For most women the delivery of a baby is a wonderful and positive experience. But, some women can experience severe physical and mental trauma during the delivery process.
For Wendy Shi, her story, as told in the Sydney Morning Herald, was not the experience she had hoped for. After being in labour for 48 hours without progress, she was told she would be having a caesarean section. Unfortunately, there was a last-minute change and forceps were used to complete the vaginal delivery. The doctor didn’t ask her if forceps could be used. The consent forms she signed didn’t warn her about the risks associated with instrumental delivery.
The resulting birth trauma left her with a third-degree anal sphincter injury, postpartum infection, shock, acute stress, anger, depression and ongoing pain. She remained in bed for four months recovering from the injuries.
Birth trauma like that which affected Wendy, can impact women in a variety of ways. They can be affected both physically and psychologically by birth trauma. For many women there is a disconnect between what their expectations of labour will be and what actually happens. As a result this can cause emotional trauma coupled with disorientation, which can lead to procedures and outcomes that were not consented to.
According to the Australian Journal of Medical Practice, more than 85% of women who undergo a vaginal birth will suffer from some degree of perineal tear with 0.6-11% of all vaginal deliveries resulting in a third degree or fourth degree tear. It also cites the risk factors which contributed to severe perineal tears included ethnicity, age, large foetal weight and instrumental delivery, epidural and oxytocin use.
In 2010 the Towards Normal Birth Policy was introduced, aimed at reducing the costs on public hospitals of caesarean sections. The result of this policy saw a coordinated effort by state health departments and hospital managers urging obstetricians to reduce their caesarean section rates. This led to an increased use of forceps and with that, potential birth trauma.
Another major issue that has stemmed from the 2010 policy, is the increasing care that is being provided by midwives alone. Midwives only deal with vaginal births. They are not legally allowed to provide informed consent regarding caesarean sections or instrumental deliveries.
Overall, there is a lack of education being provided to mothers in relation to caesarean sections and instrumental deliveries, including forceps and vacuum extraction.
With less caesarean sections occurring and less people in the room who can provide adequate and up to date information, there is an increase in intervention during birth and some is without consent. Many doctors do not see the use of forceps as intervention and therefore do not ask the mother to consent to their use nor highlight the risks of their use for both the mother and the baby.
An injury to a mother or baby before, during or after birth can be devastating. Many questions get asked, how did it happen, was it avoidable, did somebody make a mistake? At The Law Office of Conrad Curry, we have acted for many women who have been affected by or whose babies have been affected by birth trauma and require financial compensation for present and future costs such as loss of income, ongoing medical treatment and psychological/psychiatric support.