Mum reveals lasting birth trauma as NSW inquiry labels treatment of thousands of mothers ‘distressing and unacceptable’

Mum reveals lasting birth trauma as NSW inquiry labels treatment of thousands of mothers ‘distressing and unacceptable’
  • PublishedJune 3, 2024

‘It was like I didn’t matter, like I was invisible at the birth of my own son.’

Pregnant with her first child, Emily Mitchell spent the first day of her maternity leave prepping for the exciting arrival of her baby.

As she stood up from the dinner table, the mum-to-be felt a “gush” — her baby boy was coming.

But what followed was four days of utter terror, confusion and anger.

The mum, from Orange in the NSW Central Tablelands, says the public hospital system spat her out like just another “number”, leaving her with lasting birth trauma.

“From the moment I called the hospital, I felt like a burden,” Emily tells 7Life of her traumatic birthing experience.

“It was like I didn’t matter, like I was invisible at the birth of my own son.

“They (the doctors) were talking about their golf game as I was just lying there, open.”

The NSW government launched a inquiry into Birth Trauma in July 2023, with parliament receiving more than 4000 submissions from mothers sharing their raw stories of obstetric abuse and hospital failings.

For Emily, watching the inquiry unfold was like reliving her own horrible birthing experience.

“It has been three-and-a-half years since I gave birth to my son,” Emily says.

“And I am still angry that I was treated so badly and discarded like I didn’t matter.”

The mum confesses her experience has deeply impacted her desire to continue growing her family.

And although every day she feels blessed to have a happy and healthy son, she is frightened to relive the experience to have another child.

Emily was 37 weeks and three days pregnant when she went into labour.

She phoned the hospital seeking guidance, explaining she was bleeding quite heavily.

Emily spent three hours in the dark, not knowing if the baby she just birthed was healthy.
Emily spent three hours in the dark, not knowing if the baby she just birthed was healthy. Credit: Supplied

However, she says she was not met with the support she needed.

“My very first interaction with the health system was … honestly, it was like another day in the office for them,” she says, adding that her prenatal care under the public midwifery program had been outstanding.

After what she says was an unaccommodating phone call, Emily and her partner decided to drive to the hospital for in-person advice.

There, she was assessed and told she had a partial placental abruption — a section of her placenta had become detached from the uterine wall.

Stress overcame the expectant mother. She was still bleeding, and medical staff explained the best way forward was a Caesarean section.

After taking the couple through consent forms, her partner was whisked away to “gown up” for the procedure as Emily was wheeled into theatre.

The anaesthetist numbed Emily’s body and the OBGYN was about to begin surgery, when Emily looked around her.

“They didn’t say anything. Nobody was talking to me. But I noticed my partner wasn’t even in the room yet,” she says.

“I just said, ‘Wait, where is he?’.”

Someone walked out of the room and returned a short time later with the father-to-be.

Her nerves sky high, and despite being with her partner, Emily still felt alone.

Within seconds, her baby boy was lifted up above the blue medical sheet separating her from the surgical site.

Not a word was uttered; the only sound was some gurgling from her newborn son.

“It was so anti climactic,” Emily says.

“He (baby) was just lifted up, he was like a fish caught on a charter (boat).”

The new mum is now volunteering to help change the hospital system and offer better support for new mothers.

After a quick glance from the new mum, a nurse took the baby and moved him to the side of the operating theatre to be assessed.

Emily recalls asking numerous times if her baby was okay.

No one responded.

Then a doctor began counting.

“I just heard, ‘One, two, three’, and I instantly thought they were doing CPR,” Emily says.

“I started losing control and I just screamed, ‘Someone tell me what is happening!’”

Emily recalls a doctor responded that they were just “counting surgical instruments”.

Finally, her baby was taken to her, and a nurse explained her son was having a little trouble breathing and they would like to take him to the special care nursery.

With the new father following close behind his tiny son, Emily was left by herself in the theatre.

“I felt invisible and alone,” she says.

As the surgeons began “stitching” the new mum up, Emily was horrified at the conversation.

“They were talking about ‘par on hole three’ — their golf game!” she says, still horrified at what she heard.

“There was no compassion in the room, nothing.

“My baby had just been taken away, I was alone, no one was talking to me.”

Scared and with no support, Emily was taken into recovery where she asked the nurse if they knew anything about her son.

The nurse said she didn’t know how her baby was, explaining that two hospital departments weren’t connected.

Emily thought the worst.

It was three hours before she was taken to the maternity ward, where soon after she saw her partner — and her perfectly healthy baby boy.

Emily believes every woman deserves to be supported when giving birth.

Emily immediately extended her arms to have her first cuddle with her son.

“I didn’t let him go that night. The nurses kept asking if they could help me place in the bassinet but I couldn’t let him go,” she says.

“And I haven’t let him go since.”

That night, as she lay awake with her baby in one arm, she began writing down her birth experience.

“It is like I didn’t exist — like I wasn’t even there,” she says.

Emily stayed in hospital for four days recovering from her C-section.

She says each new medical face she met gave her varying advice on how to change, feed, wash and look after her son.

As a new mum, the conflicting advice made her postpartum decisions even more difficult.

At home as she settled in, she couldn’t understand what had gone so wrong during her birth.

Making change

Emily concedes that not all births go to plan, and she is very grateful for modern-day medicine in emergency situations.

But she says she couldn’t stand by and be just another Medicare number on a hospital intake list.

“I reached a point where I just refused to believe that this (giving birth) is how it has to be,” she says.

“Why did it have to go down like this? There are so many ways women should and can be supported during birth.”

Fuelled with anger and on a mission to make change, Emily began volunteering with the Maternity and Neonatal Consumer Reference Group.

She spends her time reading hospital pamphlets, making adjustments to support parents and pushing for change in the public hospital system.

“There was one pamphlet on jaundice,” Emily says, referring to the common newborn condition often present in pre-term babies.

“My son actually had it, and we were told he didn’t have it bad enough to be treated. But he had it.

“We didn’t get any information and it was just confusing.”

Emily says her volunteering experience has helped her connect with like-minded people helping make an impact in the system that has ‘swallowed’ so many mothers.

She now has the platform to stand up in forums and share her story, in the hope of preventing other mothers feeling unsupported during the miracle of birth.

“The mother needs to be held as much as the baby,” she says.

“I don’t want my experience to be in vain; my story is, like, what not to do.

“Giving birth should be magical, and I want to have as big of an impact as I can.

“Sharing my story has helped me heal and has helped heal the system.”

The Select Committee on Birth Trauma has handed down five findings and 43 recommendations in an attempt to prevent further trauma during pregnancy and birth for NSW women.


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