When the public hospital Rhonda Tombros was booked into was unable to offer her a vaginal birth she took out a loan for $10,000 to pay for a private obstetrician to avoid what she believed, was an unnecessary caesarean.
Rhonda is one of a growing number of desperate women forced to pay thousands for a private obstetrician or travelling, sometimes interstate, to find obstetricians willing to allow them to birth their breech babies vaginally.
“In my mind there was no doubt that I could birth my baby,” Rhonda said.
Although she said the consultant at the Melbourne hospital supported her decision to have a vaginal delivery she advised her that there were only three doctors comfortable in birthing breech babies vaginally at the hospital and she may not get one of them on the day.
“We had to borrow the money, but what price do you put on the integrity of your reproductive organs?” she said.
Rhonda’s daughter, Matilda, ended up being born vaginally at almost 42 weeks.
Rhonda said the whole experience was very traumatic, but she is thankful to have been able to birth her baby vaginally; the way she wanted.
Canberra mum, Claire Campton, had previously given birth vaginally to three boys, so when she found out her twin girls were breech she was confident she could birth them vaginally too.
“The obstetrician at the (public hospital) wanted to schedule a caesarean. There was absolutely no way I was going to consent to an elective caesarean. He was certainly surprised when I told him that I wouldn’t be scheduling one,” she said.
“This would be my fourth birth and I had confidence in my body to birth babies.”
When Claire asked what would happen if she arrived at the hospital in labour she was told there were only three obstetricians comfortable with vaginal breech birth and it would be the luck of the draw.
“I put on my best lawyer’s voice and asked him why I would need to undergo major surgery because the hospital did not have staff trained in breech birth. He acknowledged that there had been a de-skilling for breech births,” Claire said.
This ended up being her last appointment at the hospital and she left it in tears, feeling scared, stressed and powerless.
Determined to find someone who would support her to birth her twins vaginally, her husband called the private hospital, Calvary John James. The midwife was very encouraging and immediately started ringing around to find an obstetrician.
Claire and her husband paid $8,000 for their private obstetrician and even with the twins in completely breech position she successfully birthed her baby girls vaginally.
Castlemaine mum, Moya Maguire, found out her second baby was breech at 30 weeks.
“I tried spinning babies, I tried acupuncture, I tried moxibustion, doing handstands in the pool, my partner humming into my lower abdomen and the breech tilt combined with an ice pack to the baby’s head,” she said.
Moya said her nearest public hospital didn’t offer vaginal breech births so she said her GP called the Melbourne Royal Women’s Hospital but the day before it had just announced the closure of its breech clinic.
“There was a clinic at Box Hill that I heard offered it but that would have been too expensive as well as a four-hour return trip for appointments and the birth and no guarantee I wouldn’t end up needing a caesarean, which I’d have to pay for privately. By the time I gave birth I had already spent over a $1,000 trying to get the baby to turn,” she said.
Moya had to resign herself to the fact that she would have to have another caesarean at her local hospital and never get to experience the much longed for vaginal birth.
“At 41 weeks my waters broke and I had a caesarean. I was treated with respect and the staff spoke to me gently and encouragingly. However, I have had to stop following the breech birth group on Facebook because every success story triggers a fresh wave of grief and mourning for the natural birth I never had,” Moya said.
Head of the breech birth clinic at the Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Dr Andrew Pesce said obstetricians stopped offering vaginal breech births after a study in 2000 came out in favour of caesareans.
He said obstetricians no longer offering vaginal breech birth is a withdrawal of care just because the woman makes a decision they don’t agree with.
LISTEN: Midwife Cath on exactly why birth plans are so important. (Post continues after audio...)
“If a woman comes in smoking I don’t say well I am not going to look after you. As an obstetrician I have to look after a range of women. You don’t turn them away just because they are difficult,” he said.
Dr Pesce said the failure of the maternity system to provide the environment where obstetricians feel they can support women leads to unfavourable outcomes because inevitably women will turn up in labour with a breech baby.
“I have seen bad outcomes because the staff were not familiar with breech. The lack of training and experience meant staff did things that caused harm,” Dr Pesce said.
"We have had women travel from the ACT across NSW. The distances are quite significant and they have to organise to live at Westmead or be induced."
Dr Karol Petrovska did her PhD on women’s choices for breech births and had a vaginal breech birth herself, said the ability to deliver vaginal breech babies is an art that has been dying for many years.
She said following the 2000 study it was like an overnight change with a single response to just offer caesareans.
“One obstetrician said it was like a blanket of darkness that descended over the maternity ward. The choice was taken off women and it is hard not to get angry about it because you are taking power off women,” Dr Petrovska said.
She said it is not taught in medical school and posed a huge risk for women if they presented in labour with an undiagnosed breech baby.
You can read Claire's full birth story on her website.