‘I wasn’t believed and gave birth in a toilet’

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Skye Curtis with her two-year-old son

By Philippa Roxby, Tara Mewawalla, Osob Elmi and Victoria Park-Froud
BBC News

Hundreds of women have contacted BBC News with their stories of experiencing trauma during childbirth – from their pain at not being believed, to being left bleeding and alone after their baby was born.

It follows a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Birth Trauma which calls for an overhaul of maternity care in the UK, and safe levels of staffing.

About 30,000 women a year are estimated to go through difficult experiences during the delivery of their babies. One in 20 develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

‘Horrendous experience’

Skye Curtis, 33, who lives in Bexhill, has a two-year-old son, born in June 2022. His birth was so traumatic that she and her husband have since needed therapy.

“My midwife left us mid-surgery as it was the end of her shift (before my son was born) with no-one replacing her to be by our side.

“I suffered a third-degree tear, episiotomy, and haemorrhaged. We both were traumatised afterwards.”

The emergency surgery took two hours and their baby became stuck: “We were left in surgery with no-one telling us what to do. It was an awful experience.”

After the birth, Skye says she was put in a bay with no working light and had to change nappies with her phone flash: “My son ended up with jaundice because he was not getting sufficient milk from me. There was no-one there to guide me.

“All in all it was a horrendous experience.”

Jane (not her real name), 35, has a four-year-old who is happy and healthy – but the birth was difficult and she is now taking legal action.

“In 2020 I was having my first child who was predicted as large. I had/have a phobia of vaginal birth and wanted a C-section. I was laughed at.

“My birth ended up resulting in me being left so long I developed sepsis, had an emergency forceps delivery and I bled heavily, losing 1.5 litres.

“I am truly traumatised,” she says.

Danielle Palmer had to spend the night on a plastic chair after giving birth

Danielle Palmer, 27, from Norfolk, said staff were caring and attentive throughout her three-hour labour in December 2021, but she felt let down afterwards.

“The sheets on the bed were blood-stained and there was blood all over the floor which my husband had to clean up,” she says.

“I couldn’t lie in the bed so had to spend the night after giving birth on a plastic chair.”

Danielle was discharged the next morning feeling exhausted. She blames a lack of staff for the stressful experience.

‘I want to provide the care I didn’t get’

Amy, 31, from Suffolk, who gave birth to her son in July 2021, said the worst part was “not being listened to”.

Amy says she has been left with diagnosed postnatal depression, anxiety and PTSD, and is currently taking antidepressants, having “never ever struggled with mental health before”.

She describes herself as “physically disfigured” after her C-section: “The scar is like a flap – it’s completely numb, it’s not a nice neat line.”

At her six-week check-up, she was told she would need plastic surgery, but that had to be done privately.

In September, Amy started a midwifery course at the University of East Anglia: “I wanted to be a midwife since I was 19 but my experiences in childbirth and miscarriage have propelled me into wanting to do it even more.

“I want to make a change, I want to be able to provide the care and attention that I didn’t get, I suppose…”

“It’s really sad to see that actually the midwives are burnt-out – they are working way past their hours.”

Fear of full hysterectomy

Rachel Coles, 29, said her contractions were “the most horrific pain I have ever experienced” when she gave birth in September 2021.

By the time she was told to push, the epidural had “completely worn off”.

After birth, her placenta started to disintegrate inside her and left a small tear in her uterus, she said, causing her to lose three litres of blood.

Rachel needed surgery after losing litres of blood

“All I remember, as I was losing blood, is my son being whisked off me and handed to my husband, about 20 doctors running into the room trying to stop the bleeding and being handed a form that I needed to sign to consent to surgery where it could end in a full hysterectomy if they could not stop the bleeding,” Rachel says.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in order to breastfeed, which she did “whilst in and out of consciousness, knowing that somehow I was still alive”.

‘I was left there, still bleeding’

Women have been calling BBC Radio 5Live with their experiences too, like Seema, from north London.

She told Nicky Campbell she had been left with severe incontinence because of the lack of care when giving birth: “I was there for several hours with my newborn in my arms, wasn’t sewn up or anything after birth. Nothing was done.

“I’m bleeding, getting weaker, and they just left me there for several hours until someone else came in to clean the room.

“She said: ‘Oh, you’re still in here?’

“I said, ‘Yes, I’ve been waiting.’

“And they couldn’t believe it that they had just left me there, still bleeding.”

Giving birth in a toilet

Amanda, in Northampton, said she told staff she was in pain and wanted to push, but they didn’t believe her.

She ended up giving birth in a toilet, catching her son’s head as he fell out of her, covered in blood

“It was the most awful experience I’ve ever had. I remember looking at my son thinking, ‘Who’s that? Whose baby is that?'” she told Nicky Campbell.

“I had to walk back with the umbilical cord, swinging between my legs. They managed to get scissors and all that, but I had to walk back to the bed.

“When I sat back on the bed, the midwife came in and you could see she was embarrassed that she had not believed me.

“The doctor came and she apologised – ‘I’m so sorry that I didn’t believe you’.”

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