For many moms-to-be, the sensations that come with pregnancy are some of the most memorable parts of the experience. They relish the kicks and movements that their unborn babies make. Those recollections linger longer than the pain of contractions and the physical discomfort of pushing their newborns out into the world.
But for one Alabama mother, fourth time around the experience of the birth itself was the most memorable aspect and for all the wrong reasons. Rather than the peaceful, natural childbirth she envisioned, her medical team took her through a painful delivery process that has left her with injuries that could well prove irreversible.
Nevertheless, she wasn’t going to take their mistakes lying down. After trying to reach out for answers to her questions, the new mom had had enough: she took the hospital to court, claiming it was the only way she could think of to make them take her complaints seriously.
Prior to her ordeal, Caroline Malatesta was not a stranger to labor and delivery. The then-32-year-old and her husband J.T. had welcomed three daughters, all of whom arrived, she told Cosmopolitan in 2016, in the traditional way: “My first three […] were medicated, on-your-back deliveries.”
But between her third and fourth pregnancies, she saw something that sparked her interest: an ad for a new hospital, Brookwood Medical Center, where women could draw up their own birthing plans. They included natural deliveries and water births.
The commercial featured a medical expert, which helped convince Malatesta to change hospitals. “That added for me a layer of legitimacy that maybe natural birth could be better, especially when you hear a doctor talking about it,” she said, also remarking that customized birthing plans attracted her to the new facility, too.
Just to be sure, Malatesta said she even met with a doctor from Brookwood to make sure she would be able to follow her envisioned birthing plan. She wanted to avoid the normal back-based labor position – and Malatesta claims the doctor said she could, and that she wouldn’t need constant in-the-room monitoring.
With that, she switched hospitals, and nothing of note happened – until the night she went into labor, March 11, 2012. She recalled feeling tightening, a tell-tale sign that her baby was soon to arrive. She texted her birth companion and later called the hospital when the contractions became more rhythmic. She said staff told her to wait until her one-minute-long contractions were five minutes apart before coming in.
According to Malatesta, she arrived at the hospital shortly after 2:30 a.m. Although her contractions weren’t as close as they were supposed to be, she believed her water had already broken. She was assigned to a birthing room and claimed right away she knew something wasn’t right.
Malatesta told Cosmopolitan, “The nurse told me to go to the bathroom right away, because I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for maybe the rest of labor. I told her that my doctor said I’d have wireless monitoring and that I would be mobile, but the nurse said my doctor wasn’t on call.”
And so, Malatesta said, a power struggle between her and her nurse developed. “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.” And things would only get worse.
Malatesta said her doctor had previously promised she could give birth in any position, which was, of course, a selling point for her: she didn’t want to deliver her fourth child on her back. So, when she felt the wave of an intense contraction, she propped herself onto her hands and knees.
From that position, the mom-to-be felt her water break, and her baby’s head emerged. But, according to Malatesta, the nurse didn’t want her on her hands and knees – and took action to maneuver her down onto the bed. She claimed, “The nurse pulled my wrist out from under me and flipped me over onto my back!”
Another nurse then stepped in, but not to help Malatesta achieve the birthing position she planned. Instead, the second set of hands allegedly held in the baby’s head so that the child wouldn’t be delivered until a doctor arrived, while also helping the first nurse hold the 32-year-old down onto the bed.
Malatesta claimed it took six minutes for the doctor to show up, meaning she and her baby were restrained for that long. At that point, she claimed, the nurses finally took the pressure off and the mom-to-be “felt immediate relief, because that deep pressure of her holding the head in against the force of my contractions was finally released.”
It took just a minute to deliver Jack, a “perfectly positioned little 6-pound, 14-ounce baby,” according to his mom. Despite her newborn’s good health, Malatesta herself has been left in severe pain: “Because of the trauma I sustained from fighting while birthing, I now suffer from a permanent and debilitating nerve condition called pudendal neuralgia,” she argued, citing symptoms of burning sensations, pain and numbness.
“I’ve been left with a debilitating medical condition, my sex life is gone, I see a therapist, and I’m on medications both for pain and to ward off panic attacks. It has turned our family life upside down,” she told website Yahoo! in November 2015, more than three years after delivering her son.
Despite everything, Malatesta says she was reluctant to sue at first – she just wanted to understand why her nurses had made so many decisions against her will. But she was left without an explanation or an apology, she said. It was then she felt she had to file a legal claim so that the medical organization would pay attention to her.
By August of 2016, Malatesta heard the verdict in the case in which she and her husband sued the hospital for both medical negligence and reckless fraud, citing the TV commercials that lured the mom-to-be to try natural birth – only to have a traditional labor. The jury sided with the mother-of-four, awarding her $16 million dollars in damages.
Even with her settlement, Malatesta has since had to adjust to her new normal, a life in which she has to rest regularly, take multiple medications and deal with constant pain and sensitivity. While she admitted that it would take a “a major medical advancement or a miracle” to heal her, she has yet to give up. “I refuse to say never,” she told Cosmopolitan in 2016. “I have to hold out some hope.”