A Love Affair with VBAC Stats

At some point during a VBAC journey, it is likely you will start a love affair with stats. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve courted stats, I’ve had lover’s tiffs with stats and, I’m pretty sure, I’ve even taken them to bed.

So, here follows a lengthy discussion which – if you choose to read it – may mean you won’t be able to read another VBAC success stat again without picturing a dancer on a pole. (And yes, you can thank me later.)

The Love Story Begins

While you’re waiting for the retails stores to have crystal balls on special, having facts and figures upon which to base your decisions is the next best thing, right? And, who doesn’t love a sexy stat or two, especially when they tell you what you want to hear.

In fact, I think stats can do even more – with the right stats, you might gain some credibility in your discussions with a care provider, for example. Stats might even lead you to make a critical choice which is the difference between the birth outcome you desire and the alternative. And, in this day and age, we plebs have even more stats at our fingertips than ever before – this is perhaps our greatest time of empowerment. Repeat after me: COLLECT ALL THE STATS!

But, stats – like all forms of information (and indeed all new relationships) – need to be approached with certain level of caution. Like any meticulously constructed Instagram account, the best looking stats have possibly been cropped and filtered to create a certain outcome. And, like that Instagram pic which crops out your ‘shagbuster’ trackies, stats only tell you part of the story you want – it is your job to gather the rest of information you need to give these numbers *context*. (Because, let’s face it, everyone secretly only wants to see the stuff that is cropped *out* of Instagram pics, right?)

Let’s take a popular general statistic like ‘women have a 75% chance of VBAC success’. This might fill you with confidence for your planned VBAC. Indeed, it *should* give you confidence in your decision to plan a VBAC, because it sounds pretty darn good. Crikey, if I were told I had a 75% chance of winning lotto, I’d be actually getting dressed today (and that’s saying something!) and heading out to my local newsagent to buy myself a ticket.

However, here’s the catch: this statistic is the promise of an outcome, not a guarantee. (Darn it – I might have just gotten dressed a little prematurely! Never mind – Instagram will help me to crop my shagbusters out.)

And, here’s a harsh fact: Not all women have an equal 75% chance of successful VBAC, just like not every punter has an equal chance of winning lotto. This is an average, a OSFA number. It is a handy number to know, but it is not necessarily your Magic Number. We logically know that my chance of winning lotto goes up and down depending on which numbers I choose (if i do indeed choose my own numbers), and how many tickets I buy. In a similar way, some women are more likely to VBAC than others.

Harsh Fact #2: The effect of your choices on your Magic Number is really only ever known retrospectively. This is the awful truth about stats – sometimes they’re all talk. But, sometimes they turn out better than you thought.

So, while you’re in the thick of it and don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight, let’s at least try and make this stat work a little better for you. And, how do you do that? You need to work it, baby! Think of yourself as the RuPaul of the VBAC Stat World! You need to go forth like the fierce mama you are and get more information to frame this number within your own context (feel free to leave the killer heels and spandex to RuPaul, however – I much prefer ugg boots and jeans!). Don’t leave this stat standing there, naked, shivering and pleading for a coat – dress it up in the important stuff, like ‘who is my care provider?’ and ‘where am I birthing my baby?’

As you start adding details to the 75% stat, watch your Magic Number bounce up and down. Truthfully, I have a dance pole in mind here with this… And now so do you. (I did warn you!).

Think of 75% as the sweet zone on the pole. When you jump on, you might be a bit rusty and find yourself at about 45%. That’s okay – the beauty about VBAC is that you have at least nine months to do something about that. So, you start researching, making choices and asking questions. This is you climbing a little higher. You go back to your obstetrician and hear that they have an 80% VBAC rate. You beauty! You climb higher. But, after reading about the difference between VBAC rates and success rates, you ask your obstetrician how many VBACers they oversee – their answer is five in the past year. Uh oh, your Magic Number just slipped a little. You then get to your 36 week review and your care provider starts mentioning ‘big baby’, ‘small baby’, ‘low amniotic fluid levels’, ‘high amniotic fluid levels’, ‘due dates’, ‘going over’… Yikes, suddenly you feel like you’re at risk of face-planting on the tacky floorboards beneath you. (Actually, so is the landlord – they’re stepping in to stop the show lest it becomes a public liability claim.) (And yes, this landlord is a metaphor for a ‘bait and switch‘ care provider – they do exist.) So, you quickly change tack, get a second opinion or two and make some new decisions… Phew! You might have just avoided a repeat Caesarean (and an insurance claim).

You see, the VBAC success rate is not guaranteed until *after you give birth* (and you jump down from the dance pole). This is actually good news!

Don’t think of a VBAC success stat as a static number – it is a fluid thing. The birth choices you make, the preparation you do, and the support you have around you all shift this number up and down. Stats are great to help you understand what are reasonable expectations – they help you to make the best decisions possible when the crystal ball you bought online from China is caught up in the Australia Post Christmas rush. But, at the end of the day, stats are numbers which can be sliced and diced numerous ways for various agendas – like any good relationship, it is important to remember that you have control over what you bring into the picture, too.