This morning, a very reputable women’s website called me and asked me to write an article about a press release they sent me, which read:
(April 1, 2011) For Immediate Release—ACOG ANNOUNCES PLANS TO STOP ELECTIVE C-SECTIONS
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) announced today it is devising a comprehensive plan to lower C-section rates in the United States. C-sections in the U.S. have gone up 700% since they were first measured in 1965, when the C-section rate was only 4.5 percent.
“The nation’s C-section rate has been rising steadily for the last eleven years. It’s now over 31 percent,” said an ACOG spokesperson. “This is a deplorable situation that harms women and their newborns.”
An organization that advocates for quality healthcare for women, ACOG is asking obstetricians to halt elective C-sections.
“C-sections should only be a last resort. They should never be performed for the convenience of the doctor,” the spokesperson said, “or for financial or liability reasons.”
Since the use of electronic fetal monitoring has been shown to increase unnecessary C-section rate without any proven benefit to the mother or infant, ACOG is also calling on American hospitals to stop the routine use of electronic monitoring during labor. ACOG’s new guidelines encourage women to have freedom of movement during labor, labor standing up or squatting, and to eat and drink at will.
“Cesarean can save lives. But doctors and consumers have to remember that this is major surgery that carries major risk,” the spokesperson said, pointing to the example of 29-year-old Abbie Dorn, who suffered severe hemorrhaging and brain damage after her uterus was nicked during a Cesarean section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (2006), 32-year-old Diane Rizk McCabe, who died following complications from a Caesarean section at Albany Medical Center Hospital (2007), and Karen Vasques, 27, who died during a C-section at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (2008).
Maternal mortality has risen every year in the United States for the past 25 years, while over the same period the rate of C-sections has gone up 33 percent.
“The skyrocketing rate of C-section in America has had devastating consequences,” the spokesperson said. “ACOG, the most highly respected organization of obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States, is leading the fight to stop it.”
As an OB/GYN promoting self-healing, reclaiming the heart of medicine, and ditching the over-medicalization of health care, they got my attention. Like, seriously.
Certainly, some advances in modern medicine have been good for us. We can cure some cancers, eliminate or control most infections, and safely repair diseased organs. But C-sections have not served us well. As C-section rates have risen, so have death rates for Moms. And the truth is that while C-section rates have gone through the roof, we haven’t done much to help protect babies. In fact, the trend of rising elective C-section rates may actually harm babies, since data demonstrates that labor helps prepare a baby’s lungs for birth. Those born by C-section are more likely to have respiratory distress at birth.
So when I read this press release, my first thought was, “Wow, seriously? How awesome! With fewer C-sections and no required monitoring, women might actually get to feel like they’re in the midst of something natural, rather than relinquishing all rights to feeling human as they’re poked, prodded, strapped in, and bedridden.”
As an OB/GYN, I watched things change over the years. When I first started my training in 1991, C-section rates were about 20%, and we thought that was exorbitantly high. I had never heard of elective C-section. C-sections were a last resort to save mother or baby, not some drive-thru convenience stop for busy mothers.
Back then, we thought monitoring babies would help save lives. That’s why you would want to labor in a hospital, rather than at home, right?
But science has proven us wrong, and I was delighted to hear that ACOG was motivated to make some changes.
So what did I think of ACOG’s announcement? Well, first I was PSYCHED -- and then I was bummed, because I was like, “Wait, who are they to dictate what a woman can or can’t do with her birth?” And then I started researching it further and started to get suspicious.
Why did the ACOG logo on the press release have a smiley face winking in it? Why did I see it reported on CNN and then it disappeared? Why couldn’t I find a single reputable news source reporting this GIGANTIC news?
So I checked ACOG’s press releases online, and I couldn’t find a thing.
I THINK I’VE BEEN PUNKED! It’s April Fools Day, after all. I forgot. Huffington Post is playing tricks on their readers. Google is too with "Gmail Motion" and "Comic sans". I should have been more suspicious before I spent three hours on this!
So I put out a call out to my friend Elizabeth Cohen, the Senior Medical Correspondent at CNN, and after a few hours her team confirmed that it is a big, stinky hoax. From Elizabeth's team: "The information did not come from ACOG, and the CNN posting has since been removed. This was an April Fools joke ACOG has been dealing with all day long. Bottom line, ACOG has not and does not plan to issue guidelines to stop elective C-Sections or electronic routine fetal monitoring."
Because it's such an interesting topic, I wanted to share what I drafted up this morning:
I applaud ACOG’s efforts to reduce C-section rates. I wholly support natural childbirth. I think elective C-section has gotten out of control. And I agree that electronic fetal monitoring causes more harm than good.
I’m all about de-medicalizing childbirth. I think we’ve lost the heart of medicine in many ways. We’ve forgotten that childbirth can be a deeply spiritual experience, and we’ve replaced it with monitors, drugs, and surgeries. So I’m all for trying to reduce the C-section rate.
But I don’t think this will be easy. After all, patients have come to expect that they have the right to ask for a C-section if they want one. They also expect perfect babies, and if some freak accident happens to their baby while they’re wandering around Labor & Delivery unmonitored, and if that baby winds up disabled or dead -- I guarantee you there will be a lawsuit. Someone will argue that, if she was being monitored, that accident of nature -- a prolapsed cord, a placental abruption, whatever -- could have been prevented. And some jury will feel pity for the broken-hearted mother who lost her child, and they’ll likely award a 10 million dollar payout, because in our society, when something goes wrong, we feel someone’s gotta pay.
Plus, I’m not sure I want some organization mostly run by men dictating whether or not we can choose how we deliver our babies. After all, we don't ban plastic surgery even though it's risky and unnecessary. Shouldn't a woman ultimately be involved in what happens to her body, even if it means incurring extra cost and risk? Again, I'm not a fan of elective C-sections, but I'm a HUGE fan of women.
While I fully support ACOG’s desire to eliminate elective C-section, I think it’s gonna be hard to turn the tide. You can’t just change the rules mid-stream. I think we need to respect patient autonomy, but be very clear about risks. If a patient wants an elective C-section, let her attend a class and pay cash for it, rather than expecting her insurance to pick up the tab. That will stop 99% of elective C-sections.
So anyway, take my words with a grain of salt. Given that the whole thing is a prank. CNN is writing a blog post on the whole hoax and asked for a quote from yours truly. Here's what I provided: "What sick person would do this? You're talking about pregnancy, childbirth, and babies here. I wish people respected women's issues enough not to joke about them. This is serious stuff. After reading this press release, some women got their hopes up that things might be changing. Learning that it wasn't true was heartbreaking for some people. Making fun of something that touches a nerve only hurts people. It feels mean-spirited, rather than clever."
Let's talk about it! What if this had been true? What would you think about this? Do women have the right to choose whether their baby is monitored or whether they get an elective C-section? What do you think will help reduce C-section rates? How can we turn the tides without a bazillion lawsuits?
And what do you think about April Fool’s Jokes (personally, I’m feeling a bit foolish right now, so don’t ask me…)??
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.