Death at homebirth is becoming such a common phenomenon that I now have to write about homebirth deaths and disasters in groups. Here’s are the deaths and disasters I’ve learned about in the last week. They have a common theme: the insistence that everything is “normal” when it is not.
#1 When Intuition Fails (postpartum death):
Later that evening [of the day of birth], when he was nursing, I noticed that he was a little blue. I called to my husband and told him I wasn’t sure he was breathing. He whisked him up and tried to get him to wake up. I had enough time to get the midwife, and then 911, on the phone before he got him awake. He seemed okay, so we canceled the ambulance. Then Miriam told us that sometimes big babies get hypoglycemic after birth and pass out so to try and make sure he eats frequently. Well, he didn’t. After that first latch on, he showed no interest in nursing. We actually broke out the free case of formula that we’d been mocking when it arrived.
… The next morning, Miriam came over to check him and said that he seemed fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was working too hard to breathe. I’ve had asthma since I was 13, and I know what it’s like to have to use all your energy just to breathe. She said if I was still worried I should have him checked by his pediatrician. Only it was Sunday; the pediatrician’s office was closed, and the emergency number for the pediatrician was a cell phone that was out of range.
I called my cousin Jeanine, who is a lactation consultant, and asked for some advice. She gave me some tips that resulted in success later that evening. He nursed beautifully for about a half hour, one of the most beautiful interludes of my life, and I’ll always treasure it. The love in his eyes as he stared into mine was palpable. I could feel it melting the anxiety I’d been carrying for weeks. I thought he must be getting better, but I had resolved to take him into the doctor in the morning anyway.
Later that night, I got worried again and woke up my husband, and the two of us were watching him when he stopped breathing. It was obvious this time. My husband did CPR and I called 911. Police came quickly and took him down to the ambulance. We waited in the police car barefoot and in night-clothes as they worked on him. Finally, they drove us to the hospital and stashed us in the waiting room.
The baby died. The cause was overwhelming infection.
#2 Homebirth disaster, long term effects not yet known:
I trusted birth, my body, and my baby. However, when I was 40 wks along, my blood pressure rose. The consulting doctor wanted me to go to the hospital to be induced, but the MW convinced me there was no need, and induced me instead with homeopathic remedies.
The birth turned into three days and four sleepless nights (I was almost insane with sleep deprivation by the end) of torture and agony. I broke down several times but the MW kept telling me it would be even worse if I went to the hospital. DS was asynclitic, posterior, double-corded with the hand wedged near his face (not to mention weighing 10lbs), and b/c of the strange position, the MW insisted on doing constant internal exams, which were absolutely excruciating. (I guess I should mentioned that I was sexually abused as a child. It was like being violated over and over again.)
At the end, his heart rate decelerated rapidly and the MW screamed: “We have to get this baby out NOW!” I didn’t know what was happening, but DS was stuck with a severe shoulder dystocia. Everything was panic and pain. The MW and her assistants pulled me out of the birth tub and onto the bed, and tried all kinds of different positions, nothing worked, the paramedics were called, I couldn’t breathe, the MW told me I didn’t have time to take a breath, I gasped anyway, everyone was yelling at me, I just wanted to die so it would be all over. The MW had to reach in while I was pushing and dislodge DS’s shoulder, he was born grey, the oxygen tank wouldn’t work at first, but he was finally resuscitated just as the paramedics rushed into my bedroom. I know I am so lucky and I have so much compassion for mamas whose little ones did not make it.
Sadie was born at home 2 days past her due date. Everything in my pregnancy and labor and delivery was normal…actually, so normal that my midwife told me I was clinically the perfect patient!! However, we found out later that I was Group B Strep (GBS) positive and didn’t know it. We have, after MUCH detective work, determined that the infection (which was found in my placenta and all the way through the umbilical cord) must have stressed Sadie out, causing her to pass meconium, which was aspirated and caused Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE).
Within minutes of being born, paramedics came to my home and rushed Sadie off to the hospital, where they discovered some brain damaged and then transported her to Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH). PCH practices newborn brain cooling therapy and immediately got her on a cooling blanket…
The baby now has cerebral palsy.
What did the mother learn from this experience? Not a damned thing.
Here’s a comment she wrote on Baby Center:
I love that you touched on that it’s NOT just about having a healthy baby in the end. It is about having a good birth experience and getting what you wanted. You’ve carried that baby for months in your belly, you should enjoy giving birth!! People say to me all the time that the biggest concern for this baby is it being born healthy (ie. not like Sadie), but I have had to give up my homebirth dream. I hate that I have to give birth in a hospital just so everyone else is comfortable. I’m choosing not to fight them (mostly my husband) this time… but next time I’m staying home!!! I’m glad you’re mad and unsatisfied and I hope that next time you get exactly what you want!
#4 Homebirth death:
… Two lovely midwives came and sat with me in my living room, I had scented candles, soft music.. and having had a homebirth before was very confident that I was going to get through it just fine…
At about 5am they offered to examine me as things were going very slow and my labour didn’t seem to be progressing much. I was 3cms dilated, and Angel’s head was completely engaged, ready to come out beautifully once things got going a bit more. The midwives checked her heartbeat and told me ‘we have a happy baby’ ‘that’s perfectly fine’.
… At about 5.15am one of the midwives came to listen to angel’s heart and said that’s fine carry on.
… At about 5.45 she came again to check the heart beat. She told me to turn on my side as she couldn’t get the heartbeat. She then asked me to move again, saying there’s interference and that her silly monitor wasn’t working very well. She then asked me to get in a towel and come downstairs and lay on the sofa so they could check the heartbeat…
The midwife monitoring the heart beat kept glancing up at me and down again to keep listening. After a few minutes she found the heartbeat and I let out a sigh of relief, but she looked up at me and said ‘okay what we’re going to have to do is transfer you now, baby’s heartbeat in dropping a little’…
The paramedic didn’t even speak to me, they were told to just take us in straight away. The midwife carried on monitoring the heart beat. I knew that Angel’s heartbeat usually sounded like galloping horses. But now all I could hear was ‘thud ..thud ..thud’ it was terrifying and I felt numb and scared.
The trip took 5 minutes, staff were waiting at the hospital entrance…
We got to a room, and … they were all fixated on the monitering machine they’d just attached to my belly. The thuds sounded a bit faster, I sighed massive relief … The doctor quickly told me that ‘no this is not okay, her heartbeat is not okay’ … She told me she was going to break my waters and had the stick in me before I could even respond. ‘gush’
my waters had gone and there was blood everywhere. I would later be told that this meant it was a hidden placental abruption…
We raced through corridors again … [t]he midwife reappeared in theatre and held my hand…
While I was sleeping my first daughter, Angel Elizabeth was born, weighing 8lb14, she had no signs of life. Doctors worked on her for 11 minutes, before being able to bring back her heart beat. They estimated that she was essentially dead for around 20 minutes all in all…
Around 4 hours after her birth I was finally able to see her for the first time, they wheeled my bed down to intensive care and she was SO BEAUTIFUL, with her daddy’s nose, her cute chubby cheeks, but she was full of tubes which was to be expected. The nurse caring for her had obviously been crying.
[Angel] was transported to Addenbrooke’s for cooling treatment to prevent brain damage from the time she had no oxygen going to the brain…
To cut a long story short .. an MRI scan when she was a week old revealed extensive damage and not much activity. At 9 days old, we went to a hospice and took out the tubes and wires, she lay between me and her father, and did not try to breath.
I was hysterical, I picked her up for the first time, finally being able to hold her properly, being able to fully see her beautiful face for the first time. I’m crying as I write this.
We were left alone with her. I tried to resuscitate her, my partner softly told me to stop. I stripped off and laid her on my breast, I thought if she could feel and smell her mummy’s milk she would do something to try and wake up.
She didn’t respond.
I laid in bed with her on my chest, and spend some beautiful time with her, she did a gasping motion every so often and I told myself she was going to come back.
After 20 minutes she had gone.
The take home message from these stories:
Trusting birth is useless.
Intuition is worse than useless.
The hospital is never close enough.
Homebirth is not safe.