For those of you who know me, you know I am passionate about birth. I’m a huge advocate for women being educated and making their own decisions regarding their care and being in charge of their babies’ births. That’s why I am so excited to share this Q & A with the new Chapter Leader of the Spokane Chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), Rianne Maldonado!
First off, what is ICAN?
ICAN stands for International Cesarean Awareness Network. It’s a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).
Why are you so passionate about this cause?
When I was pregnant with my 3rd baby in 2011 I knew that I wanted to have a VBA2C (vaginal birth after 2 cesareans) and I was desperate to do so. I had felt so much grief, anger, sadness, and insecurity due to my previous cesareans-feelings that people who haven’t had cesareans cannot understand. Telling a woman who had a cesarean, “At least you have a healthy baby” is actually insulting and hurtful. A woman who has a cesarean misses out on so much, especially back in 1997 when I had my first one. I was told my body was failing and that my baby was going to die, but I was a strong, young and healthy woman who was dilating well and progressing beautifully. I felt like I just needed more time. Then my baby was cut from my body and taken away from me. I did not see him for 4 hours. When I was finally united with my newborn son I wanted desperately to breastfeed him, but he had been given a bottle of formula without my permission and was not hungry for my milk. I felt like he wasn’t even my baby. I hadn’t given birth to him. I hadn’t gotten to feed him his first meal or give him his first bath or be the first to hold him. I felt like a failure, but people kept telling me I was being “silly” and should be grateful the doctor saved us both. Over the years I just pushed the pain aside, but never felt like my cesarean was necessary and every time I looked at my scar I felt so many negative emotions that I cannot even name them all.
In 2009 I ended up with a repeat cesarean even though I had wanted a VBAC. I didn’t know enough to realize that my care provider wasn’t truly supportive of my wishes and I “got talked into” another cesarean. The recovery from my 2nd cesarean was horrendous in so many ways. My baby was taken too early and had trouble feeding which not only affected her health, but also many of my relationships. I had trouble bonding with her. I withdrew from my husband. I cried for months on end. I healed just fine physically, but was a mess mentally.
So, by 2011, pregnant with my 3rd, I had done a tone of research and knew VBA2C was a safe and realistic option for me, but my new care provider wouldn’t hear of it. All of the doctors in the practice (I met with 4 of them) told me absolutely not, that my baby or I would die, and they refused to request my records from California to see what kind of scars I had from my previous births (low transverse scars are thought to be safest for VBAC’s, however, women with vertical scars have vbac’d just fine).The surgery scheduler kept calling me to schedule my repeat cesarean and I kept telling her I would not be scheduling a repeat and she got very huffy with me each time we spoke.
At 30 weeks I contacted a local midwife in Idaho (I was living in Idaho at the time). I knew it was against Idaho law for a midwife to help me because I had 2 scars (one is okay), but I wanted someone to help point me in the direction of a doctor that would be supportive of my need to VBAC. The midwife that I contacted was a big help. She spoke to me about nutrition during pregnancy and things I could do to increase my chance of a “successful” VBA2C and she put me in contact with an OB in Spokane who was VBAC supportive. She also suggested I attend the local ICAN meeting and get in touch with a doula. I did both.
The following Monday I called the OB practice and left a message with the receptionist telling her that I wanted to speak to the OB about VBAC and about switching providers at 31 weeks. He called me the next day and we spoke for a while about my previous births. He asked me to request my previous surgery records immediately and ended the conversation telling me he thought I was an ideal candidate for VBA2C and to schedule an appointment. I was over the moon. I cried and cried tears of joy just for the fact that he listened to me and he thought I could do this. I later learned from reading my surgery notes with this OB, that my cesarean in 1997 had in fact, not been an emergency and had not been necessary. My instincts had been correct. I had been lied to and bullied for nothing more than the doctor’s schedule (he was home by midnight). This realization was bittersweet for me. On one hand all of the old anger and hurt came back. On the other hand I felt validated that I had been right about my body all along! It gave me hope.
I went on to have my VBA2C and it was everything I needed it to be at the time. I had more interventions than I hoped, but I still feel that that birth was a huge success and a huge stepping stone for my most recent and 4th birth. I remember the OB that was at her birth (my OB was not on call) telling me after she was born that I was “part of a very elite club and should feel very proud.” I certainly did!
Then this past May, I had a 2nd VBA2C that was absolutely AMAZING! I had a super supportive OB (yes, I switched again!) and a fantastic Doula. My daughter was 10lbs 40z born via unmedicated VBA2C at 41 weeks exactly. It was truly perfect. Truly.
This is why I am passionate about ICAN.
How did you become involved?
I attended my 1st ICAN meeting in October 2011, 31 weeks pregnant with my 3rd baby and met a few other women who had had successful VBAC’s (many women don’t like the term “successful” VBAC, meaning that if they don’t get the VBAC they somehow failed. I’m using it lightly here). It was great to hear that it wasn’t just a distant possibility or dream-that it was real and now I knew women who had actually done it and were happy that they did. This was the only experience I had with ICAN at the time.
Then, in 2013 during my 4th pregnancy I began an informal Post Cesarean Support Group because I wanted to meet other women who had VBAC’d or were wanting to VBAC or just needed support in dealing with a cesarean birth and all of the emotions that come along with it whether it was necessary or not (the cesarean). (Our Chapter wasn’t active during this time, so there was no other option for support). I wanted to educate women about interventions that often lead to unnecessary cesareans, share my VBA2C story, and surround myself with positive stories while preparing for my 4th birth and hopefully 2nd VBA2C.
Around this time I heard that the local ICAN chapter was about to be dissolved if someone couldn’t be found to lead the group as the current leader was moving out of state. I didn’t want to see the chapter dissolved so I did a little research, asked a ton of questions, and filled out an application. By this time it was February and my baby was due in May so, I explained that I may not do much with the chapter right away, but would as soon as things settled down for me.
That time has come and I’m excited to get ICAN of Spokane rolling full speed ahead!
What does ICAN do in our community?
ICAN offers education to women who are pregnant and looking to avoid a primary unnecessary cesarean or are wanting to learn about VBAC. It offers support for women who are having a hard time with previous cesareans whether they were necessary or not. (Many primary cesareans are in fact unnecessary).
Eventually, as ICAN of Spokane grows we will have booths at community events, such as baby fairs, to raise awareness, educate, and offer support to the women and families of our community.
What does a normal ICAN meeting look like?
ICAN meetings are comfortable and informal. We are just a group of women offering support or in need of support sitting together in a safe and nurturing environment. We listen, we share, we educate, we cry, we laugh-we understand. As we grow (in leadership and support) we will bring in speakers on different topics and our meetings will have rotating topics relevant to birth and parenting as it relates to cesareans and VBAC’s.
I am happy to report that three local VBAC mamas in Idaho and Spokane have recently filled out applications to join me in leadership and one of our local (Spokane) OBGYN’s has joined as a Professional Supporter.
For our readers interested in attending an ICAN meeting or becoming part of the group, when and where is your next meeting? Do they need to sign up or just show up?
We have an ICAN of Spokane Facebook page where we list our meetings. Meetings begin Thursday, October 9th at 7 pm and will continue to be every 2nd Thursday of the month and will be held at Valley Hospital in the Caduceus Room. Meetings are for women who are pregnant or who have had a cesarean. They may bring children if necessary. You do not need to sign up to attend. ICAN of Spokane can be reached via Facebook , email: Spokane.firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone 208-964-6688.
ICAN is always in need of support. You can become a supporting member through the website for $30 per year. Professionals may also become supporters for $60 per year (doctors, midwives, etc). More information about joining and supporting can be found at ican-online.org.