Medical negligence. It’s a term I have always feared, worrying that when you put your trust into the hands of a doctor, a nurse or a surgeon, they may let you down. Looking back I can think of countless times when this has happened to me over the years, when a doctor has betrayed my trust, a consultant made a false diagnosis or a nurse failed to notice that my “minor ailment” was in fact something more serious. But the biggest negligence for me, and the most bitter pill to swallow, will always be that of Joseph and the ways in which the NHS failed me in the worst way imaginable.
During my pregnancy the failings started quite early on. At 16 weeks during a routine appointment with the midwife, she had struggled to find the heartbeat using a Doppler and told me, quite coldly, that my baby had died. At that time, I had been distraught, unable to know any different as I had yet to feel movements, convinced that given my history of miscarriage we had indeed lost our child. I was then told that I could not have a scan to confirm this until five days later due to lack of appointments and staff.
You can imagine just how heartbreaking it was to go home and tell our husband that we had lost our baby, and how utterly distraught I was at having to wait five long days for confirmation. After frantically ringing around private scanning clinics, and pleading with them for a slot, one clinic finally agreed to see me the following day and we had drove the 40 miles there fully expecting to hear the worst. So when we saw our baby, our Joseph, on the screen, I had been so overwhelmed with relief and excitement that I hadn’t even thought to put in a complaint or question the midwife’s treatment of me that day.
At 28 weeks pregnant, having had very limited contact with a midwife until that time, I was told that I was measuring small and sent for a scan. The sonographer confirmed that the baby was measuring very small, that this was quite a concern and that I would need to be transferred to consultant led care.
At 30 weeks I was re-scanned, told that the baby had not grown as expected and again, this was something which would have to be closely monitored. It was only after that second scan that the panic started to creep in, why was my baby not growing? What could this mean? What would happen to my baby if they failed to grow? And yet none of my questions were ever answered.
At the next scan I was told that the baby had grown yet this was contradicted at the following scan when I was told he had not. I was given steroid injections to prepare for an early delivery yet the following week told that this would not happen. With every appointment and every scan I was told something different, and whenever I voiced my concerns I was told that I was in very capable hands and being closely monitored.
During that last week I rang the unit to say that my baby’s movements had slowed down and I was concerned something was wrong, I was told that this was perfectly normal, that there was less room for him to move, that he was simply sleeping more to conserve energy for the delivery.
And I believed them.
On the Friday before his birth, I had my last scan and was sent away without any follow up and told to return to the hospital on the Monday to see the consultant. On that Monday morning a midwife rang to tell me that due to a member of staff ringing in sick, my appointment had been cancelled and I should come in the following day. I mentioned that I was a little worried as I had felt very few movements that day and she reiterated that this was normal and her tone implied that I was simply being neurotic.
The following day I was told that my baby, my much wanted little boy, had died.
Over the following 35 hours as my labour progressed, I was told to prepare for the fact that, despite being full term, our baby would be very small at birth with our last scan estimating him to be around 2lbs in weight. At the time I had been in too much pain, and too devastated, to question it and instead of wheeling in a cot for him to lay, they had brought in a tiny wicker basket, no bigger than my hands, in which they told me he would be placed.
It’s very hard to think about that exact moment when he came into the world, I have never felt a silence quite like it. After a few moments alone with Joseph they took him away to be weighed and we were told that he weighed just 2lb 3oz. And I watched in complete disbelief as they tried to squash my precious son into that tiny little basket, knowing there was no way a baby as big as he would ever fit.
Had I not queried the fact that he looked far bigger than 2lb 3oz, I doubt they would ever have agreed to re-weigh him. Had I not asked to witness that with my own eyes, I would never have known that he actually weighed 5lb, a healthy weight compared with his brother.
When I was handed his death certificate as we left the hospital, which listed “intra-uterine growth restriction” as the cause of death, I didn’t have the energy to query it, far too devastated to be leaving the hospital empty handed. When we were told that they had failed to grow his chromosomes to test for any genetic factors, or his placenta to check for any obvious causes, I just didn’t have the energy to question it further.
At our six week follow up I listened as they told us there was no clear cause for his death but that it was likely due to his size, and I had screamed inside my head, “He wasn’t small!”. And yet instead, I simply could not find the strength to speak.
It was only six years later during my pregnancy with Eva that I found the courage to ask my consultant why mistakes had been made. I questioned why I had been prepared for an early delivery with steroids and then denied the following week. I questioned why a sonographer had measured my baby at 3lbs less than he actually weighed, why I had not been rushed in for an emergency induction at the point where they believed my full term baby weighed just 2lbs. I questioned why the fact that Joseph had been born with severe hydrocephalus had been missed on a scan, just four days before his death, something I was told would have been highly visible. I questioned why his weight had been measured wrong at birth, why the hospital had claimed he died due to being too small, why it felt as though everyone had simply been trying to cover their backs.
And finally, after six years, I was told that this was gross negligence, that there was nothing they could do but apologise and give me their word that they would do everything they could to make sure that the same mistakes were not made again with my daughter.
And as much as I needed to hear those words, to realise that, after years of unanswered questions, somebody was finally admitting their part in the blame, the saddest truth remains that nothing will ever bring him back.
And whilst I cannot change my story at least I can share it with others in the hope of changing theirs. I want all women to feel empowered, and informed of their rights, to know that they can speak out should they feel they are being failed in their pregnancy, birth and after delivery and to know that ultimately, nobody knows your body, or your baby, quite like you do.
You can read more information about your rights here and how to take it further should you wish.
*** This is a collaborative post ***