Caroline Malatesta had given birth three times already in what she describes as ‘medicated, on-your-back deliveries.’ Discovering she was pregnant with her fourth child, she decided to try a different approach offered by Brookwood Medical Centre, which was encouraging mums to choose more natural options.
‘It was all about comfort and choice. It was about getting whatever you want out of your birthing plan,’ Caroline wrote in an article for Cosmopolitan about her experience.
Her initial consultations with the Brookwood doctor made her feel confident about her decision, and details of her birth plan were confirmed.
‘He said I could labor in any position, not necessarily on my back, and didn't need continuous monitoring.’
However when she began to go into labour around 20 weeks later, she was about to go through a horrific ordeal.
‘I stayed on my hands and knees and breathed, trying to relax, as that is what came naturally to me,’ she says.
‘But the nurse pulled my wrist out from under me and flipped me over on to my back!
‘Then another nurse held my baby's head into my vagina to prevent him from being delivered.’
She struggled against the nurses who refused to answer her questions. When she protested saying that her doctor had said it was okay to be on all-fours she was ignored.
When she asked where her doctor was, the nurse replied that he wasn’t on call.
‘I grabbed the side of the bed, and at one point, I even put my foot up against the nurse's shoulder and face to try and get leverage to flip back over, but was unsuccessful.
Finally the doctor arrived and told the nurse to let go of the baby’s head, and her son was delivered less than a minute later. But the damage had been done to Caroline’s body.
‘I was having abnormal nerve sensations: pins and needles, numbness, burning. I knew something was wrong,’ she describes.
‘Because of the trauma I sustained from fighting while birthing, I now suffer from a permanent and debilitating nerve condition called pudendal neuralgia.’
Caroline filed a suit against the hospital, who refused to settle the case and it became a two-year-long slog through the court system.
Finally, the hospital was found responsible for Caroline’s injury and for misrepresenting their service. They were ordered to pay $16 million.
‘Brookwood used the idea of natural birth as a way to lure in patients. I say that without a doubt,’ says Caroline.
Her battle was not just a personal victory, but one that she says resonates with other mums who have suffered similar disregard during birth.
‘Women from all over started contacting me about their own stories. became acutely aware that this wasn't just about me.
‘This became a cause for me, almost. To bring the truth out on behalf of so many other women.’