My wife was admitted to have our first baby induced at 42 weeks of pregnancy. We were nervous as first-time parents, especially as a midwife at the hospital had dismissed our request for an elective Caesarian out of hand, despite a family history of needing Caesarians.
My wife stayed overnight, with some pain and sickness, on her own, as relatives are not allowed to stay. But worse was to come. She was in a lot of pain when I arrived the next morning, but was not allowed an epidural until being admitted into the delivery suite – because of a shortage of beds, this didn’t happen until the evening. So her mother and I took turns in nursing her through the pain of contractions for 6 hours – and, in case you think we are being wimps about this, they did not get any stronger when she eventually gave birth.
But worse was to come… My wife started bleeding quite a lot, and the staff (who were largely sympathetic) seemed concerned, although because they could not get her admitted to the delivery suite, kept giving us the usual reassurances. Eventually, becoming ever more concerned about the situation, I was forced to take action myself, and sought out the hospital’s Chief Executive. To her credit, she took immediate action, resulting in my wife being admitted to the delivery suite. Which did not appear to be full.
And it gets worse. My wife was told to push for some time, but it became apparent that the doctor – who had been called by this time – was concerned about something. That something being our baby’s heartbeat falling to dangerously low levels whenever my wife pushed. He was stuck.
After a bit of toing and froing, the doctor told us that they were going to take my wife into theatre, and had to get him out within 15 minutes, or an emergency Caesarian would be required. The doctor didn’t think the baby was particularly large, but would use forceps to get him out – despite the fact that our birth plan specifically asked them not to use forceps (which are banned in the US and Brazil, as they are considered dangerous). If a Caesarian were required, they would have to push our son back up into the womb, which would be dangerous. ‘Was that OK?’ we were asked, as a consent form was shoved in my wife’s face.
Frankly, I have never been so scared in my entire life. My mother-in-law was left outside the operating theatre in floods of tears, fearing that her daughter and grandchild would die inside. I paced up and down for 10 minutes, before being ushered in.
Then the process began. The doctor was pulling my son so hard with forceps that an anaesthetist had to hold my wife under the shoulders in order to stop her moving forward. Eventually a baby – apparently not breathing – emerged. And the resuscitation team got working. For 2 dreadful minutes, I – and, I later discovered, my wife – thought he was dead. But he did breathe, and I got to hold him.
A dramatic story – at least from our perspective. But what are the implications? My feelings are:
1. We should have been allowed an elective Caesarian. In fact, the hospital has told us that, should my wife recover mentally to the extent that she will have another child (a big if at present), she will be allowed one. Why didn’t they just do that in the first place?!
2. Contrary to what the doctor thought, our son was enormous, given my wife’s size – 8 lb 2 oz, from a woman who is 5 ft 3 and is a size 4! A proper scan – which would have been offered in Brazil, even to the poorest patient (my wife is Brazilian, and received aftercare from doctors in Brazil, who were horrified by our experience in the NHS) – would surely have shown that a Caesarian was the best option.
3. So what should have been a routine-ish birth became an emergency, totally unnecessarily.
4. On the other hand, I have to praise the skills of the doctor – I fear that if we had had a less experienced doctor, the outcome wouldn’t have been so good. But it should never have got to that stage.
5. The hospital has at least admitted that it made mistakes, and has promised to make changes to its procedures. I believe that the head of midwifery is committed to doing this – I trust her.
6. But I don’t trust the NHS – the bureaucracy, the system, the pressure created by closing a nearby (dangerous) maternity unit without really planning to ensure that other units can cope. So I fear that the staff who want to improve services will find it difficult to overcome the systemic constraints.
7. When I hear the debate about NHS reform that we’ve had over the last few months, this leads me to think that people are living in a different world. Having experienced healthcare services in Brazil – a second-world country – I can assure the British public that in my understanding the NHS is far from being the envy of the world. I don’t feel the current system works, and – whilst not all the reforms may be right – I can’t believe that it could get any worse.