Midwives deny criminal negligence over death of woman after 2012 birth
Two midwives accused of criminal negligence over the death of a woman who suffered a haemorrhage during a home birth say they had no knowledge that the mother had experienced the same complication when she delivered her first child, a court has been told.
Gaye Demanuele, 59, and Melody Bourne, 44, were last year charged with manslaughter and police allege they failed to provide adequate care to Caroline Lovell during the birth of her second child at her Watsonia home.
Caroline Lovell died following a home birth in 2012.Credit:Penny Stephens
Ms Lovell, 36, gave birth to a healthy baby girl on January 23, 2012 but suffered major blood loss from a haemorrhage and died in hospital early the next morning.
The midwives who oversaw the home birth appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video link on Thursday for a committal hearing that will determine whether they should stand trial.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Patrick Bourke, QC, said Ms Lovell had given birth to her first child at Geelong Hospital in 2008 and experienced a number of complications including a postpartum haemorrhage.
In mid-2011, Ms Lovell engaged the services of the two midwives for a planned home birth. Mr Bourke said that as part of their assessments, the two midwives were allegedly provided with medical records from Geelong Hospital which included references to the complications experienced by Ms Lovell.
In the early hours of January 23, 2012, Ms Lovell went into labour and got into a birthing pool in the lounge room of her home.
Just before 9am, with both midwives in attendance, she gave birth to her second daughter. She sustained tears during the birth, Mr Bourke said, and began haemorrhaging from those wounds.
He said Ms Lovell tried to get out of the pool with the help of the midwives but collapsed and momentarily lost consciousness. About 10am, she complained of feeling lightheaded and became agitated.
“Ms Lovell told both accused she wanted to go hospital and told them, ‘I’m dying’,” Mr Bourke said. “The deceased requested an ambulance on two or three occasions.”
About 10.20am, Ms Lovell again lost consciousness. An ambulance was called and she was taken to the hospital where her condition deteriorated. She died the next day on January 24. An autopsy later found a postpartum haemorrhage was responsible for Ms Lovell’s collapse and cardiac arrest, Mr Bourke said.
The prosecutor told the court there were a number of aspects relating to the conduct of the two accused in the lead-up and following the birth which were allegedly criminally negligent.
“There were a number of opportunities at which the accused failed to recognise and or react to the deterioration of the deceased’s condition. It is alleged those failings caused or substantially contributed to the death of Caroline Lovell,” he said.
Ms Demanuele’s lawyer, Rishi Nathwani, said the death was tragic and his client recognised the pain Ms Lovell’s family continued to suffer.
“She wishes to acknowledge the likely impact of these proceedings on the loved ones of Caroline,” he said.
“Notwithstanding this, she has always denied that her care of Caroline amounted to criminal negligence. She denies her actions were grossly negligent as alleged by the Crown.”
Ms Bourne’s lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, said the death of Ms Lovell has had a devastating impact on both women and there was a “complete and absolute denial” there was negligence by either midwife.
“Both [midwives] did their best to exercise the skill they had and judgement they had, neither of them were aware of the earlier problem that existed in relation to the first child who was born to the deceased, they had not been told there was a postpartum haemorrhagic problem,” he said.
“They were never told that and, what’s more, the deceased’s husband didn’t know that was the case. There are critical matters.
“At the time of the delivery, neither of them were aware of a complication that arose at the earlier birth that involved what’s described as postpartum haemorrhage. And so, we dispute that there was gross or serious negligence and we say that the two women acted as loving and caring midwives who had no reason to suspect what was about to befall the deceased.”
More than 30 witnesses will be called during the 10-day committal hearing, which will continue on Friday.
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