If she lives in New Jersey, she might be. Because apparently, refusing a C-section (and then successfully vaginally delivering a healthy baby) and acting “combative” “erratic” and “noncompliant” during labor is considered child abuse and neglect and is grounds for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (NJ DYFS) to immediately take away your newborn child and permanently terminate your parental rights.
Sounds unbelievable, right? But I am so not making this up.
In the case of New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. V.M. and B.G., In the Matter of J.M.G., new mother V.M. was never allowed contact with her daughter and has had her parental rights terminated. And now the decision has been held up on appeal (link to the decision). Father B.G. initially had his rights terminated too, but on appeal that decision has been reversed. No word on whether either parent has ever been allowed to see their daughter, who is now 2 years old.
I haven’t been able to get back to original court decision contesting the DYFS decision, but from everything I’ve read, the whole argument against the mother is based on her behavior in the hospital – in labor – with a doctor trying to force a C-section on her. (I had a relatively uneventful childbirth experience, but I’m sure some of the same adjectives could be used to describe my behavior at times during the labor.)
As Louise Marie Roth of the Huffington Post writes:
The decision cites hospital records that describe the mother, V.M., as “combative,” “uncooperative,” “erratic,” “noncompliant,” “irrational” and “inappropriate.” Also, her husband indicated that the way she was acting was not her “normal manner and that she is not as ‘tranquil.’” Why would anyone expect a woman in labor to be compliant, tranquil, or rational? What kinds of expectations does our society have for women undergoing a powerful physiological process, often with an absurd amount of poking, prodding and general interference?
Furthermore, as Roth points out:
First, from a legal perspective, individuals have a right to informed consent and bodily integrity. … In this specific case, one obstetrician who tried to convince the mother to consent to a c-section concluded that she was not psychotic and had the capacity for informed consent with regard to the c-section. It is clear within the law there is no informed consent without informed refusal, so this obstetrician’s conclusion should have made V.M.’s refusal to consent to the c-section her decision alone. If this mother is not legally permitted to refuse major abdominal surgery, then she is clearly stripped of her civil rights to informed consent.
I’ll note that in the appeal, the judges specifically refused to rule on whether the refusal of a C-section was grounds for child abuse, instead working around it and continuing to deny V.M. her child based on her behavior. Unless she was abusing other children or drugs, I can’t imagine how her history could allow DYFS to go to such draconian measures immediately after birth. (I have seen no reports that she was abusing drugs/children/animals/cotton candy/the internets etc.) And even if she had other troubles, the investigation was prompted by her refusal of the c-section, not any other complaint.
To top it off, it’s not like the NJ DYFS has such a stellar track record of protecting children under its care. (Though I am sure that 99+% of the time they do a good job of taking children out of terrible situations and finding better places for them. But there have been some real tragedies.)
I’ll change my mind if new facts come to light, but from everything I’ve seen this is an outrageous violation of a woman’s right to choose whether to have invasive surgery, her ability to express the emotions and frustrations that are a part of the childbirth experience, and the best interests of the newborn child to be with her mother. In my mind, the NJ DYFS decision is the real instance of child abuse here. I wish V.M. the best of luck getting her child back.
I first learned about this story 2 days ago (h/t Kate), but it’s taken me this long to write about it because I have been too busy pondering my own good fortune in having a smooth childbirth without unnecessary interference from pushy doctors or child welfare officials. And I’ve been giving my 2 year old daughter lots of extra cuddles. I’m also sending a donation to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and I encourage you to do the same. This doctor’s orders: Count your blessings, cuddle your children, and help those less fortunate around you.