Herald on Sunday
Baby dropped on hospital floor
Atraumatised mother is haunted by the sound of her baby boy dropping on a hospital floor at birth before taking his final breath 90 minutes later.
Limna Polly, 35, remembers screaming for help at Auckland City Hospital’s maternity ward for three hours in January last year, knowing she was about to give birth and being told by a doctor to “shut up”.
Polly said no medical staff believed she was giving birth when she’d been pregnant for only 22 weeks, and no one helped deliver her baby.
Medical records seen by the Herald on Sunday said: “Limna began screaming and involuntarily pushed — both baby and placenta — baby landed on the floor.”
Doctors said it was too late to save him, Polly said.
She and her husband, citizens who have lived in Auckland for nine years, believed racial bias led to the loss of their son.
“I felt like they didn’t even want to touch me because of the colour of my skin.”
Auckland DHB doesn’t dispute the family’s complaint but says it “didn’t meet the criteria” to be reported to the Health Quality & Safety Commission (HQSC) for review as “no issues were identified with the medical care”. The DHB did not refer the baby’s death to the coroner.
Patient advocate and Mothers Matter founder Chloe Wright told the Herald on Sunday: “The situation as a whole absolutely should have been reported higher up and the fact that it wasn’t sounds to me like the DHB are trying to sweep it under the rug.”
Auckland DHB management said it was “very sorry for [the family’s] personal experience of our care”.
It acknowledged there was work to do in relation to discrimination and providing “equitable care to all those who come through our women’s health services”.
Wright said in her view the tragic death was another “inhumane and disgraceful” example of discrimination and New Zealand’s failing maternity care.
“To be told to shut up while she’s screaming in pain disturbed me deeply. That doctor needs to be named and held to account.”
New Zealand’s health watchdog, the Health and Disability Commission (HDC), received a complaint from the family in January. It is assessing whether it will investigate.
Deputy commissioner Rose Wall said on behalf of HDC: “We extend our sympathies to the family for their tragic loss and understand that they want their complaint to be handled quickly.”
The Herald last month revealed the seven-year fight for justice of another couple, who won a major apology from HDC for failing to investigate the death of their baby daughter.
A year and a half after losing their son, Polly and her husband wanted to share their story publicly.
They hoped no other family would experience the horror they did and wanted to highlight the consequences of discrimination in healthcare.
In the weeks leading up to her baby’s death, Polly said she was repeatedly told by Auckland DHB staff her severe bleeding and abdominal pain was nothing to worry about.
On January 16, Polly visited Auckland City Hospital with pain and bleeding. After some testing she was discharged as the baby’s heartbeat was strong.
She returned the next day as her symptoms had worsened, Polly said.
She was admitted and on January 18 at 9pm, Polly said the pain escalated and she knew her baby was coming. Her midwife gave her laughing gas to ease the pain but didn’t undertake a physical examination to check for contractions.
Polly’s husband, who asked not to be named for reasons relating to his work, said he and their daughter were left to watch in horror, desperate to help but with no idea how.
Shortly after midnight, the family said, a female doctor came into the room to tell her to “shut up”.
Moments later, a doctor, two nurses, the midwife, the baby’s father and their daughter watched as the baby boy emerged, only to fall and land on the floor.
No one helped deliver her baby, Polly said. Medical staff could not revive him. He died 90 minutes later.
The couple named their baby Siddharth after a Buddha lord, meaning one who has accomplished a goal.
Polly remembers someone asking if she wanted to hold her baby.
“At first I didn’t, how could I look, it was too painful. And then I asked someone to give him to me, I looked at him and I just cried,” Polly said.
She said the way some of ADHB’s staff talked to them, even after the death, was so insensitive.
“They never apologised, not properly, only ‘sorry for your loss’, not sorry for the circumstances that led to his death and the lack of communication.”
Trauma has followed the family every day since that tragic day.
“I didn’t know how . . . to cope. For months I struggled to get out of bed. I still struggle, words can’t describe how painful it is.
“It scares me to even think of having another baby. My daughter has always wanted a sibling. We always wanted more babies but I just don’t know that I can do it.”
To make matters worse, Polly lost her job due to Covid.
“That was really tough.” Now, the family are considering moving back to India or Australia where they would have family support and more confidence that they would not be racially profiled by medical staff, Polly’s husband said.
“I love New Zealand but this has destroyed us,” Polly said.
Mike Shepherd, Auckland DHB’s director of provider services, said: “We have great sympathy for . . . the loss of their baby and are very sorry for their personal experience of our care.”
The DHB was engaging with female patients to explore inequities and understand what systemic issues are leading to them. “We’re seeking to listen carefully to women like Limna, who have stories to share about their experience.”