Tayside and Central Scotland

Mother relives the day her baby was decapitated during birth

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Media captionA woman whose baby son died after being decapitated during birth speaks candidly to the BBC Radio Scotland's Kaye Adams

Four years ago a doctor's error led to Laura Gallazzi's baby being decapitated during delivery. As part of a campaign to secure new legal rights for unborn children, she spoke to Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland's Mornings programme.

Warning: This account includes graphic details and images which some people may find upsetting.

He was called Steven. The name had already been chosen when the birth of Laura Gallazzi's baby went wrong in the worst way imaginable.

In March 2014, when her waters broke, Laura was just over 25 weeks pregnant. But as medics at Dundee's Ninewells hospital helped her prepare for a premature birth, there was nothing to indicate the trauma that lay ahead.

"I was told my baby was OK," she said.

"They wanted to keep him in my belly for as long as possible because he was in the best possible place - and I was in the hospital so I was in the best place."

Image copyright Laura Gallazzi
Image caption Ultrasound scans earlier in the pregnancy gave no clue to the problems that would arise

Laura was given an injection to help develop Steven's lungs for an early birth and taken on a tour of the special care baby unit in readiness. Two days later, when she felt a tightening around her stomach, she was moved to the labour suite as a precaution.

"It was nothing major, nothing to be concerned about," she said.

"The midwives seemed quite happy. The wee man's heart was always fine, there was no major cause for concern."

But the following morning, as she stood up after a trip to the toilet, events took a fateful turn. The baby's umbilical cord had emerged from the womb.

'Just trust them'

Laura said: "I started screaming, panicking and shouting, hitting the buzzer and all these midwives came in.

"I was taken to the first available room, put on the bed, wheeled through to theatre, put on another bed.

"I heard something about being only being two to three centimetres. My son's heart rate was dipped but it was there.

"I was thinking to myself: 'you have to stay calm, you have to stay calm for your son. You're in the right place, all these people know what they're doing. Just trust them'."

Image copyright Laura Gallazzi

Laura had been told a few days earlier that was she was likely to have a caesarean section because a scan had shown Steven was in the breech position, head up rather than facing the birth canal.

"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," Laura said.

"'Push, push, we've got to get this baby out,' and then followed several attempts of her [the doctor] pulling at my son, trying to get him out, which caused me distress, which caused me pain.

"I crawled up the bed to get away from her. I was pulled back down the bed.

"She's going 'come on, come on, we've got to get this baby out'.

"And I'm saying to her 'I don't feel like I need to push'. I kept on saying to myself: 'this is wrong. Something's not right'."

The neck of Laura's womb was only partially dilated, far less than the 10cm that would be expected during a normal birth.

'I didn't hear him crying'

Attempts to deliver Steven went on for another 20-25 minutes.

What happened next will remain with Laura to her dying day.

"I felt a pop."

She pauses as she recalls that awful moment. Her first thought was that a metal ring on her finger had somehow snapped.

Laura said: "I don't know why. I remember looking at my hand and my ring was still there.

"Then I'm thinking to myself, 'well, what was that?'

"And I felt nothing between my legs, so I thought 'I've done it. I've done it. My son's here'.

"I didn't hear him crying but I wasn't too worried about that because I knew he was so small.

"Then the room went into absolute chaos.

"People were rushing about. There was a guy who tried to go out the room. I caught his gaze.

"He kind of stopped, kind of turned back on himself and sort of continued doing what he was doing.

"The next word I heard was 'right push again'. And I'm thinking to myself 'why am I pushing again? I've done it'.

"I thought I'd done it. Then a couple of minutes later, it's 'oh, you're going to be put to sleep'."

When she woke from the anaesthetic Laura was in a side room. A nurse told her that Steven had died.

Laura said: "I remember completely losing it.

"I was absolutely distraught. And then I blacked out again."

The consultant gynaecologist who led the delivery, Dr Vishnavy Laxman, visited Laura when she came round.

Laura said: "She sat on the edge of my bed, on the right hand side, and she told me how sorry she was for what had happened.

"At that point I didn't know exactly what had happened, so when she gave me her apology I took her hand and I told her that I forgave her because I had no idea what I was going to be told later on."

It was another doctor who later gave Laura the terrible detail of what happened.

Laura said: "She stood at the foot of my bed and she told me my son had been decapitated during childbirth. And I said to her: 'I know. I felt it'."

Her words were 'I've fixed him'

There was more emotional pain to come.

Laura was told her son's head was still within her body.

Another doctor told her she would need to undergo a caesarean section to retrieve it.

"My son's head was still within my body, but his body was lying on the table," she said.

Laura Gallazzi never felt a mother's joy at cradling her son but four years later his memory lives on.

After the operation, another doctor reattached her baby's head and allowed her to spend time with his body.

Laura said: "The next thing I thought was 'I don't want to see him, don't bring him in here', because I didn't know what I was going to be looking at.

"But the doctor, she was really lovely. She said, 'it's alright'. Her words were 'I've fixed him'."

Image copyright Laura Gallazzi
Image caption The charity Remember My Baby took remembrance photographs of Steven

That night Steven's body was brought into her room in a Moses basket.

Laura said: "I couldn't hold him properly but I was able to look at him, and kiss him and smell him.

"But it wasn't the same, it's not the same as what it should have been."

A photographer from the charity Remember My Baby took black and white images of Steven which she has in an album.

Weeks later, on his due date, Laura bought a blue teddy bear and had his cremated ashes placed inside.

She said: "Just so I could have a cuddle. It's the next best thing."

Earlier this year a medical tribunal ruled that 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.

Another tribunal later ruled she was fit to practise and could return to work, although she is no longer employed by NHS Tayside.

Image copyright Laura Gallazzi
Image caption Steven's ashes were placed inside a teddy bear

Alongside the medical profession's inquiry, there was a lengthy legal investigation. It ended in another trauma for the grieving mother.

Laura said: "The investigation took about two-and-a-half years. They came back and basically sat me in a room, and told me that because my son didn't take a breath, he has no legal persona in Scotland. My son doesn't exist.

"I'm sitting and looking at them - and I'm thinking to myself: 'that's absolutely horrendous. You've just looked me in the eye and told me my son does not exist'.

"I've got a death certificate, I've had to have a funeral, I've got all these pictures.

"I'm thinking to myself: 'that's not fair'."

The Crown Office decision means there can be no criminal action or fatal accident inquiry into Steven's death.

Laura has now begun a petition calling for a change in Scots law to give stillborn babies a legal identity.

"I'm just trying to get as many signatures as possible so this law can be looked at," she said.

Details of organisations offering information and support with pregnancy issues are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 08000 564 756

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