Caroline Malatesta gave birth to her first three children with the help of epidurals and oxytocin.
After her third child was born, she tells Independent Journal Review that she saw a TV segment for Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, where a doctor mentioned “embracing” natural and water births. She explains:
“For me, there was something about having a doctor talk about natural birth and water birth that added a layer of legitimacy to it — maybe it wasn’t just a trend, maybe there were safety reasons to do it? After all, this hospital is going so far as to deliver babies in water to help women avoid medicine for pain relief. I began researching Brookwood’s website. I interviewed an OBGYN at Brookwood to confirm all I’d read. Indeed, he told me that letting the normal physiological process play out was safer than how I’d done it in the past. All this convinced me to switch hospitals.”
But instead of the “personalized” treatment she was promised, the mother-of-four says the hospital did the exact opposite:
“I was on my back for monitoring, even though I was promised I could be mobile during monitoring. My nurse ignored me when I protested being on my back. I did my best to comply with her demands, but at some point, I felt a big contraction coming on, and I instinctively flipped to my hands and knees while saying, ‘I can’t be on my back!’
I had an overwhelming urge to be off my back. It was a very physical struggle. Once I was forced to my back, it was like touching a hot stove…my body immediately told me to get off my back. The nurse was holding me down and holding the head in…which is also very dangerous. It was pretty violent.”
And then it got worse:
“My water broke and I felt the baby crowning. I focused on gently breathing out my baby like I’d learned. It came very naturally. Then my nurse said, ‘let’s get you on your back’ and pulled my wrist out from under me. I fell down onto my shoulder because of that, and she rolled me to my back. Then another nurse instructed me not to push while holding her hand on my baby’s head to prevent him from being born. My medical records show this happened for about six minutes.
The best way I can describe what I was feeling as my nurse held in my baby’s head is that it was a a ‘bad pain.’ The rest of my labor had been a ‘good pain’ — hard but productive. I was screaming ‘stop!’ but no one listened. It was scary, because I could feel it hurting me, and she didn’t seem concerned that I was screaming ‘stop.'”
As a result of the traumatic incident, Malatesta now suffers from a permanent nerve condition known as Pudendal Neuralgia. She explains she spends countless hours each day trying to “relieve the pain,” taking baths, using ice packs, and taking various medications that often have unpleasant side effects.
Though the Brookwood TV ads have since been removed from YouTube, Malatesta documented them as evidence during her lawsuit against the Alabama hospital where she gave birth.
One ad promised a birth plan designed specifically for each patient, created by a doctor who would “address” any issues or medical needs of the baby.
But Malatesta says the hospital had no way of knowing a woman was “under the care of a doctor” until she arrived for delivery:
And three years after her experience, Brookwood was still advertising natural and water births:
In the end, Malatesta won $16 million after a jury found her experience to be a direct result of false advertising on behalf of Brookwood Medical Center.
But the lawsuit was never about the money, she explains to Independent Journal Review. Rather, she claims it was about getting honest answers from a hospital she once trusted:
“I wanted validation for what happened to me, and also to other women. Unfortunately, even with a jury verdict and even though their marketing director acknowledged several inaccuracies in the marketing, Brookwood seems reluctant to apologize to the community. They advertised personalized birth plans and freedom of movement at a time when they had a standing order that all women had to be on bedrest for large portions of labor. Women relied on these promises when they came to Brookwood. I think simply apologizing to the community would go a long way.”
Weld Birmingham reports that Kristen Eson likewise opted to have a natural birth at Brookwood in 2012, saying she also made the switch because of their advertisements.
Eson apparently used their birthing tubs and claims her umbilical cord snapped. She says she was ordered out of the tub by the doctor on call, but was not assisted in doing so. She recalls her doula, which is a woman trained to help during the childbirth process, was the only person who helped her.
As Malatesta adjusts to her “new normal” and life after her legal battle is over, Brookwood is still not apologizing.
Kate Darden, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the hospital, said in a statement:
“We are disappointed in the outcome of the case. Brookwood Baptist Medical Center strives for excellence in patient care and satisfaction, and we respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict.”
But Malatesta says she still suffers significant pain from the ordeal. She told Cosmopolitan:
“I am just in chronic, real, nerve pain in the most sensitive area of the body. Some days I’m a lot of pain, some days are better. You just take one day at a time. I’m still on a lot of medication, I still only do a fraction of what I used to do, I still can’t have sex. I have to reserve my energy for the important things. The nerve has to stay quiet. It would have to be a major medical advancement or a miracle for it to get better.”
Though her Brookwood experience was no doubt life-changing, Malatesta says her little son, Jack, is the “best part” of the whole ordeal.