'I almost gave birth on M54': Lady Laura Cash joins campaign to keep rural maternity units
A campaign has been launched to maintain maternity services at Bridgnorth Hospital, and Lady Laura Cash explains why her dramatic story proves that having a birthing unit close to home is absolutely essential.
Here is her story:
Shortly before Christmas, a month before I was due to give birth to my second child at Telford hospital, I read a story in the Shropshire Star that caused me some anxiety.
A 35-year-old Bridgnorth woman called Bobbie Brown had been forced to give birth to her second child, Zak, in an ambulance at the petrol station in Much Wenlock.
As it turned out, I had every reason to be concerned – after I ended up very nearly gaving birth myself on the M54 whilst being blocked from reaching the hospital by roadworks.
In Bobbie Brown's case she ended up giving birth in an ambulance after the midwife accompanying her to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital realised "she wasn't going to make it" (another dozen miles or so).
Her nightmare experience led her to speak out against the dangers of the possible closure of the midwife-led Bridgnorth maternity unit, along with other local midwife hospitals in the county including Ludlow and Oswestry.
There have been deep local concerns over recent night closures of various county midwife rural market town units, due to staff shortages, and the suggestion that the local maternity hospitals, which are so critical to local communities like Bridgnorth, could be replaced by 'birthing units' which are not open at night.
This is especially worrying as research shows that many women, including both my births, do give birth in the night.
Also many young women in Bridgnorth don't even drive, let alone own a car.
How are they meant to get to Telford or Shrewsbury hospitals in the middle of the night? Not the least as there is no night taxi service in Bridgnorth.
The future of the county's crucial rural midwife hospitals in Bridgnorth, Ludlow and Oswestry is being debated at Shrewsbury Hospital on February 13.
This is being billed as a 'community conference' by Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) and will be attended by a range of professionals.
The conference, held in the Dinwoodie Lecture Theatre, will hear stories of Shropshire women who have recently used the maternity hospitals of Bridgnorth, Ludlow and Oswestry.
Other speakers will include students, community groups, clinical directors, obstetricians, consultant midwives, managers, commissioners, academics and journalists.
I have been asked to speak at this important event as a result of my own genuinely frightening experience with the birth of my second child, Rex, who was very nearly born on the M54 in the early hours of Thursday January 26.
The reason Bobbie Brown's story originally made me so concerned was that like her, I had also given birth to my first child, a daughter called Cosima, in Bridgnorth Hospital in June 2015.
But my specialist NHS doctor had said I should give birth to my second child in the new Women and Children's Centre at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital, which opened in 2015, to be on the safe side.
After my labour started around midnight, I rang Bridgnorth maternity hospital and told them that my contractions were occurring every four or five minutes.
I was advised to drive straight to Telford without stopping by Bridgnorth.
Having already packed my overnight bag, I left my 18-month-old daughter at home with my mother-in-law. What pregnant mothers do with other children as they writhe with contractions if they have no help at home I cannot imagine.
My husband started the car, sprayed the windscreen with de-icer and after a few minutes waiting for the windscreen to de-thaw, we headed off down the icy lane towards Telford via the M54. The journey should have taken around 35 to 40 minutes.
With my contractions increasing in regularity, and the pains becoming much sharper, everything seemed to be on track as we started negotiating the Telford roundabouts to the hospital after the Sutton Maddock petrol station.
PRH, reached via the M54 on the other side of Telford to Bridgnorth, is around 16 miles from where we live near Bridgnorth.
Having done the journey several times with my husband for scans, we thought we knew the route having done various test runs. My husband said: "We'll be fine so long as the hospital road signs are up."
Our nightmare started around 1.45am when we were following the Princess Royal signs along the M54 and suddenly saw that the slip-road off the M54 to the hospital was closed due to night road works.
There was a diversion sign which we followed. But after around two miles of no visible diversion signs and certainly no signs to the hospital, my husband and I started to panic. The contractions were coming increasingly fast.
When I typed the PRH postcode into my sat nav, we were sent back to the roundabout exit where we had just come from with the road to the hospital blocked off by roadwork cones.
With it feeling like I could give birth imminently, my husband William said: "If we don't go through these bollards, we are not going to make it. If there are roadworks, they can let us through."
So we headed down an empty M54 following the hospital signs until we reached the flashing lights of roadworks. There were several lorries and steam-rollers blocking the road, along with a dozen or so road workers.
When my husband slowed down and told the foreman that we had an emergency and that I was about to give birth in the car and could we pass through, he was not helpful.
Instead of escorting us through to the empty road beyond the roadworks so that we could reach the hospital, he said that 'health and safety' rules prevented him helping us reach the hospital.
Whilst I am sure he was just obeying rules, this was an emergency situation with lives at risk. There was then a stand-off on the motorway as my husband got out of the car and pleaded with the roadwork team to let us through.
With us now blockaded in on the empty motorway, my waters suddenly broke at around 2am.
At this point, I thought I would have to give birth on the M54, so we called the maternity unit on speakerphone at PRH.
The midwife I spoke to was brilliant and helped me to control my breathing whist she called the police to rescue us and send an ambulance.
When the police arrived around 10 minutes later in two cars, they quickly ordered the roadworks team to let us through and gave us a two-car escort to the Telford hospital with blue lights flashing all the way.
The brilliant midwife on reception remained on speakerphone from 2.06am to 2.28am, calming me the entire way, ready to send an ambulance were it obvious we – like Bobbie Brown – were not going to make it.
We arrived at around 2.36am and I was ushered at speed to the delivery suite where they were expecting me.
I gave birth to our beautiful baby son, Rex William Charles, at 3.01am around 24 minutes after arrival.
Had it not been for the excellence of the police, I would almost certainly have had to endure giving birth with no midwife or doctor present on the M54 surrounded by the hazard lights of a roadwork team.
My drama highlights the very serious risks of closing down Bridgnorth Maternity Hospital where Cosima was born.
It also highlights the risks of closing down Telford's brand new Women and Children's Unit and new maternity unit which I was shocked to hear from the wonderful two midwives who assisted my birth is also under threat of being moved to a new unit at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital despite being built as a state-of-the-art hospital for more than £30 million and opened only in 2015.
At the time of being opened by Cherie Blair, the county's health chiefs said that the county would have a women and children's hospital to be proud of.
Telford's Women and Children's Unit boasts a children's outpatient department, children's assessment unit and a children's cancer unit, as well as brilliantly professional midwives who were able to rescue me from the M54.
Had I had to go the extra miles to Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, I almost certainly, like Bobbie Brown, would not have made it to the hospital.
The appalling consequences of closing down the Bridgnorth maternity unit at night – and other county rural MLU hospitals – are not even worth considering.
I am delighted to support Bobbie Brown's campaign to fight against the closure of the town's maternity unit.
Please register your support to keep this critical community asset open by joining the Facebook group Save Bridgnorth Maternity Unit, which has now got well over 1,000 followers.
Rex is now doing well after the drama of his birth.
People have asked if Rex has got anything to do with Brexit.
That was not a factor but what is true is that I first found out I was pregnant at around 8am on June 24th last year, just as the Brexit victory in the Referendum vote was being announced, so it was definitely a double celebration on that historic day.
With a name like Rex he has to be a Brexiteer!