How we helped Jo after she suffered significant injuries during childbirth
When she was pregnant, Jo was told that her child was a large baby. “At that time their concern was that he was very big on the growth scans, and they tested me for gestational diabetes – that was negative”, Jo said. “Then there was a discussion with regards to him being quite big, and if there was going to be a difficult birth would I consent to a c-section”.
Jo wasn’t given any reason as to why the doctors might be considering a different birth plan, and so when it came to be giving birth, she didn’t consider this and trusted the maternity care she was given.
Unfortunately, on January 27, 2005, after a very slow labour resulting in her baby’s shoulder getting stuck due to his size, Jo suffered a fourth-degree perineal tear – the most serious tearing that can occur.
After returning home, Jo experienced severe faecal incontinence – at its most severe experiencing leakage through her vagina. After being referred elsewhere in April of that year, in December it was identified by a perineal clinic that she may have a recto-vaginal fistula (an abnormal joining of the rectum and vagina). Ultimately though, due to the defendant hospital failing to provide a change of address, further correspondence from the clinic never reached Jo.
After many different appointments, and various diagnoses, it was in October of 2008 that a fistula was finally ruled out and Jo was told surgery would be required to repair her injuries; something that had previously been ruled out as unnecessary.
It was also discovered that Jo had sustained significant nerve damage as a result of her injuries. This has resulted in chronic pain as well as the other symptoms she experienced due to her injuries. For this she would require ongoing physiotherapy and, eventually, surgery to implant a neuro-stimulator.
Bringing a claim for medical negligence
Jo brought a claim against the hospital because due to those caring for her:
- failing to advise her to stop pushing as the fatal head was crowning, and in fact actively encouraging her to push;
- failing to recognise that she was at risk of perineal damage as a result of the large size of the baby, prolonged second stage of labour, and uncertainty of position of the baby's head;
- failing to perform an episiotomy (incision to the perineum);
- failing to protect Jo's perineum by holding the fatal head to aid delivery in a controlled manner. Jo alleged that she would not have suffered a fourth-degree perineal tear had the hospital recognised the risk of perineal damage and taken appropriate steps. They were statistically unlikely to occur where appropriate measures, such as an episiotomy, were in place.
Liability was admitted by the defendant Trust in part, stating that it was hard for any woman to cease pushing once the baby’s head had reached a certain point. Furthermore, they denied causation in full, instead alleging that a fourth-degree tear would have occurred anyway.
“For the first time, I actually felt like I had a voice”, Jo said of her experience of bringing a claim. “I remember the first time picking the phone up to Hannah, and she listened. There was no pre-judgement, there was no interrogation. I met some amazing experts and I got to talk to them about it. I got to understand what had happened, and I got my own conviction in my own belief in myself back because there were people that were saying ‘yeah your instinct’s right, that was wrong’. For me it gave me a voice”.
Life after injury
Jo still lives with the effects of her injury. However, with help from experts we put her in touch with, and with the security of her compensation, she has been able to seek treatments to help her manage her ongoing symptoms.
While Jo still experiences incontinence, as mentioned above she now has a spinal cord stimulation implant in place to help her control her symptoms. She is reviewed regularly in respect of this as it is still a relatively new treatment. This assists with the chronic pain and neurological impacts of the nerve injuries sustained.
“Following on from the birth of my son, and intervention from experts, I started to get my life back. However, the experience created a sense of fear regarding pregnancy and childbirth”, Jo says of life after the injury. “I still find it hard to come to terms with some of the impacts my injury has had on my lifestyle regarding physical mobility and long-lasting emotional scars”.
“To this day I still suffer chronic pain and issues with incontinence which are managed. However, as the experts have prepared me, I know that in menopause I may have further challenges to face”.
“Hannah is such an important figure in my life; she is the first person who listened and supported me on a long road to a hard recovery, and for that I am forever grateful”.
“When asked by Hannah 15 years on would I do the What About Mum campaign I absolutely could not be more grateful, privileged, or willing. This is so important. And “what about mum?”: well we are important and, for me, Hannah made me remember that”.
“The most important and precious thing that has got me through is that my beautiful baby boy is 16 and is now not so “little man” and more a big man towering over me, he loves football and on occasion I am honoured with a Kiss and a cuddle”.