Caroline Malatesta and her husband J.T. have just been awarded $16 million in a lawsuit filed against Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. The couple claim that nurses tried to delay the birth of their child by pushing their baby back into Caroline’s vagina. Yes, it’s as absurd as it sounds.
The Malatestas chose Brookwood as the place to have their fourth child in 2014 because it promoted natural childbirth, along with access to birth tubs, wireless fetal monitoring and the ability to walk around during labor. After having three children prior, she knew how uncomfortable childbirth can be and wanted some freedom during the labor. She was also pulled in by their fancy advertising…
But the baby came a little earlier than expected, and at the time, Malatesta’s doctor was not on call. When her water broke, the nurses tried to get Malatesta to stop pushing, which is easier said than done. Malatesta then tried to labor in a more comfortable position on her hands and knees, which she’d discussed with her doctor. But she says the nurses forced her on to her back.
Then, instead of letting the child be delivered, one tried to keep the baby from being born until the doctor arrived by literally pushing it back inside her vagina. Malatesta estimated that this went on for six minutes until a doctor arrived, her son was born a minute later.
Thankfully the baby was fine, but Malatesta now suffers from pudendal neuralgia, which is essentially nerve damage in the genital region. Malatesta likens the pain to sharp pins-and-needles or a burning sensation that never go away and which is “much worse than labor.” At first the pain was so severe that she had to move back in with her parents to receive full time care. She says that the pain has killed her sex life and she now has to spend large amounts of the day resting in bed or in baths.
Malatesta said that she tried to get answers from the hospital in the two years following, but never got a straight response. She told AL why she decided to sue:
“I had tried everything within my power to understand what happened from Brookwood’s perspective and get answers. Unfortunately I felt like I didn’t get any real answers. And they eventually just shut me out. That was when I realized the only option was litigation.”
Melissa Graham, Malatesta’s primary nurse, said in a deposition that the nurses believed if Malatesta pushed, the baby would deliver before the doctor arrived…
“The baby was about to deliver. And she has got a strong urge to push and we were trying to get the doctor there.”
Malatesta told Cosmopolitan that she’s doing a lot better today, but managing the pain still takes up most of her day. She called the verdict a “wake-up call for hospitals that don’t take women seriously. It’s a wake-up call that they need to review the way they’ve been doing things and make changes. Sadly, I think it took this verdict to make them wake up.”
Malatesta hopes that talking about her experience will help other women to come forward when they experience birth trauma. She told AL:
“It’s meaningful to me that so many women have contacted me and told me that the verdict was their validation that they never got. That gives meaning to an injury that’s hard to come to terms with – a bigger meaning than myself.”
“When I finally started talking about how I was concerned about how my birth went, other women started talking to me,” she said. “Then last year, when the media began covering my story, it’s like the floodgates opened. Women from all over started contacting me about similar things that happened to them.”
“That was a real driver for me to keep pursuing this. I realized I couldn’t just let that go.”