Mum reveals drama of birth in ambulance

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A TWEEDMOUTH mum who gave birth in an ambulance has called for the reopening of Berwick Maternity Unit.

Louise McCulloch, of Osborne Road, has revealed how she delivered her son in dramatic circumstances in the Hillcrest Maternity Unit carpark at Alnwick in the early hours of Wednesday, October 31.

It was her aunt, a retired Berwick midwife who travelled with her in the ambulance to offer support, who managed to keep her calm throughout the ordeal.

Louise, 31, had been on her way by ambulance to Wansbeck, but her labour progressed quickly and there was not enough time to get to the Ashington hospital.

Weighing in at a healthy 9lbs 13oz, baby Marty James was oblivious to the drama surrounding his arrival.

But it was a situation that Louise had been dreading since BMU suddenly closed its doors for births on August 1.

Louise, who is prone to quick labours, had been booked in to deliver at the Berwick unit when it closed. She said: “When Berwick closed the first thing I thought was ‘how am I going to get to Wansbeck?’ My last labour was really quick and I thought how am I going to get there?

“That was my one fear – I kept saying ‘I’m going to end up giving birth on the way to the hospital’, and that’s what happened.”

Worried that she wouldn’t get to Wansbeck in time after she was told she could no longer give birth at Berwick, Louise went to the Hillcrest unit at Alnwick Infirmary and asked if she could deliver there.

“They said yes, but even then, knowing how quick my last labour was, I thought how am I going to get to Alnwick?” she explained.

Still concerned about the possibility of a roadside birth, Louise and her husband, Ryan, discussed their concerns with her consultant.

“They said they’d take me in to induce me to avoid that happening,” she said. “I thought I was going to be induced on Wednesday the 24th, but when I saw the consultant then he said they were busy, so he’d take me in to be induced on Thursday 1st November instead. That meant I’d be overdue, so I came away a bit worried.”

As it turned out her concerns were well-founded, as Louise went into labour late at night on Tuesday, October 30.

“I got up on Tuesday night and thought ‘this is it’,” she said. “I phoned Wansbeck and they said they were quite busy and to wait two hours.”

Knowing she didn’t have two hours to spare, Louise phoned an ambulance.

“I phoned an ambulance at 11.40pm. I live really close to the ambulance station so when it hadn’t arrived 15 minutes later I phoned back and said where is it?

“They said it was still seven minutes away. There hadn’t been one in Berwick so it had to come from Belford.”

Convinced that the baby wasn’t going to wait, Louise contacted her aunt, Evelyn Mavin a retired BMU midwife who had delivered her second son, and asked if she’d travel with her.

“My aunty came in the ambulance with me,” Louise said. “I think because she was there I was quite calm. The paramedic was really nice, but he said he’d never delivered a baby. We were heading to Wansbeck, but my aunty said ‘we’re not going to get there’ so we decided to try and get to Alnwick.

“We got as far as the Hillcrest carpark, a midwife ran out and delivered him in the back of the ambulance at 12.46am.”

Louise stayed at Alnwick for two nights before coming home to Tweedmouth.

Fortunately both mum and baby are doing well, but ambulance and roadside births are among the key fears for Berwick women, who say the distance they are currently expected to travel to give birth is too far.

Campaigners have been fighting to get the Berwick Unit reopened since it closed its doors for births due to “serious safety concerns” more than three months ago.

Louise said: “I was at the public meeting the other week when David Evans [medical director at Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust] said there hadn’t been any babies delivered ‘recently’ in ambulances. But that has been my one fear since the unit shut, and that’s the way it worked out.”

Louise’s husband Ryan, who followed the ambulance in his car, added: “I was pleased that Louise’s aunt was with her because she was a midwife for 37 years and delivered our second son in Berwick. But if the same thing happened to a first time mum, who didn’t have that kind of support, they would have been terrified.

“I feel for anyone who finds themselves in the same situation, especially as we’re coming into winter.”

Janice McNichol, head of midwifery at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, commented: “This woman was one of only two women who were booked to give birth at Berwick Maternity Unit when births and postnatal inpatient care were temporarily suspended from August 1. This followed two serious incidents which highlighted significant safety issues as a result of the low number of births at the unit, only 13 in 2011/12.

“Labours of this short duration are extremely rare. Midwives from the Alnwick unit attended the birth.”

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