While pregnant with her first child, Jamie Sinquefield studied up on birthing practices and set her mind to having a drug-free, natural childbirth. But complications would keep that from happening.
In the third trimester, her son, Liam, stopped gaining weight, and doctors at Woman’s Hospital, worried about his health, induced labor. Her son is now a healthy 1-year-old, and Sinquefield is thinking about having a second child and again wants it to be a natural birth.
That’s why she found herself spending a Saturday morning perusing literature and talking to medical personnel at the third annual Improving Birth Rally at the Red Shoes wellness center on Government Street.
“The birth that I had at Woman’s was great, but it wasn’t the birth that I wanted,” Sinquefield, 29, of Baton Rouge, said. “All the things I studied and wanted to do in birth, I couldn’t do. I’m going to be more informed next time.”
The event’s organizers, including Hannah Birchman, a mother of six children, were reaching out through the rally to put information in the hands of women and families eager to learn more about research into birthing practices.
Birchman’s own first pregnancy in 2009 ended in what she called an unnecessary cesarean section by doctors who told her that they decided on delivering her baby surgically because she looked tired.
After that, Birchman said, she began researching birthing practices and became involved with the nonprofit group improvingbirth.org and advocating for a woman’s right to choose how she wants to deliver her child.
“There’s a big problem with America’s maternity care when one-third of children are born in surgery,” Birchman told the audience of about 50 packed in the narrow walkway between buildings on Government Street to hear the speakers and talk to other parents who went through the same birthing trials they did.
Organizers on Saturday urged women to push for more vaginal births after cesarean, or VBACs, which Birchman said many doctors refuse to do. The result, she said, is more babies born during surgery.
Birchman said Louisiana, in fact, ranks first nationwide in cesarean births with a rate of 40 percent. She said the state’s record when it comes to childbirth generally is poor, with the March of Dimes giving Louisiana an F rating for infant and maternal mortality rates.
One factor leading to more C-sections is inducing labor, which is one reason doctors said Woman’s Hospital has changed its policies and will no longer do elective inductions before 39 weeks.
Terrie Thomas, a doctor who practices at Woman’s Hospital, is part of an OB-GYN group that goes even further. Her group, Associates in Women’s Health, won’t do elective inductions before 41 weeks.
“We took a gamble politically, maybe culturally, but medically it was the right thing to do,” Thomas said.
Organizers of Saturday’s rally pointed to statistics to show why women need to be the ones making choices in their own pregnancies.
According to statistics from the website evidencebasedbirth.com, 65 percent of hospitals in the U.S. artificially break a woman’s water and 76 percent do not let women out of bed while in the hospitals during pregnancies.
Neither practice is backed by evidence, Birchman said. But practices that have proven to work well, such as waterbirths and having a doula, or nonmedical assistant who offers parents emotional support, are offered at few hospitals.
Birchman talked about how her pregnancies changed over the years as she became more aware of the plethora of options available to women who wanted a more natural birth experience.
By her fourth pregnancy, which turned out to be triplets, Birchman and her team of trusted advisers were making the choices based on what she wanted as opposed to doctors making the choice, which Birchman said has unfortunately become the norm for women.
Natalie Bordelon, 28, of Zachary, is one woman who made her own decisions for her two children and could not be happier.
She, like Sinquefield, did her own research prior to her first pregnancy and settled on having a natural birth, despite the taunting and negative comments from some friends, family and co-workers.
“I was really scared of having a C-section,” Bordelon admitted.
Her daughter, Ella James Bordelon, 3, was a natural birth on land, while her 8-month-old son, Fitz Bordelon, was a water birth. She said education is the key but a supportive team also helps. She had her mother, husband and doula with her throughout labor.
“Get you a supportive team, and you can totally do it,” Bordelon said.