COLUMBIA — Dozens of adults and children gathered Monday morning at Stephens Lake Park to wave signs advocating more careful use of cesarean sections.
With the seven-story Boone Hospital Center looming across the busy intersection of Broadway and Old 63, protesters held signs with slogans such as "Your Body, Your Way," "Empowering Birth" and "When You Know Better, You Do Better," while some motorists honked their approval. Some children held signs while others drew chalk animals on the hot sidewalk.
The protest, called Rally for Change, was one of more than 100 similar events held in cities across the U.S. on Monday by Improving Birth, a California-based organization founded last year that advocates a preference for natural labor methods over cesarean sections or induced labor.
"It's just exploded," protest co-organizer Carrie Hummel-Logee said of the organization's quick expansion.
Hummel-Logee learned about Improving Birth on Indiegogo, a social media site that helps charities raise money on the Internet. She gave birth to her daughter at home, and she shares the group's belief that cesarean sections and induced labor should be avoided when possible.
"These are procedures we totally believe can be life-saving, but when there is no risk, they are detrimental to moms and babies," Hummel-Logee said. She also opposes continuous fetal monitoring, which she said has been shown to lead to unnecessary cesarean sections.
Hummel-Logee and co-organizer Megan Oberg gathered support for the event on Facebook. The event's page has more than 100 likes and a bustling timeline going back to May.
Oberg believes there should be a conversation between doctors and mothers before births to empower the mother and help her feel better about giving birth.
“If you don’t do your research before your birth, then you end up with what has become normal, which is intervening without necessity, often resulting in the mother or baby needing to be rescued,” Oberg said.
One of the protesters, Katy Miller, became an advocate of natural birth after a bad experience from giving birth to a child in a hospital.
Miller said that when she gave birth to her oldest child, her obstetrician broke her water because he believed the labor process was taking too long.
"That turned out to be not the best idea," Miller said.
After that, her baby couldn't get in the right position, and Miller experienced intense contractions, Miller said. It was so painful that she had to get an epidural, which made her fall asleep. Her doctor performed a cesarean to deliver the baby.
Her daughter Leona, now 8 years old, was born in perfect health. Miller found the experience so stressful, however, that she decided to deliver her two youngest children at home with the help of a midwife and her husband.
"I loved giving birth somewhere where I felt comfortable and supported and relaxed," Miller said, as her three children ran around a nearby table holding bottled water, sunscreen, oatmeal cookies and a mallet for planting protest signs.
Miller now works as a doula, or a professional labor assistant. She educates women on what to expect during labor, keeps the mother hydrated and fed during delivery and "gives the dad a break."
Hummel-Logee believes that fear of litigation and mistaken perceptions have created a "culture of intervention" that is responsible for the overuse of cesarean sections in the U.S.
"We're spending twice what most developed countries spend, and we're fiftieth in the world in terms of maternal mortality," Hummel-Logee said.
The United States spends 17.9 percent of its GDP on health, according to the World Health Organization, while the United Kingdom spends 9.6 percent, France 11.9 percent and Germany 11.6 percent.
In 2010, the U.S. ranked 48th in the world for maternal deaths, with 21 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the CIA.
In Missouri, 31.9 percent of all births in 2010 were cesarean sections, lower than the national rate of 32.8, according to the 2012 National Vital Statistics Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cesarean delivery rate declined slightly between 2009 and 2010, after rising by almost 60 percent from 1996 to 2009.
A March 2010 report from the National Center for Health Statistics said that cesarean delivery involves "higher rates of surgical complications and maternal re-hospitalization" and is more likely to lead to admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. Hospital fees for cesarean sections are "almost double" those of vaginal delivery, according to the report.
Hummel-Logee hopes to host more Improving Birth events in Columbia soon. She plans to lead local advocates in handing out leaflets in practitioners' offices, to conduct mass call-ins to the Missouri General Assembly and to lead a letter-writing campaign to insurance companies.
"We would love to sit down with hospital administrators," Hummel-Logee said.
Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.