“Carmaggedon” birth story?

My daughter Nora lives in Los Angeles, Cal., so I am aware that Angelenos are so dreading the shutdown of 10 miles of the I-405 expressway there for road work this weekend they have dubbed the event "Carmageddon."

Nora is going to walk or take buses as much as she can this weekend, and being from Chicago, she is comfortable with those activities. But many Angelenos are famously more car-bound than she is.

Carmageddon

Los Angeles commuter traffic

Crosstown airline flights between the suburbs of Long Beach and Burbank are sold out this weekend and the police department is asking celebrities to urge their Twitter followers to avoid the expressway and, indeed, to drive in the city as little as possible.

But Jenny Benjamin, writing in The Stir today, brings up an interesting and, to her and other expectant moms, urgent point: What happens if your baby decides to be born in L.A. this weekend?

Pregnant with twins, less than two weeks shy of her due date, a 30-minute drive away ("without traffic") from the hospital she carefully chose for its neonatal intensive care unit, Benjamin considers the possibility of an early labor and aks, "For the love of all things good and holy, what am I going to do?!?!"

Will her husband wind up delivering the twins (one of whom is in a transverse position) on the side of the road? Should she call an ambulance? "Ambulances aren't hovercrafts -- they're going to get stuck in the same traffic!" Benjamin notes.

Her doctor lives close to the hospital. "Good to know at least one of us will be able to get there," she writes.

"Aargh, it's times like this that I really wish that Segways had caught on!" Benjamin frets.

The best solution, she notes, is not to have the babies this weekend. "I have about as much control over that as I do the traffic," Benjamin writes. "Maybe I should see how much my husband knows about home birthing."

ACOG: Still down on home births

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out once again this week cautioning against home births.

Hospitals and birthing centers are the safest place for labor and delivery, the speciality organization of obstetricians stated in a committee opinion on Thursday.

A prior Cesarean delivery "is an absolute contraindication to planning a home birth due to the risks, including uterine rupture," the statement said. Twins, breech babies and pregnancies that have gone beond 42 weeks are not good candidates either — too risky for the babies, ACOG said.

"Home births don't always go well, and the risk is higher if they are attended by inadequately trained attendants or in poorly selected patients with serious high-risk medical conditions such as hypertension, breech presentation, or prior Cesarean deliveries," said Richard N. Waldman MD, ACOG's president.

This is the latest in a long line of statements the group has made cautioning against the less than 1 percent of  American births that take place at home.

Even so, ACOG does want women to know that if they decide to deliver their babies at home, they should get the "standard components of prenatal care, including Group B strep screening and treatment, genetic screening, and HIV screening."

And, they should work with a birth attendant who is part of "an integrated and regulated health system, have ready access to consultation, and have a plan for safe and quick transportation to a nearby hospital in the event of an emergency," the statement said.

Pushing back against home-birth critics

British and Australian midwives are pushing back against a recent editorial in The Lancet, a British medical journal, which builds on a study released last month that appears to show that home births are less safe than those that occur in a hospital.

"Women have the right to choose how and where to give birth, but they do not have the right to put their baby at risk," stated the unsigned editorial from July 31.Pregnant Graffiti

In an interview today with the Guardian, a British newsaper, Cathy Warwick, the general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said that midwives believe home birth is "being unfairly pilloried by some sectors of the global medical maternity establishment."

Hannah Dahlen, the president of the Australian College of Midwives, weighed in as well. "Intense medical lobbying and strategically released journal articles" had put midwifery in her country "in the hands of the medical profession," she said.

Warwick said, "What shocked us about The Lancet editorial was its language and tone and how it pumped the hype about the dangers of home birth, and made sweeping and misogynistic statements."

"The Lancet said it stood by its editorial," wrote Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian article.

The impetus for the piece in The Lancet was a meta-analysis scheduled for release next month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed journal published jointly by a number of organizations that includes the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The meta-analysis was presented at the SMFM meeting in Chicago in February.

The article, published on-line last month, "provides the strongest evidence so far that home birth can, after all, be harmful to newborn babies," according to The Lancet editorial.

Home births account for about 3 percent of births in the United Kingdom, according to the article in The Lancet; in the United States, the figure is about 1 percent.

American midwifery groups and out-of-hospital birth advocates like The Big Push for Midwives have already questioned the findings of the AJOG article.

The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services called the report a "poorly designed and methodologically unsound study," expressed itself "outraged" that AJOG accepted it for publication, and suggested the report was rushed on-line as a ploy to stop legislation then pending (since signed into law) in New York that will make the practice of midwifery easier in that state.

"Pregnant Graffiti" by Petteri Sulonen

New York delivers for midwives

Last Friday, New York's Gov. David Paterson signed into law A8117b-S5007a, the so-called Midwifery Modernization Act, which removes the requirement for midwives to obtain a written practice agreement from a physician or hospital to practice in New York State. The bill will take effect in three months.

Paterson's signature was by no means a sure thing — the Democratic governor, who is not seeking re-election in the fall, vetoed thousands of bills this summer, and he waited until the very last possible day to sign the midwifery bill.

Not only that, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the new political arm of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, lobbied against the legislation. The group argued that it would make midwife-assisted birth less safe, as midwives who did not have formal relationships with doctors might not be able to access medical care in an emergency.Pregnant Graffiti WPAs have been a condition of practice for midwives in New York since 1992.

But old certitudes and worst-case-scenarios fell flat in Albany this summer.

The closing of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City last spring created a crisis for those relatively few women seeking home birth with midwives, and provided an object lesson in the difficulties the requirement for a written practice agreement could create. By June, seven midwives who had had WPAs with St. Vincent's were still scrambling to find doctors willing and/or able to formally partner with them, and hundreds of mothers who had been planning to deliver at home were in a state of limbo.

Beyond the immediate concerns, though, the ease with which the bills sailed through the New York legislature — the vote was unanimous in the Senate — suggests that midwifery has attained a mature level of acceptance in New York, which has perhaps 900 midwives, more than any other state.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, for example, one of the bill's sponsors, had her children with midwives, including two home births.

Groups that represent midwives emerged as effective lobbyists for the bill, mustering thousands of calls, emails and signatures on petitions.

Meanwhile, ACOG's efforts were notable for gaffes like a quote in the New York Times from Donna Montalto,  executive director of ACOG's New York division, who said physicians might balk at providing emergency care without a WPA.

“What obstetrician who has never seen the patient, doesn’t know the midwife, and happens to be at home at their son’s baseball game is going to say, ‘Sure, I’ll come in and take care of your patient,’?” Montalto said.

Perhaps most importantly, the new act affirms the view that birth is a natural event, and not necessarily a medical one. New York legislators have given midwives a vote of confidence, one that could portend a significant shift in attitudes about childbirth.

"Pregnant Graffiti" by Petteri Sulonen