Mother shares childbirth horror that led to son’s death in wake of NHS birth trauma inquiry

Medical negligence solicitors in the UK are expecting a surge in claims as the NHS is embroiled in a birth trauma inquiry following reports of sub-standard medical care in midwifery and obstetrics. After a review of evidence and 1,300 submissions to parliament from mothers who gave birth in NHS hospitals, the health body has been accused of ‘covering up’ blunders. A Dundee woman has spoken of her tragic loss after her son was decapitated during birth – when she was ‘told to push’ at only 2-3cm dilation. 

Scores of women have shared their experiences, with over half of them revealing they suffered from ‘PTSD reactions’ post birth, with a high incidence of post natal depression. Among the reports were accounts of women being denied pain relief, being shouted at by health professionals and ‘feeling ignored’ by midwives when they felt something was wrong.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) say they welcome the report, saying in a statement: ‘Overall the report highlights several key themes including: failure to listen to women, lack of informed consent, poor communication, lack of pain relief, lack of kindness, breastfeeding problems, postnatal care, impact of COVID and medical negligence’. RCOG are in support of further training and recruitment of midwives, obstetricians and anaesthetists. The college have acknowledged that one of the most commonly reported issues was severe perineal tear, which can occur during vaginal birth and lead to painful stitches and infection.

A case from 2014 that details how a Dundee mother endured a horrific ordeal when doctors proceeded with a natural delivery when her baby was only 25 weeks gestation – echoes the experiences documented in the birthing inquiry- including lack of pain relief and not listening to the mother when something felt wrong. Today’s Media has spoken with Laura Gallazzi, who tragically lost her baby son Steven at Dundee’s Ninewells hospital when she was 25 weeks pregnant. Her son was decapitated during labour, as Ms Gallazzi was told by medics to ‘push’ when she was dilated 2-3cm. When the cervix is dilated 10cm in diameter, birthing mothers often feel the need to push naturally – but the Dundee campaigner describes how she ‘crawled up the hospital bed’ in resistance and was ‘pulled back down’. The moth

er felt there was ‘something wrong’ after expecting a caesarean section due to Steven being in the breech position and then being told she

Laura Gallazzi pictured (provided to Today’s Media) ‘I support the birth inquiry, it’s not a taboo subject and should be spoken about’

was having a natural birth instead. During labour, she felt a ‘pop’, and was later told that her son Steven had died.

Laura was told that her son had been decapitated and that his head still remained in her body – medics had to perform a caesarean section to remove the baby’s head. The first-time mother was allowed to spend time with her son’s body and doctors took efforts to ‘fix’ Steven to allow Ms Gallazzi time with her child.

She explained:

“The doctor said ‘push’ and I’m thinking to myself no, I’m not in labour, I don’t feel like I need to push – something’s not right. The doctor said ‘we need to get this baby out’. I felt a pop, and thought a metal ring I was wearing had been broken. Suddenly the room was in chaos. The midwife holding my hand seemed to be the only person who considered my feelings – she held my hand the whole way through. I didn’t get any pain relief and I was listening out for him crying. They bunched up the sheets around my belly to try and hide what was going on – which I didn’t know at the time. The next thing that happened was they put me to sleep.

“A doctor came in when I woke and sat on the end of the bed, she gave me an apology and I told her I forgave her. I didn’t know what had happened at this point. Even with the wildest imagination – you aren’t going to think something like that would have happened. I was screaming, I didn’t want to see anything – I didn’t know what they would bring in. They said they had ‘fixed him’, by stitching his head back onto his body so I could see him. I was all over the place, I don’t know what I was thinking or feeling. He was brought in on a board with a cushion. Given the situation they did make it as nice as they could have. On Monday morning the police came in and said they were taking my son to Glasgow for his post-mortem under police escort.”

In 2018 a medical tribunal ruled that the attending medic, Dr Laxman’s decision to attempt a vaginal delivery rather than a caesarean section was mistaken – and set in place a chain of events leading to the baby’s decapitation. The hearing heard Dr Laxman was nearing the end of a 24-hour split shift when she was called to attend Ms Gallazzi’s birth and a tribunal ruled she was fit to practice and could return to work, although she was no longer an employee of NHS Tayside. Alongside the medical profession’s inquiry, there was a lengthy legal investigation. The Crown Office decision means there can be no criminal action or fatal accident inquiry into Steven’s death.

Allegations were made under the Medical Act 1983 against Dr Laxman in March 2014, when Steven’s death occurred. Statements were made to Tayside Police by the GMC’s witnesses which included other doctors who attended Ms Gallazzi’s birth and the pathologist who carried out to post-mortem on Steven. It was proven that Laura’s cervix was no more than four centimetres dilated, that Steven was in the breech position and he also had a prolapsed umbilical cord.

Ms Gallazzi revealed to Today’s Media, that she has written to the GMC and the Government after her ordeal, after spending a decade campaigning to secure legal rights for unborn children. She feels ‘dismissed’ the Scottish Government and seeks to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. The campaigner fully supports the birthing inquiry saying: 

“I feel like the laws are stuck in the past, unfortunately not every pregnancy has a happy ending – it’s not a taboo subject and it should be spoken about. Going forward I would like the laws to be changed, so if this ever happens again, that no one should be told that their son isn’t classed as a person so there’s nothing to answer for. Nothing will help my situation, as they’ve made their decision – but talking about this and changing things can help others.”

Today’s Media has seen a response to Ms Gallazzi from the Scottish Government dated April of this year, that states : 

‘The general rule in Scots law is that legal personality commences at birth and that prior to birth the unborn child has no legal rights of their own until they are born alive and have a separate existence from the mother. Before they are born the mother has rights to take decisions on the unborn baby. This also allows medical decision makers to prioritize the health and wellbeing of the mother during pregnancy and where there is unavoidable tension between the mother and the foetus. At present, there are no plans to change the legal position. There is debate in Scotland as to whether legal personality should commence prior to birth.”

Amber Goss,31, a counsellor who is specialising in perinatal mental health has revealed how she felt following the birth of her son in 2018. She has documented how health professionals were ‘watching a world cup game’ whilst trying to ease out her placenta. The mother of four had a post partum haemorrhage and recalls how she ‘felt terrified, degraded and worried’ about her health but ‘no one seemed concerned’. Ms Goss was then taken to theatre and was asked to sign papers and ‘forced to breastfeed’ to help the placenta come out.

Ms Goss with her son. she owns to help others with perinatal trauma

She told Today’s Media:

“Nothing worked, and in the theatre I was terrified. I lost all sensation from the waist down due to the anaesthetic. The lady speaking to me was lovely and asked me questions about my other children. I held back tears, with my heart rate increasing constantly, I was given further treatment and doctors were panicking about my heart rate. Then before I knew it I was being wheeled into recovery.

“‘I dressed your baby’, a midwife I hadn’t seen before said to me on the way through. I was then I realised I had missed the first moment with my baby – I won’t forget the words.”

After she had given birth, Ms Goss explained that she became tearful, panicked and frightened about ‘everything’, soon she was unable to leave the house and having panic attacks multiple times a day. She started to feel as if she were unable to care for herself and her children. Her partner at the time had returned to work. She sought help and asked for a debrief after the birth and was never given one.

The mother and councillor used her experience to influence her career. She said:  

“I had just completed my first year of BA Hons in person centred counselling during my pregnancy. Fast forward to the present day and I am fully qualified in counselling as well as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and due to start a MSc in Perinatal mental health in September 2025. I completed my dissertation on my birth trauma and have chosen to part specialise in perinatal mental health and work with women who have experienced birth trauma and perinatal mental health difficulties.

“My passion is fuelled by my personal experiences, as well a desire to ensure that any woman – or their partner – that I work with feels heard, I hope that the new enquiry helps to lessen the amount of traumatic births experienced in the UK, but I will be sure to ensure any person who comes through the door to me is able to work with their trauma and process it in a safe and empathic environment.”

Ms Goss’s experience matches that of almost half of women who submitted to the Birth Trauma Inquiry, with over 50% sharing that they had experienced post-natal depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms. A large proportion of women also claimed that they felt unheard during labour, and that health professionals demonstrated a ‘lack of compassion’.

Mark Stafford-White, a medical negligence solicitor from Ellison’s Solicitors, says that giving birth is a ‘postcode lottery’ , with some areas boasting state-of-the-art facilities and other parts of the country struggle with ‘underfunded, outdated’ maternity units that can increase the chances of complications during birth.

He said:

“The postcode lottery in maternity care refers to the significant differences in the quality and accessibility of services based on where a woman lives. While some areas benefit from state-of-the-art facilities and well-staffed maternity units, other areas continue to struggle with underfunding, staff shortages, and outdated equipment. These discrepancies can have profound consequences, leading to adverse outcomes and, in some cases, causing injuries to both mother and baby.

“Whether due to a failure to listen to the mother, a lack of communication, or inadequate support during labour, birth trauma can cause lasting damage to a woman’s physical and mental health.

“From severe perineal tears and postpartum haemorrhage to untreated mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); the repercussions of birth trauma can be profound and

Mark Stafford-White, a medical negligence solicitor from Ellison’s Solicitors

far-reaching. Additionally, those who have suffered lasting damage, or are carers for children left disabled by birth injuries, can relive their trauma every single day as they are forced to adjust to life dealing with injuries which are often entirely preventable.”

The NHS has outlined a course of action following the reports for a three year delivery plan. The aim is to improve standards of listening and compassion by offering women a personalised care and support plan and bereavement care when needed. Other issues include support for the NHS workforce which includes training and evidence based retention plans to slow down staff turnover. Throughout 2023, the NHS aimed to effectively implement the NHS-wide “PSIRF” approach to support learning and a compassionate response to families following any incidents. Staff would also aim to ‘strengthen their support and oversight of services to ensure concerns are identified early and addressed.’

Trusts say that they will ‘implement best practice consistently, including the updated Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle’ by this year alongside NHS England’s new taskforce that will report on how to better detect and act sooner on safety issues.

NHS bosses have said the experiences of women during childbirth ‘simply are not good enough’ and ‘not what they expect or want for patients’. New guidance has been published to make sure GPs are thorough with postnatal check-ups – that not only cover physical health, but take into account mental health during the post-partum period.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive, said:

“The experiences outlined by women in this report are simply not good enough and not what the NHS wants or expects for patients. We are working with local leaders at all trusts with maternity and neonatal services in England on a dedicated national programme so their teams can create and nurture a culture where women are listened to, their choices respected and care is personalised, equitable and safe.

“But for any women that have experienced a traumatic birth, timely access to support is crucial. This is why the NHS is rolling out dedicated pelvic health clinics nationally, bringing together expert clinicians under one roof, so women can seek help quickly and easily. Every local health system now also has a specialist community perinatal mental health team, and the NHS has recently published guidance to ensure GPs carry out a comprehensive postnatal check-up, six to eight weeks after women give birth, covering a range of topics such as mental health, physical recovery and support with family planning to ensure where needed there is referral to the right services so that women remain in receipt of the right care for their health needs.”>“But we know there is more that can be done to prevent and improve support for birth trauma, which is why we are committed to working with the Department for Health and Social Care on a cross-government strategy to build on the NHS three-year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services, so that we can continue to make care safer and more personalised for women and babies.”

Commenting, Royal College of  Midwives’ Chief Executive, Gill Walton said: 

“Sadly, not all birth experiences are positive and poor experiences can have a devastating impact on woman and should be taken very seriously as a threat to maternal mental and physical health and infant wellbeing. The women who shared their experiences with the inquiry must be commended for doing so and we owe it to them to learn and improve from the failings that happened in their care. Undoubtedly staffing shortages drastically impact the safety and quality of care that midwives can and so want to deliver. Our own members tell us they are struggling to give women the time and quality of care they need and deserve. Also, with the rise in more complex pregnancies, having the right skill mix of staff on shift is key.”

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