Health & Family

Confusion reigns over hospital birthing rule

The buzz started earlier this year when Ashley Petronzio, an Indian Trail mother of three, posted her story on charlottemommies.com, a Web site where area mothers share questions and concerns.

Petronzio had given birth to her third child in November at Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville. And even though her first two children had been born by Caesarean section, the third child was delivered naturally by nurse midwife Marcia Chiluck, without a doctor present.

Months later, Petronzio was shocked to learn from Chiluck that Presbyterian officials had ordered her to stop performing vaginal births after Caesareans, so-called VBACs, without the presence of Dr. Mark Peacock, the obstetrician-gynecologist with whom she works.

VBACs are hotly debated in obstetrics circles, but Petronzio said everything went perfectly for hers.

“I thought I had a great birth,” she said. “Nobody had ever asked me about it. I didn't even know there was a battle going on.”

Once she posted Chiluck's story on the Web site, Petronzio heard from many mothers, including Angela Hathaway, who was planning a VBAC, with Chiluck, when she delivered her third child.

Messages on the Web site talked of getting organized and pushing for more mother-friendly maternity care. One writer predicted Charlotte hospitals will ban VBACs “unless we rise up and let them know that we're not going to take this lying down!” The International Cesarean Awareness Network says 300 U.S. hospitals have banned VBACs.

Presbyterian officials say their actions have been misunderstood, and they have never planned such a ban.

Spokeswoman Kati Everett said hospital officials had been unaware that Chiluck was delivering babies without a physician present. The practice was stopped as soon as it was discovered, but that decision was not intended as punishment, she said.

Both Chiluck and Peacock are “excellent clinicians who misunderstood a policy,” Everett said.

Neither Peacock nor Chiluck have returned calls from the Observer. But Chiluck sent a letter to patients this spring, announcing the change in her practice. The letter, which Hathaway and Petronzio shared with the Observer, said in part:

“This was a shock to me, especially because of my very high VBAC success rate….Instead of being rewarded for a job well done, I feel as if not only my patients, but myself are being punished for giving birth naturally….It is my hope that everyone will come together and voice their concern that this change in hospital policy can affect our community's ability to birth naturally.”

Presbyterian officials said a midwife may assist a physician with a VBAC but cannot do it alone. “That has always been the case,” said Dr. Thomas Zweng, chief medical officer for Presbyterian Healthcare.

“We have no plans to stop VBACs,” Zweng said. “Everybody is trying to achieve the same thing here, a healthy mom and a healthy baby.”

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