Joy Szabo Travels 350 Miles for Vaginal Birth

Joy Szabo recently drew nationwide attention when she refused to have a repeat cesarean section at her local Page, Arizona, hospital. Instead, Joy and her husband Jeff decided that Joy (alone) would move 350 miles from home to Phoenix where they could, according to CNN, get “the birth they wanted” – a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Many are calling Joy’s vaginal birth a victory, but Jenn at Knitted in the Womb acknowledges that while on one level getting the VBAC is a victory, on a larger scale she wonders was it really a victory?

Photo courtesy CNN
Photo courtesy CNN

Here’s a little history. While seven months pregnant with her fourth child, Joy Szabo was told by her local hospital that she would be required to have a repeat cesarean section rather than allow her to have the birth she wanted, a VBAC. It didn’t matter that she had already had one VBAC at this hospital, the policy had changed and VBACs were no longer permitted there.

VBACs carry a less-than-1-percent increased risk of a uterine rupture, which could cause brain damage in the baby or even death, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.”

According to CNN:

After their discussion with their doctor, the Szabos made an appointment to speak with Page Hospital’s CEO, Sandy Haryasz. When the couple told her about their desire for a vaginal birth, they say Haryasz would not budge, even telling them she would get a court order if necessary to ensure Joy delivered via C-section.

The Szabos thought that seemed extreme and rather than succumb to the hospital’s new policy, a few weeks before her due date Joy moved into a Phoenix apartment 350 miles away from her husband and three children while she waited to go into labor. At the Phoenix hospital Joy gave birth to her fourth son Marcus Anthony in an “uncomplicated vaginal delivery.”

Emily from Laundry and Lullabies said, “Joy, you’re an inspiration. Thank you for standing up for yourself, for bringing attention to the state of maternity care in America, and for making it just a bit easier for other women to follow your example.”

Danielle who blogs at Birth, Babies & Everything In Between believes VBAC is much safer for healthy, low risk women than elective repeat cesareans. She likes to use the example of Michelle Duggar to demonstrate the safety of VBAC. Michelle has had four c-sections and 13 VBACs and recommends the organization International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) for those wishing to gain information about VBAC.

On the Duggar’s website, Michelle describes how things have changed from her first pregnancy to her 18th.

I would say the greatest change that I have seen in the field of obstetrics, and I might add that it is very troubling to me, is the idea that once you’ve had a C-section you must have a C-section for any other pregnancy. It is much healthier for mom and baby to avoid major surgery and all the complications that go along with a C-section if possible. Granted, there are health situations that would warrant such, but for years obstetrics encouraged TOL (Trial Of Labor after previous C-section) with many successful healthy vaginal births. It was quite alarming to be told that I could no longer have a vaginal birth due to hospital or insurance companies regulations. It appears that what is best for the patient is not the priority with this decision. I feel our health care is being jeopardized by this unhealthy approach. Doctors are having to tell their patients that they no longer offer VBAC assistance due to hospital regulations and some might even state to the patient that they are not safe so as to avoid confrontation. Statistics prove much differently. For the many women that find themselves in this situation, ICAN is an organization that is very helpful in gaining more information on this topic.

Jenn at Knitted in the Womb, who I mentioned above and questions the “victory” aspect, says:

I am glad that Joy got a vaginal birth, and on that level the birth was a victory. But on the larger scale level…the extreme hoops she had to go through make it less than that. The “victory” that I see missing is an acknowledgment by the Page Hospital administration that A) VBAC is safe and B) even if they disagree with “A,” they have no right to force a person to have surgery. For a woman who does not have the financial means to do what Joy did – move away from her home for over a month – surgery is still a forced situation.

…this could easily be used by hospital administrators as “precedent.” “You want a VBAC? So sorry, we don’t offer that here. Do what Ms. Szabo did, go move to be near ‘hospital X.’”

I agree with Jenn in that the CNN article headline, “Mom fights, gets the delivery she wants” is misleading. When I first read it, I expected that Joy Szabo had fought the Page hospital and had her VBAC there. I wasn’t expecting that she had to move six hours from her home, leaving her children and husband, to get a VBAC at another hospital.

Yes, the fact that she got a vaginal birth is a victory, but this story also shows that birth advocates still have a lot of work ahead of them. As more hospitals ban VBACs, there will be more and more cases of women who are forced to make difficult choices.

The fact that this situation got the national attention that it did, that CNN covered it and posted “some tips for what to ask your doctor (or midwife) in the delivery room if the suggestion is made that it’s time to give up on a vaginal birth and head to the operating room” is a step in the right direction. It might not be the big victory that many of us are hoping for, but it’s a small victory and that counts too.

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Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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11 thoughts on “Joy Szabo Travels 350 Miles for Vaginal Birth”

  1. Despite having absolutely no relation to my life, this issue really makes me angry. Once again, people with absolutely no clue are making serious medical decisions for women’s own good. Because? Obviously, we are all about doing dangerous things like having babies through the part of our bodies designed for that purpose.

    It’s all about the money.

  2. Crazy I say! I was totally shocked when I read this article. And, I hope it got as much press in AZ as it has around the country. I know that I as a patient am inclined to trust my doctors recommendation, and I have definitely over heard many women say they’ve done the 2nd c-section for safety. I bet the hospital never intended to get a court order, but that they just expect moms to capitulate at that point. Further proof that this is definitely an issue that cannot get enough press, women need to know that a second or third opinion is well worth their time and their health! And so, thanks for writing about it!

  3. Great post! I found your blog via Best Green Home Tips and am soooo glad I did! I’m an advocate of natural birthing, attachment parenting and conscious conception — hence the name Consciously Birthing.
    I lived in AZ for a bit and was introduced to my first taste of doulas and have been hooked ever since!
    Joy’s story is incredibly inspiring because really how many women do you know with the guts to say “Screw you hospital”??
    I commend you mothers for taking the beauty of childbirth into your own hands!

    Jessica Eleven

  4. This is SUCH a frustrating issue. I had to really fight for my VBAC, although not with the hospital directly.

    I have to confess, though, I do not understand how a hospital could *force* anyone to have surgery. Isn’t it illegal to perform surgery on someone in a non-life-threatening situation without their consent? Couldn’t she have just waited until she went into labor, showed up at the ER (where EMTALA would require that she be admitted) and refused surgery? Not a perfect solution, but it seems like it would work.

    In any case, I appreciate that the point was raised that financial privilege is an issue here. I am due in July with my third baby, and while there are several excellent midwives in our area who happily attend homebirth VBACs (my ideal), my insurance will only cover a portion of the expenses, and we do not have the money to pay the out of pocket portion of the costs. I have found a midwife practice that takes my insurance, but they only attend at hospital. Still, at least I have access to midwife care; many women, particularly low-income women, do not. It’s such a shame.

  5. Thank you so much for the compliment of quoting me! I’m glad that you understood that my point was not at all to be-little Joy–she worked SO hard–but to shine light on the down sides of the Page VBAC ban.

  6. @SKM, I’m wondering the same thing. If I was in Szabo’s situation (and didn’t want a homebirth), I probably would just labor at home as long as possible.

    If a woman showed up in advanced labor and just said no to the c-section, what recourse would the hospital have? Kick her out on the curb? Restrain and drug her?

    During my labor (first and only so far), I transfered from home having planned a homebirth due to my exhaustion, back labor and stalled dialation. The OB on call recommended a c-section right off the bat (of course). But, baby and I were both fine, I just needed some pain relief and rest. I said no to a c-section probably 6 times throughout the day since baby’s heartrate was okay. Now, I did finally consent after pushing for 3 hrs, and it turned out my daughter had her foot up by her head that was putting her in a funky position. But, I did exercise my right to say no to surgery several times.

  7. Wow what a story. And a great post! VBACs are very near and dear to my heart. I attempted a VBAC (unsuccessful) with my second son and would have been furious if I was told by my hospital that it was against hospital policy. I already think that the measures they force us to take in the hospital lead to more unsuccessful VBACs than increased safety of mama and baby, but to take away the choice of women, to force them to have a major and potentially unnecessary surgery is infuriating and disheartening. I love the work the ICAN does and any way we can educate the public about this issue the better we will all be.

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