"Endless, uncomfortable and frightening": Moray mums share experiences of childbirth five years on from Dr Gray's maternity unit downgrade
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A GROUP of Moray mums have shared their experiences of childbirth five years on from the downgrade of the region's maternity services.
The services at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin were downgraded on July 18, 2018.
The decision, taken by NHS Grampian, means the majority of Moray women face a one and a half hour journey to give birth in Aberdeen when previously most women were able to give birth in Elgin.
Now, three mums have shared their experiences of giving birth at a time when there was no obstetric consultant-led service in Moray for them to turn to.
"The ambulance journey was horrific"
Laura King (29), from Elgin, says she feels "let down by the services" after giving birth on July 3 last month.
She had planned for a natural birth at Dr Gray's but her waters broke on July 2 and, although her contractions hadn't started yet, she visited her midwife the next day for advice.
It was recommended that she go to Aberdeen for an induction as it was unlikely that she would go into labour naturally.
"I wanted to avoid medical intervention if not absolutely necessary and I wanted to avoid a trip to Aberdeen so my midwife sent me away to think about what I wanted to do," Laura said.
However, during this time, Laura's contractions started and she began to bleed heavily. Both Dr Gray's and her midwife advised that she travel to Aberdeen.
Laura and her husband got in their car and phoned the hospital to let them know they were on their way.
Laura said: "They essentially told me not to bother and that the bleeding wasn't really a concern despite both my midwife and Dr Gray's seeming quite concerned.
"I felt incredibly isolated and lost. It felt like no one wanted to deal with me."
Laura says her midwife was "clearly disgruntled" at the advice given to her by Aberdeen. She was then told to wait an hour and that if the bleeding got worse she should make her way to hospital.
Laura didn't wait the full hour and called Dr Gray's at which point she was transferred to Aberdeen in an ambulance.
Laura said: "The ambulance journey was horrific. My contractions didn't let up. If I got 20 seconds between them, I considered myself lucky. There was no time for any pain relief other than two paracetamols and gas and air.
"The time in the back of the ambulance was endless, uncomfortable and frightening, especially as I started to feel the need to push before we arrived."
Laura made it in time to deliver her baby daughter Ellen safely.
Her contractions had started at 1.10pm on July 3. She gave birth at 6.20pm the same day.
"I went from 3cm to 10cm dilated in the ambulance between Elgin and Aberdeen," Laura said.
"I feel very relieved that I took agency over the situation and forced Ward 3 to see me by calling them back when my bleeding and contractions began.
"Had I not done this, I am convinced I would have given birth in my husband's car at the side of the road on the way to Aberdeen."
She added: "I’d like to stress that my experience with the healthcare professionals I encountered throughout my pregnancy, both in Elgin and Aberdeen, was positive, and I imagine that they themselves feel frustrated with the current system."
Laura's account comes just days after another Moray mum posted her experience of childbirth anonymously on social media where she claimed she had been turned away by Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.
A spokesperson for NHS Grampian said: "We're really sorry to hear about the birth experiences two new mums have shared. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with them both to learn from their experiences. Our maternity teams are always keen to hear feedback from members of the community, including Keep MUM, as we shape services for the future."
"My son was born via emergency C-section not breathing correctly"
Those experiences are not isolated ones among Moray mums.
In December 2020, Tila Barbarini (25) gave birth to her son Christopher.
Tila knew that she was going into labour on December 15 and, at 35 weeks pregnant, she knew her baby was going to be premature.
However, after phoning Dr Gray's she was told that she was "definitely" not in labour.
"I knew what I was feeling but they told me the ward was too busy and that if I was so certain then I should phone Aberdeen," Tila said.
Tila made an appointment to go to Aberdeen. However, upon arriving, Tila says she was told there were no signs of labour and that she should return home to have a scan in Elgin the next day.
She refused and was eventually moved to the Ashgrove Ward at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.
There, a student midwife asked how long she had been contracting for. Tila explained the situation and before long she was rushed to the labour ward in her hospital bed.
Tila said: "They found that I was not in active labour but that I was having a silent placental abruption.
"My son was born via emergency C-section, not breathing correctly and was put straight into the NICU.
"The next day, the same consultant that birthed my son, explained what had happened and told me that if I had left the hospital that day my son wouldn't have made it."
Tila's son is now two years old and healthy but she says that the incident could have been avoided.
"No one should beg to be seen medically, especially to prove that they are in fact having a baby," Tila added.
"I'm grateful to have been able to give birth so close to home"
Elgin local Charlotte Welsh (29) had her baby on February 23 this year.
Unlike the majority of Moray women, Charlotte was able to give birth at Dr Gray's.
However, she admits that the thought of possibly being transferred made her anxious.
Charlotte said: "I was told by my midwife that there was no reason why I couldn't birth in Elgin, but the possibility of being transferred was always in the back of my mind.
"My baby was born in the birthing pool at 5:07am but unfortunately my placenta retained which meant that there was a lot of talk of transfer to Inverness.
"I was extremely upset, this was not what I wanted but it was ultimately out of my control. The midwife guided me through one last chance of trying to get the placenta out myself and eventually it came. The relief was immeasurable.
"Even though there was a bit of a hiccup, I had a great experience because I always felt safe and I always felt cared for. The midwives at Dr Gray's are truly amazing.
"I'm grateful to have been able to birth so close to home and I can’t imagine having a baby anywhere else."
"How long can we be reassured without ever seeing anything happening?"
The Scottish Government committed up to £6.6 million earlier this year for the full restoration of maternity services in Moray by 2026.
And a phased return is set to begin later this year with enhanced antenatal care while elective caesarean births will restart in early 2025.
However, local campaign group Keep MUM say questions remain regarding the plans to fully restore maternity services in Moray.
Keep MUM campaigner Kirsty Watson said: "Our main unanswered question is that we're being told that consultant-led care should be restored by the end of 2026 but what happens between now and then?
"We've asked this question loads and never had an answer. Until we have an answer we will continue to be concerned because it's not just going to switch on in 2026 from next to no one can give birth to presumably everyone can again.
"That is something we are really concerned about. We'd like to see detailed incremental steps.
"I wouldn't say we're confident (of the 2026 target being met). I would say we're still hoping and we're certainly not giving up but it's frustrating that we're not seeing more detail and more confirmation on how Moray families can benefit sooner given that we've already had five years of nothing."
Jenni Minto, Minister for Public Health and Women's Health, has agreed to visit Dr Gray's Hospital later this year to discuss maternity services at the hospital.
Ms Watson says it will be the fifth Cabinet Secretary she has met with since the downgrade.
She added: "We want to hear them say this situation in Moray that has gone on for years can't go on any more.
"But how long can we be reassured without ever seeing anything happen?
"Women are suffering here."