Inquest told home birth abandoned after problems

Mother rushed to Mayo General Hospital after baby’s heartbeat changed

 Sarah Williams and Emmet Henaghan at Castlebar Coroners’ Court, Co Mayo, for the inquest into the stillborn death of their son Kai David Williams Henaghan. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus

Sarah Williams and Emmet Henaghan at Castlebar Coroners’ Court, Co Mayo, for the inquest into the stillborn death of their son Kai David Williams Henaghan. Photograph: Keith Heneghan/Phocus


A couple who prepared for what they hoped would be an idyllic home birth by lighting candles and playing soothing sounds on their stereo ended up devastated when their baby was stillborn, an inquest heard today.

After the heartbeat began to diminish, the planned home birth of baby Kai David Williams Henaghan, at Kilsallagh, Westport, was abandoned, and the infant’s mother, Sarah Williams, was rushed to Mayo General Hospital 14 miles away.

Not long afterwards the baby was stillborn, an inquest, which is being conducted by the coroner for south Mayo John O’Dwyer at Castlebar Courthouse, was told.

The midwife involved in the home birth which was abandoned on May 24th, 2011, was Christina Engel, from Ballinrobe, who worked in New Zealand both as a tutor and working midwife for many years before returning to work in Mayo.

Ms Williams said Ms Engel told her she “had delivered many, many, babies”. The price to be charged for the home delivery was €1,000.

Ms Williams said she informed Ann Boland, director of nursing in Castlebar, of her plan to have a home birth and Ms Boland wrote back and confirmed to her it was okay to have a home birth should no complications arise during the rest of the pregnancy.

On May 23th, 2011, she awoke with abdominal cramps. Ms Engel arrived at about 11.30am. She again arrived at about 6pm and at about 10.30pm told her she could see “the top of the child’s head, his black hair”.

At around 12pm she said to the midwife that she felt it was taking too long, and just after 1am she said it again that she couldn’t get the baby out.

The midwife told her to push harder but at about 1.30am the baby’s heartbeat had changed and she could not get a reading.

Emmet Henaghan, her partner, suggested it was time she go to the hospital and the midwife agreed.

Midwife’s car
However, the midwife’s car would not start and they had to transfer oxygen into her partner’s car. The three of them drove to the hospital in Mr Henaghan’s car.

By the time they got to the delivery suite it was 3am. Staff did an ultrasound on the baby and could not get a reading. The baby was stillborn at 3.23am.

“They worked on him for 29 minutes . . . They took Emmett out of the room and told him Kai was dead. They then came back and told me. They told me it wasn’t my fault and that I was not to blame myself, and that sometimes these things happen in the hospital too.”

Ms Williams said she never received any documentation or correspondence or paperwork from the midwife. She never gave her any copies of any protocols or details of any emergency plan or any risk-assessment document.

“As far as I was concerned Ms Engel should have made the call to go to the hospital at least half an hour before they ended up going to the hospital.”

Ms Williams said that in the hospital immediately after it was clear that Kai had died, Ms Engel said she would never do a home birth again as long as she lived and kept saying “I am so sorry, I am so sorry”.

Mr Henaghan said his girlfriend wanted to go down the route of having as natural a birth and pregnancy as possible and contacted Ms Engel, the only local midwife in Mayo. She only wanted to go to hospital if it meant the baby’s birth was at risk.

Mr Henaghan said: “As part of Sarah’s natural birthing plans she had organised some music or sounds on the stereo to be played, some candles to be lit.

“Every aspect of the house was set out in the way she wanted it for the day of the birth.”

Baby’s head
He said that during the labour he felt there seemed to be no progress for the amount of effort put in considering Ms Engel had seen the baby’s head at 10.20pm.

He said that at approximately 12.30am or 1am he turned off the music. The mood intensified. He saw and heard the baby’s heartbeat diminish and he had enough of what he was seeing and said straight out: “let’s go to the hospital”.

In evidence today Ms Engel denied stating in the hospital after the stillbirth she would never do another home birth and also denied being reluctant to transfer her patient to hospital.

She also said she had carried out regular heartbeat checks during the attempted delivery and denied her car was unreliable, stating the problem starting it had been “transient”.

The hearing continues tomorrow.