with here ---- history of childhood sexual abuse? chronic low back pain? anesthesiologist who is "on the floor but ready to go home now, so if there's any laboring women who want an epidural, now is the time, and I don't care if she's only 2 cm!"? artificially-strong pitocin-augmented contractions for SROM for 24+hours sans any symptoms of infection? etc) led his mama to get an epidural rather early along the line, leading to weaker-than-expected contractions that needed to be kickstarted again after the anesthesiologist left. Wimpy uterus, lax lower abdominal and pelvic floor muscles = no resistance to encourage flexion.... ? Someone encouraging mama to push too soon ("Oh! You're 10 cm and you don't feel a thing? Let's get you pushing!") or staving off the urge to push ("No no no! Oh no you don't ---- you can't deliver here, not without Dr. so-and-so, what if you had a bay-yuh-bee?!?!") for too long?

Once you have a baby head, and no sign of shoulders emerging --- you have trouble. You call for reinforcements - as many nurses as can roll into the room (something akin to the clowns trying to fit into the tiny car, only with fewer airhorns and absolutely zero humor), your back-up provider, a stool, a pediatric/NICU team if you're lucky - and jump into the HELPERR mode. Believe it or not, this does not mean looks at your helpers and then run like crazy from the room --- but rather calmly and systematically roll through a series of steps meant to (hopefully) dislodge one-to-two sticky little shoulders from one stubborn little pelvic ridge.  After getting that extra help, think about that episiotomy (what the whaaa?), legs waaaaay back, and ask a nurse to nudge babe's shoulder from the outside; if still no-go, you have to take things to the inside (which is where the episiotomy may come in handy - the vaginal opening is only so large, and in order to introduce the bulk of your hands into it, along with sufficient room to work with the fetal body.... you may need a bit of extra space. May.), and/or try to slip the posterior arm out. For some reason, many sources list "reposition" as one of the last "R's" in the handy-HELPERR mnemonic --- even though this can often open the pelvic diameters sufficiently to allow the babe to pass without the use of the  more invasive measures, and even women with epidurals (depending on the depth of the anesthetic block) can many times do this with assistance. Anyway. As an afterthought - and I hope that it rarely, rarely happens - mnemonics usually list "replace"... as in, try to hit the "rewind" button and get the baby's head back through the vagina and cervix, and rush to an emergency (like the ultimate, beyond-emergency-emergency) cesarean.

I've got no good answers, and suppose I've rambled on far too long, and far too far from the original point of this post. Suffice it to say, shoulder dystocia is (a) need-a-bath-and-a-good-stiff-drink (except you'll probably still be on-call, so good luck with that) scary, (b) thank the heavens/god/creator/karma/blogspot/nursing directors for nursing staff trained to jump in like they do it *every* day and be amazing when it happens (as well as to switch out non-scrubbable furnishings like nobody's business), and (c) watch out for those sneaky, rotten little roly-poly babes and their shoulders; they'll get you every time! Thankfully - the majority of shoulder dystocias - when handled appropriately (which includes the provider staying cool and calm -*not* anywhere reminiscent of my prepubscent dances - and great teamwork, communication, and dedication) end with a healthy, albeit crying little pink bug (and midwife). What more could you want?

*warning: bad analogy ahead 

**Genetics, biology/anthropology, diet/exercise, knowledge, mind-over-matter, all of these or none of them, whatever - but I do believe that some of us just are "luckier" when it comes to birthing. That being said, those of us who care for birthing women have the largest responsibility in ensuring that we do all that we can to level the playing field --- avoiding unnecessary inductions, minimizing interventions, providing the education and support that's not there.

Monday, March 11, 2013

what the what, Hudson?!

Please see Stand and Deliver's recent blog post ( regarding new restrictive policies at Hudson Hospital in Hudson, WI. In a nutshell, the hospital is severely restricting the practice of its birthing staff, specifically mandating cesarean birth for all breech presentations (which were previously able to be delivered by a provider with many years of experinece in vaginal breech birth), as well clamping down on VBACs, waterbirths, etc. Below is the letter I'm sending out tomorrow in response to the new policy --- won't you join as well? (Also, please note that Rixa at Stand & Deliver is having a giveaway to thank those who join the campaign advocating for the women who delivery at Hudson --- join in!!) "Dear Ms. Hegelberg, I am writing to you in regards to the recent policy change in relation to birth practices at Hudson Hospital. As a certified nurse-midwife providing care to women throughout the lifespan, I am deeply saddened to learn of the new stance being taken by the leadership and administration at your facility, specifically as it relates to the withholding of informed consent to women during childbirth. According to Hudson Hospital's own "Patients Rights and Responsibilities", provided to each patient upon entrance into the care system, your patients are assured the right to be informed of care options, treatment plans, and alternatives; similarly, the document ensures patients they will be given the opportunity to consent to any procedure prior to its undertaking, as well as the right to refuse any treatment with informed consent. According to the newly released policy, the practice of employing medical interventions is a national standard, and implementing this will allow Hudson Hospital to become consistent with other regional and national centers; yet I am aware of no other facility which denies a patient the legal right to refuse any treatment which he or she deems unnecessary or inappropriate after receiving informed consent. Please recognize, Ms. Hegelberg, that this is a legal and moral right of all competent, informed individuals, and denying it would appear to be treading on a very fine ethical boundary. The announcement that Hudson hospital will be forcing medical interventions on women and infants, regardless of their informed consent or screams of refusal, is unacceptable. As a healthcare provider, I recognize the increasing pressure on providers to perform flawlessly and prevent any errors; I have heard far too many lectures on risk management "from leadership's point of view". Whether these measures are being initiated following increasing insurance rates, in an effort to increase reimbursement rates, or to avoid hypothetical bad outcomes (which according to multiple research articles are much more likely with surgical birth) - they are directly in contrast with Hudson Hospital's purported commitment to providing "excellent patient outcomes". I urge you, and the rest of the board, to reconsider this ban on vaginal breech births, increased restrictions on water births, and forced interventions. Should these restrictions stand, I strongly consider you to make all changes publicly known to the women who have utilized your facility in the past; relying on your obstetrical providers to relay this information to the women and families who will be most affected by these alterations (and who may be most likely to change their birthplace as a result) is neither fair nor appropriate. With respect for the birthing practices that have made Hudson Hospital a supportive, welcoming haven in the past, I will await your reply in the days to come. In the meantime. I will recommend other facilities (including those who support vaginal breech birth, particularly with the experienced hands of skilled providers as recommended by the 2006 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists statement on the practice) to area women. Sincerely, {{me}}