Roadside baby Beatrix was born next to a regional highway due to ‘unacceptable’ maternity services
Yvette Bracefield was forced to give birth along a regional highway as her town’s only maternity ward was empty, after it was turned into a COVID-19 ward.
- Yvette Bracefield gave birth to her daughter on the side of a Queensland motorway
- The delivery room at her local hospital had been converted into a COVID ward
- Rural Doctors Association says COVID has exacerbated regional staffing shortages
The woman from Chinchilla, South Queensland, remembers her daughter Beatrix giving her first cry – the first sign of life in a situation where so much could have gone wrong.
“She just relaxed against me and once I heard her cry I knew she was going to be fine,” Ms Bracefield said.
Ms Bracefield said the birth took place in early January as she rushed to Dalby, 80 kilometers away, due to a lack of birthing services in her home town.
She was unable to use the only delivery room at Chinchilla Hospital as it had been turned into a COVID-19 ward which, at the time, had no COVID patients.
“My Baby by the Roadside”
Ms Bracefield said the hospital’s delivery room was refurbished at the end of last year.
“In accordance with state health facilities, infrastructure measures have been taken at Chinchilla Hospital in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a Darling Downs Health spokesperson said.
“This included modifications to the midwifery care space, in the event of a case of COVID-19 in the hospital.”
When Ms Bracefield presented to hospital on January 3, nurses told her she was 6-7 centimeters dilated and able to make the hour-long freeway journey from Warrego to get to Dalby Maternity Services.
With no private delivery room available at Chinchilla, Ms Bracefield said her only alternative was to stay and give birth at the accident and emergency center with little privacy.
“I thought my best option was to go to Dalby Hospital because that way I don’t give birth in an area where anyone can walk in with an injury and the bathroom is shared,” she said.
What followed was a traumatic car ride at 100 kilometers per hour.
Just 25km from Dalby, Beatrix started crowning and Mrs Bracefield’s husband Michael pulled up to the side of the motorway.
His midwife, who was following in another car, arrived soon after.
Standing on the tarmac in the morning light, Ms Bracefield gave birth to her ‘baby by the side of the road’.
“When I look back and think that if one thing had been slightly different – if the umbilical cord had been around her neck, if I had bled profusely after giving birth, if her shoulder had been grabbed – we would have been in great danger,” Ms Bracefield said.
‘Unacceptable’ maternity services
Mrs. Bracefield’s story is not the first, and other pregnant women from Chinchilla and the surrounding towns of Miles and Tara have made the same trip to Dalby in labor.
Chinchilla Hospital has a long history of sporadic offers of maternity services, largely due to staffing shortages.
The hospital was criticized for its decision to turn one of its two labor rooms into a “maternity consultation room” in 2010.
Rural Doctors Association chief executive Peta Rutherford said the recent decision to turn the last remaining delivery room into a COVID ward, shutting down private delivery services, was untenable.
“To us, this is an unacceptable outcome. There must be a way forward for Chinchilla to be able to maintain her maternity service,” Ms Rutherford said.
Since being interviewed by the ABC, Ms Bracefield said she was contacted by a senior Darling Downs Health official and told that the delivery room at Chinchilla Hospital had been restored.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Darling Downs Health said the hospital has so far not provided extended care to a COVID-19 patient and the delivery room “continues to be used for maternity care”.
Asked directly about Ms Bracefield’s case, the spokesperson said families were under no obligation to follow the advice or instructions of clinical teams.
Regional workforce under pressure
A 2019 report from the Queensland Rural Maternity Task Force found that women living four hours or more from a maternity ward had higher rates of preterm birth, stillbirth and neonatal death.
It also found that the rate of babies born before their mothers arrived in hospital was increasing in Queensland and was highest among women living an hour or two away.
“Lately we have seen [birthing services close in] Theodore in Queensland… Yarrawonga, Kyabram in Victoria… [and] Temora in New South Wales, so it’s not unique to the situation in Chinchilla,” Ms Rutherford said.
She said labor shortages were a key factor in the closure of delivery services and COVID-related pressures from regional hospitals had exacerbated the situation.
Ms. Bracefield hopes her experience can improve services for other pregnant women in the Australia region.
“I’m telling my story because I don’t want other women and their babies to be put at risk,” she said.