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‘My baby died 14 minutes after birth – I was high-risk but had no extra care’

Content warning: This article contains references to infant mortality, pregnancy complications and surgery

After three years of trying to conceive following cancer treatment, Vaishali Bamania and her husband Rahul were thrilled to discover they were expecting their first child, a girl.

The 39-year-old from Preston, Lancashire, who longed to become a mother, said seeing the two lines on a pregnancy test following a round of IVF were a dream – one that made her one-and-a-half years of cancer treatment feel “worth it”.

Baby Jaya was born at 22 weeks on 19 August, 2019. But she died just 14 minutes later.

“It was such a blur,” Ms Bamania said. “I didn’t really have time to process. I think I was in shock.”

She is joining other bereaved parents and campaigners to call on the next government to address racial disparities in baby loss as a priority. Alongside the baby loss charity Sands, Ms Bamania has written an open letter calling for urgent action to prevent black and Asian baby deaths.

In the UK, the rates of baby loss among black and Asian families are higher than those of white families.

Office for National Statistic figures released this week showed black and Asian infants continue to have the highest rates of mortality – Asian 5.7 and black 6.8 per 1,000 live births in 2022 up from 4.8 and 6.6 respectively in 2021. For white families the rate is 3.1 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Ms Bamania was identified as high-risk early on in her pregnancy but claimed hospital staff failed to explain why and she did not receive any additional care such as extra scans and blood and urine tests.

She believes Jaya could still be alive today if she had been monitored more closely, and questions whether she would have been treated differently if she weren’t South Asian.

“I think there’s a need for training across the board and around unconscious bias and cultural competence,” she said.

A communication error between her clinic and midwifery team meant Ms Bamania never had a 20-week scan, she claimed.

Then at almost 22 weeks, Ms Bamania noticed she had leaked amniotic fluid but after a call to her hospital, was told by a midwife to monitor the situation and only call back if it happened again.

“They said, ‘oh, everything’s fine, there’s nothing to be concerned about’. I thought, ok, what do I know? I’m not a medical professional. I trusted them to give me the right information,” she said.

Because the leaking stopped, Ms Bamania went on a pre-planned holiday but while abroad developed a high temperature, which was treated with paracetamol and fluids.

Following advice she returned home the same day and went straight to hospital where she was told she had a serious infection, that she had too little amniotic fluid around her baby and there was nothing more that could be done to save Jaya.

Ms Bamania said: “I had explained [before] that I was a high-risk pregnancy.

“I would have gone to the hospital [the first time I noticed leaking] and it’s highly likely, if not 100 per cent probable, they would have caught the infection that I didn’t realise was starting at that point.”

There is no evidence that Jaya’s death could have been prevented if earlier action had been taken.

But Ms Bamania claimed that the hospital she was treated at told her “they should have communicated the fact that I should have had a blood test and urine check at my 20-week scan and that that communication had not gone from the consultant to the midwifery team,” she said.

“There was no apology given.”

Vaishali Bamania
Ms Bamania believes her daughter Jaya could still be alive today if she had been monitored more closely and her concerns had been taken seriously

Subsequent health complications following Jaya’s birth meant Ms Bamania required surgery which has left her unable to carry to term again.

“I don’t want more families to experience what we are experiencing, because it’s not like you can just get over it and move on. You can’t,” she said.

“Not a day goes by that you don’t feel bad and feel that loss and that gap in your life, because your child should be there.”

Minister for women’s health, Maria Caulfield, told i that improving maternity safety is a key priority for the Conservatives.

Ms Caulfield said: “We are taking bold action to tackle inequalities in maternity care through the first ever Women’s Health Strategy published in 2022, launching a new Maternity Disparities Taskforce and a £50m research fund to help address the disparities experienced by women from ethnic minority groups and those living in deprived areas.

“The Conservatives have a clear plan to improve maternity care for all women, and we are taking the bold action to secure a brighter and safer future for women and babies.”

The Labour Party has pledged to tackle health inequalities if elected.

In a document outlining its plans for the NHS, the party promises to set an explicit target to end the black maternal mortality gap, which sees black women in the UK four times more likely to die whilst pregnant, giving birth, or as new mothers than white women.

Neither of the two leading parties has set out explicit plans to address racial inequalities in baby loss.

A spokesperson for the charity Sands said: “The next government has a vital opportunity to finally end ethnicity related inequalities in baby loss. It must be taken.”

The Coalition of Children’s Charities – which includes Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, and The Children’s Society – said: “Our political leaders need to take urgent action to stop the decline in life chances for children living in poverty. We need the next UK government to tackle this head on and introduce a child poverty bill in the first King’s Speech with a series of targets designed to eradicate child poverty.

“A good first step to achieve this would be scrapping the two-child limit to benefit payments and the benefit cap which would reduce the depth of poverty experienced by millions of families in the UK today and improve health outcomes for children and young people well into the future.

“Similarly, we need the next government to invest in early intervention services that can be a lifeline to families and help them identify concerns before they get worse.”

An NHS spokesperson, said: “The NHS is committed to ensuring all women, regardless of their ethnicity, receive high-quality care before, during and after their pregnancy; and all maternity and neonatal systems have published action plans to help ensure care is equitable for all mothers, babies and families.

“The NHS is also investing £10 million in recurrent funding to enable targeted action against inequalities – this includes enabling enhanced midwifery continuity of carer teams where safe staffing is in place, and to provide more holistic support for women living in the most deprived areas who are more likely to experience adverse outcomes during pregnancy and birth.”

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