Warning: This story may be distressing for some readers.
A tragic baby death at Auckland City Hospital has led to claims of racist medical care. Emma Russell reports.
A traumatised mum is haunted by the sound of her precious baby boy dropping on a hospital floor at birth before taking his final breath 90 minutes later.
Limna Polly, 35, remembers lying down screaming for help at Auckland City Hospital's maternity ward for three hours, knowing she was about to give birth and being told by a doctor to "shut up" instead of receiving help.
Polly said no medical staff believed she was giving birth when she'd only been pregnant for 22 weeks and no one intervened to help deliver her baby.
Medical records seen by the Herald said: "Limna began screaming and involuntarily pushed - both baby and placenta - baby landed on the floor."
Doctors said after he was born it was too late to save him, Polly said.
She and her husband Ambi, who have lived in Auckland for nine years and have New Zealand citizenship, believed racial bias led to the loss of their son.
"I felt like they didn't even want to touch me because of the colour of my skin."
Auckland DHB doesn't dispute any part of the family's complaint but says it "didn't meet the criteria" to be reported to an independent body, Health Quality & Safety Commission (HQSC), for a review as "no issues were identified with the medical care". The DHB did not refer the baby's death to the coroner for investigation.
Patient advocate and Mothers Matter founder Chloe Wright told the Herald on Sunday: "The situation as a whole absolutely should have been reported higher up and the fact that it wasn't sounds to me like the DHB are trying to sweep it under the rug."
Auckland DHB declined to respond to Wright's comment.
Auckland DHB management said they were "very sorry for [the family's] personal experience of our care".
They also acknowledged there was work to do in relation to discrimination and providing "equitable care to all those who come through our women's health services".
Wright said in her view the tragic death was yet another "inhumane and disgraceful" example of discrimination and New Zealand's failing maternity care system.
Wright said she believed racial bias was rife throughout our maternity care system.
"To be told to shut up while she's screaming in pain disturbed me deeply. That doctor needs to be named and held to account," Wright said.
New Zealand's health watchdog, the Health and Disability Commission (HDC), received a complaint from the family in January - and nearly six months on they are still assessing whether or not they will investigate the circumstances that led to the tragic death.
Deputy commissioner Rose Wall said on behalf of HDC: "We extend our sympathies to the family for their tragic loss and understand that they want their complaint to be handled quickly.
"HDC follows a careful process when assessing complaints which includes gathering information from the complainant, healthcare providers and experts where appropriate.
The case comes after the Herald last month revealed the seven-year fight for justice of another couple, who won a major apology from HDC for failing to investigate the death of their baby daughter.
A year and a half after losing their son, the couple wanted to share their story publicly.
They said they hope no other family experienced the horror they did and they wanted to highlight the consequences of discrimination and racial bias in the health system.
In the weeks leading up to her baby's death, Polly said she was repeatedly told by multiple Auckland DHB staff her severe bleeding and abdominal pain was nothing to worry about.
On January 16 last year, Polly visited Auckland City Hospital with pain and bleeding and after some testing she was discharged as the heartbeat was still strong.
She returned the next day because her symptoms had worsened, Polly said.
She was admitted and on January 18 at 9pm, Polly said the pain escalated and she knew her baby was coming. Her midwife gave her laughing gas to ease the pain but didn't undertake a physical examination to check if her pain was contractions.
Despite three hours of screaming and crying, with her 10-year-old daughter and husband terrified, no doctor came to help her, Polly said.
Polly's husband Ambi said he and their daughter were forced to watch in horror as their loved one suffered, desperate to help but with no idea how.
"Our daughter looked to me and said 'what's wrong with Mum' because she had never seen her cry, that's how high her pain tolerance was, but this was awful," he said.
Shortly after midnight, the family said a female doctor came into the room to tell her to "shut up".
"No woman can keep her mouth shut or lower their screaming when she is delivering a baby and my wife was giving birth to our baby boy at that time," Polly's husband said.
Moments later a doctor, two nurses, the midwife, the baby's father and their daughter watched in horror as the couple's beautiful baby boy emerged, only to fall suddenly and landed on the floor.
No one helped deliver her baby and no medical staff intervened, Polly said. Medical staff could not revive him and he died 90 minutes later.
The couple named their baby Siddharth after a Buddha lord, meaning one who has accomplished a goal.
Polly only heard the sound and a year and a half later it still haunts her.
She doesn't remember much after that but she does remember someone asking her if she wanted to hold her baby.
"At first I didn't, how could I look, it was too painful and then I asked someone to give him to me, I looked at him and I just cried," Polly said.
She said the way some of ADHB's staff talked to her and her husband, even after the death, was with so much insensitivity.
"They never apologised, not properly, only 'sorry for your loss', not sorry for the circumstances that led to his death and the lack of communication."
Trauma has followed the family every day since that tragic day.
"I didn't know how ... to cope. For months I struggled to get out of bed. I still struggle, words can't describe how painful it is.
"It scares me to even think of having another baby. My daughter has always wanted a sibling. We always wanted more babies but I just don't know that I can do it."
To make matters worse, Polly lost her job due to Covid.
"That was really tough."
Now, the family are considering moving back to India or Australia where they would have family support and more confidence that they would not be racially profiled by medical staff, Ambi said.
"I love New Zealand but this has destroyed us," Polly said.
Ambi said he too would be sad to leave and had been enjoying learning te reo Māori.
Mike Shepherd, Auckland DHB's director of provider services, said: "We have great sympathy for Limna and Ambi for the loss of their baby and are very sorry for their personal experience of our care.
"For ethical and privacy reasons we can't comment on the details of individual patient care."
But he said: "As a general comment, there is always a small risk of pre-term labour, when babies are too small to survive, and when this does occur we understand how very hard it is for families."
The DHB was engaging with female patients to explore inequities and understand what systemic issues are leading to them.
"We're seeking to listen carefully to women like Limna, who have stories to share about their experience."
Where to get help:
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.