As a number of women recount how they were mistakenly told to go home and wait, before giving birth on the pavement or in a lift, experts warn that more investment in early-labour care is needed.
Because her first baby had arrived quickly, Lizzie Hines was told at all her antenatal midwife appointments that she should go to hospital as soon as she recognised the first signs of labour. So, a couple of hours after she first felt twinges, cramps and contractions, she and her husband set off for a hospital in central London, but when she arrived, the midwife who examined her told her she wasn’t in labour. “I knew that not to be true,” she says. “I knew I was in labour.”
They were told to go home for a few hours; Hines asked if she could stay, but was told she couldn’t unless she wanted to wait in the corridor. Her husband booked them into a nearby hotel to wait it out, and they walked around the corner, with Hines, wearing pyjamas and a coat, steadying herself against the walls of the building with each contraction. It was 7am.
“We checked in at the hotel and I was probably there all of about 15 to 20 minutes when I said to my husband, ‘I’m having the baby. This is happening.’ I couldn’t really talk to him, but I could feel this was imminent. He said: ‘No, I’m going to get you [to hospital], we can’t do this here.’” He carried her across the road, and as another contraction came, Hines sat down on the street. “Apparently I let out a huge noise, but I don’t remember that at all. People came over, and I do remember ankles starting to appear around me.”
Then, she says, her son Louis “came out, and I remember feeling every limb fly out of my body and on to the floor and into my pyjamas. Someone in the crowd reassured me, saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get to the hospital, you’re going to be fine’. I said: ‘No, he’s here.’ They opened my pyjamas and saw him red and squirming, attached to me with the umbilical cord. He wasn’t screaming at first. Someone said put him against you so I lifted up my T-shirt and put him against me.”
She doesn’t remember much of what happened next, but last month she pieced her son’s birth together after a post she put on Facebook to search for the strangers who helped the family in December 2016 went viral. People have told her that her waters were running down the street, that someone in the crowd had tried to film her giving birth and a fight broke out to stop them. She didn’t even know when Louis was born – she was told it was 7.30am.
The temperature was zero degrees. Some people in the crowd who helped her worked at the hospital. Hines and her newborn were taken there, using a wheelchair. She had a few stitches but all was well, and they went home that afternoon.
It was, she says, “a wonderful experience. He was healthy, I felt physically and mentally good about it, and I felt really joyful – I think the hormones were a huge part of that.” But, she adds: “There is also the thought that there was a misjudgment there.” It was a straightforward birth. “I feel very fortunate,” she says. “He didn’t have the cord round his neck or any immediate problems.”
Michelle Booth had a similar experience in 2013 with the birth of her son George, her first baby, who arrived in a hotel bathroom across the road from the hospital she had been turned away from a few hours earlier. She had been told she wasn’t dilated at all, and to go home. “The really stressful thing about it was I felt I was really on top of it, and then all of a sudden people were telling me I wasn’t in labour. When you haven’t had a baby before you don’t know. It freaked me out – if this wasn’t labour then what was it going to be like?”
Nearly three hours later, she called the hospital for advice and to ask if she should come in, but they told her to take a paracetamol. Soon afterwards, she gave birth in the hotel room. Like Hines, she says, it was a “really positive experience”, but she puts that down to being very prepared before the birth, having practised hypnobirthing and reading a lot about the birth process. “I think if I hadn’t done that, and had that experience, it would have been really scary.” She did, however, lose a lot of blood, and she and George were taken to hospital by ambulance quickly afterwards.
It was frustrating not to have been listened to, she says. “You’re having an experience and someone is telling you that it isn’t the experience you’re having. If you’ve never had a baby before, you’re reliant on the professionals giving you advice. I suppose what I’ve learned is the whole thing about birth is based on data.”
Being turned away in early labour, only to give birth soon afterwards, is “a symptom of something that affects women in maternity care a lot, which is not being listened to,” says Rebecca Schiller, chief executive of the charity Birthright .“One of the problems we’re keen to address is changing culture in maternity care, so that women’s perceptions, experiences and information about their own bodies, own pregnancies and own labour is taken seriously. It’s something that’s important from a safety point of view. It’s been shown that some women who have had serious problems like stillbirths have reported worries and concerns, turned up to their maternity unit several times and been ignored, and gone to have tragic consequences.”
It can also be distressing to be told that you are not in labour when you feel you are, she says. “We know that how women feel giving birth can have an impact on their emotional wellbeing for quite a long time. It’s important for safety, and it’s important for women’s entry into motherhood and how they go on to feel about themselves and their experience of birth that they’re listened to.”
source: The Guardian Independent