There has been considerable interest in Southern District Health Board’s integrated primary maternity system of care, particularly following the birth of a baby in an ambulance enroute to Southland Hospital a fortnight ago.
But just as SDHB officials were finally sitting up and taking notice of the dire situation of maternity services in Central Otago, Wānaka woman, Kristi James upped the stakes by giving birth to her baby boy at the office of her midwife Deb Harvey in the wee hours of Thursday morning, just two and a-half hours after her contractions started — four days ahead of estimated arrival.
Makai Taylor James weighed in at 9.2 pounds. “The plan had always been for us to go down to Dunedin and be near the hospital in case there were any complications, which there can be with a VBAC birth like mine,” said James.
“We were as prepared as could be,” she continued. “We followed the advice of the medical professionals and had all of our plans firmly in place. We followed the rules. We were lucky we had no complications and incredibly capable midwives whom I trusted with the life of my unborn child and my own. In a split second everything could have changed. Babies have no plans in place. They come when they are ready and we can’t control that.”
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean is dismayed that Kristi has been forced to give birth in her own midwife’s office, saying maternity services in the Otago-Southland region are now at crisis point.
“Despite plans to birth in Dunedin, the baby arrived quickly while the couple were meeting their midwife at her Wanaka office.
“It’s a miracle there were no complications and that this baby arrived into the world safely, because there’s no birthing unit in Wanaka, there are no emergency maternity services to support local mothers, and the nearest base hospital is three and a-half hours away in Dunedin.
Harvey continued, “Kristi had made plan that if she goes into labour in Wanaka, she would see me for early check to decide method of transport to Dunedin. But by time they had found child care for their other child and made their way to me, it was clear things had progressed rapidly and she wasn’t able to go anywhere. She was progressing very quickly, so I phoned my colleague who came to assist and an hour later we had a baby.”
But what ensued, were remarkable comments by SDHB CEO Christ Fleming that James’ birth an office was unnecessary as there was “a procedure room with all the necessary emergency equipment available just around the corner”. Fleming stated that “The [midwife’s] office was in the same building as the emergency room.”
Midwife Deb Harvey set the story straight, “this is not the case at all,” she said. “I invite Chris Fleming to come to Wanaka. He has been misinformed. The Wanaka Medical Centre was closed [at 3am]. We have access to the corridor and there is absolutely no equipment for giving birth at all.” Harvey said that all she had were some “crusty old towels and a sleeping bag” to keep mother and baby warm.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean says she is disappointed inaccurate comments by Fleming have further inflamed the Wanaka maternity services debate.
“Chris Fleming has bumbled his way through this issue and instead of calming the nerves of the Wanaka community, he had only served to aggravate and incense local mothers.
“Kristi James had no choice but to birth her baby on her midwife’s office floor because there were no other available options.
“Despite Mr Fleming’s suggestions, there is no Mother and Child hub in Wanaka.
“About 16 months ago the Southern DHB promised to establish a one in Wanaka, but it still doesn’t exist and I’ve been told the Gordon Road facility won’t be ready till December.
“There is also no primary birth equipped procedure room at Wanaka Medical Centre.
“In fact, there are no 24-hour maternity services available in Wanaka, nor are any planned by the Southern DHB.
“To also suggest the birth of this baby in an office came down to a lack of ‘forward planning’ is insensitive and insulting because Kristi had made plans to go to Dunedin — it was just that her baby had other ideas.
“Surely Mr Fleming must be aware that most mothers have plans in place prior to the birth of their babies, but more often than not those plans go awry when it comes time to deliver.
“It’s no wonder maternity services in Wanaka are in crisis if this is the understanding of the man heading the organisation which is charged with providing them.
“The Southern DHB is failing rural women with its lack of understanding of the maternity issues that they face.