An Alabama woman was recently awarded $16 million as a result of injuries she sustained at a birthing center during the birth of her fourth child. Caroline Malatesta claimed in the lawsuit that nurses held her down and held the baby inside her to delay his birth until the doctor arrived.
Malatesta told Cosmopolitan that she chose the Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, after seeing ads on TV. The center claimed to encourage natural childbirth and offered options such as water birth and allowing mothers to choose a detailed birthing plan. She now says the center engaged in false advertising and that her experience was nothing like either the ads or the assurances she was given when she interviewed a Brookwood doctor before choosing to give birth there.
She first realized there was a problem when she arrived at the hospital in labor. She was ordered by the nurse to use the bathroom because she wouldn’t be allowed to get out of bed:
I told her that my doctor said I’d have wireless monitoring and that I would be able to be mobile, but the nurse said my doctor wasn’t on call. From that point on, it became a back-and-forth of “But my doctor said I could” and “But you don’t get to.” The nurse treated me like a disobedient child!
I was resisting, but at the same time, I was trying to accommodate because you’re vulnerable, you’re in labor. I do get into the bed, I do put on a gown (even though the hospital advertised you could wear your own clothes), I do get on my back, even though it was very painful.
I kept asking, “Why? Why?” but the nurse wasn’t answering me. She ignored me, acting almost annoyed with me. As we went back and forth — me asking questions and telling her this was more painful for me, and her getting increasingly irritated — it became very clear that this wasn’t about health or safety. It was a power struggle.
Her labor progressed and suddenly, she felt a huge contraction. Then her water broke and the baby’s head started crowning. She rolled over onto her hands and knees because it felt more natural for her and hurt less. But the nurse took control, grabbing her wrist and flipping her over onto her back. Then her nightmare went from bad to worse:
Then another nurse held my baby’s head into my vagina to prevent him from being delivered. The nurses were holding me down, and I was struggling — really struggling. I grabbed the side of the bed, and at one point, I even put my foot up against the nurse’s shoulder and face to try and get leverage to flip back over, but was unsuccessful.
Malatesta’s husband, J.T., was terrified, not knowing if there was something wrong with the baby or with his wife and unsure what he should do. He now “lives every day regretting that he trusted those nurses.”
After a long six minutes, the doctor came rushing into the room. The nurses let go of Malatesta and the baby’s head immediately popped out. He was born a minute later. Fortunately, Jack was not injured during the birth, but his mother sustained serious nerve damage because of the forced delay.
Malatesta said signs of injury—abnormal nerve sensations: pins and needles, numbness, burning—started immediately after delivery and the developed into a “full-blown nerve injury.” She was unable to have sex and eight months after the birth of her son had to move in with her parents because she was unable to care for herself and her children due to the debilitating pain from the permanent nerve condition called pudendal neuralgia. “I was completely nonfunctional for six months,” she said.
Two years after filing a lawsuit, a jury deliberated for 9 hours and awarded her $16 million.
Having grown up in a medical family, Malatesta said that she doesn’t take lawsuits lightly. But because Brookwood ignored her complaints and refused to give her answers, she felt that litigation was the only way to shed light on the fact that the center was misleading its patients about the disparity between the services it advertised and the services patients actually received.
This verdict is 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.
Brookwood used the idea of natural birth as a way to lure in patients. I say that without a doubt. They were not providing the services they advertised. I think their marketing department got ahead of themselves, because they knew that women wanted these services. Women want to make their own decisions. Hospitals are advertising that women can make these choices like it’s a privilege instead of a patient right. That’s insulting to women!
Malatesta said she’s doing somewhat better today, but she still suffers a great deal from the injury.
I sleep a lot more. I have to rest in bed a lot more. I go back and forth between using ice packs and being in hot baths for portions of the day to help with pain. 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. I refuse to say never. I have to hold out some hope.