Kelly’s birth story: When things don’t go to plan

shoulder dystocia birth

While we’re growing our little babes, we all imagine how the birth will unfold and that incredible moment when our bundle of joy is finally in our arms. Thankfully, for most mums, it’s everything we imagined, but there are some births that stray from the usual path.

Second-time mum Kelly* had an uneventful pregnancy, and couldn’t wait to meet her second daughter. But the birth took an unexpected, and frightening twist when her bub became stuck during labour. She wants to share her story to educate other mums about shoulder dystocia, and other birth complications.

An unexpected birth

Birth story when things don't go to plan

Kelly and her husband Phil* were both employed as FIFO workers for many years, before their first daughter Faith* was born.

“We decided being together as a family was more important than living in a nice house away from each other and Phil managed to get a residential job in a remote town of our state, so we were supplied with housing.  We already wanted to expand the family so that Faith and the next one were close in age and I fell pregnant straight away so our plans were all falling into place.”

Kelly’s pregnancy was textbook, and the family were excited to head to the nearest capital city to prepare for the birth at 36 weeks.

“I had two failed stretch and sweeps and was finally able to be induced at 40+2. I went into hospital the night before induction and had the gel inserted to soften my cervix ready to labour the next day. I had no sleep that night just from the pain and being generally big and uncomfortable. I had been induced with my first so I knew how it all went (or I thought anyway).

“In the morning I was three centimetres dilated and the midwife broke my waters. I was progressing but it seemed a bit slow so after a couple of hours when I was checked the midwife realised she hadn’t broken my waters properly so did it then and then I progressed much quicker. The day was going really well, I had an epidural so didn’t feel labour and my husband and I were having some good chats and laughs with the midwives looking after us.

“It came time when I was 10cm dilated and ready to push, I had a little back pain but I had the same thing with my first so just expected it to be normal. After about 20 minutes of pushing baby’s head came out and I knew by then it was just about over. But it wasn’t, baby got stuck for four minutes due to shoulder dystocia and the pain was excruciating for me. Finally, she came out and I felt a big relief that it was over and done with.”

Waiting for a miracle

Shoulder dystocia birth

But just as Kelly waited to hold her baby, the room suddenly became a hive of activity.

“It was like while I was in so much pain my ears went numb and I couldn’t hear anything going on around me and I hadn’t even realised anything was wrong until I opened my eyes and I wasn’t holding my newborn, there were loud alarms and lots of yelling from many doctors and nurses and my little lifeless baby laying about five metres from me receiving CPR as she was not breathing and had no pulse. I was still just in so much shock I don’t even know what I was thinking I was just crying so much.

What happens when a baby gets stuck in the birth canal

“It all just felt like we were watching it happen to someone else and it wasn’t happening to us. After 49 minutes of CPR, our baby had a heart rate. At that point that is when we decided out of the two names we had, to call her Penny*. A neonatal transport doctor came from the children’s hospital and helped to stabilise Penny for the one hour drive to NICU in the ambulance.

“I was still just so upset and confused as to what happened and what went wrong and what was next. I didn’t realise that Penny had suffered a lack of oxygen to her brain, she had stage three HIE (hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy) and needed cooling for 72hrs to possibly prevent any further brain damage.

“It was only a few hours after the birth but there was no way I was staying at that hospital without my baby so my husband and I followed the ambulance to the children’s hospital. Once we saw Penny in her little bed with wires all over her and tubes down her throat and nose, again it was a surreal experience. You know these places exist but actually being in one and quiet and darkness of the rooms with little babies being cared for is just unimaginable that each baby belongs to someone.

“The process to get Penny breathing on her own was a two steps forward one step back kind of thing as something positive would happen, her lung collapsed then they reinflated but then it was high blood pressure and so on. Finally, after 12 days of intubation, Penny was extubated and I was told I would hear her cry for the first time. That didn’t happen. Penny was able to be breathing room air on her own and I was able to hold her for the very first time.

“Penny then stayed reasonably stable and just got stronger everyday while we are learning the care for her for the next 23 days in hospital as we were finding out more and more of her condition that was making her a little different to a neurotypical baby, no suck and only weak swallow reflex (meaning fully tube fed), high muscle tone, involuntary movements and no cry to name a few.

shoulder dystocia birth

“Occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, neurologists and so on, we were influxed with people from all different specialties which would then become the norm for us going forward. After five very long and difficult weeks in NICU we were able to take Penny back home knowing that we and she has a long road ahead and a lot of therapy, hopefully, be able to give her some quality of life.”

While Kelly says she carries incredible guilt, she’s come to the realisation that Penny’s birth was nobody’s fault.

“While in NICU and even now while she is 10 weeks old all I think about is how I could have changed things or if I didn’t have the epidural, maybe I would have had more feeling and pushed better, maybe if I went back to the private obstetrician where I had my first daughter there could have been a different outcome, if I waited for her to come naturally rather than being induced. My head always went down the path of what ifs which then led to frustration because we can’t change anything or go back in time. Accidents happen it’s a simple as that and something so unexpected, it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

The unexpected birth of Penny

“My husband and I are totally devastated and this is definitely not the way we thought going home as a family of four was going to be but we are going to love Penny and care for her the best we know how. I think we will always wonder what life would be like if Penny didn’t sustain a birth injury. Looking at her little face, apart from the tube no-one would even know what she has been through in her short life and what the future holds for her.”

We so incredibly thankful for Kelly sharing her birth story, to help educate other mums and raise awareness of birth injuries.

*Names have been changed at the request of the family.