Change in hospital 'navigation system' denied mum her homebirth dream

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock

When Steffanie Schiavon fell pregnant with her fourth child, she looked forward to giving birth at home - just like she did with her third baby less than two years ago.

But a change in the navigation method used by her local hospital in Victoria meant her family home now falls outside the homebirth system and that dream was denied.   

Ms Schiavon, 28, had her third baby at her Preston home with Sunshine Hospital's midwifery group practice in 2016.  When she found out she was pregnant again she returned to the program and at 16 weeks was again assigned a midwife.

The hospital at the time advised her that they were now using a different navigation system to calculate distances and, according to the new system she was now one minute outside their 30-minute requirement for a homebirth.

Ms Schiavon said Sunshine Hospital, and the closer Mercy Hospital, had both told her she couldn't have her other three children in the birthing room which meant her husband would be forced to stay at home and look after them.

"At 32 weeks I started to appeal the decision based on the fact I don't have family around to help with my children while I give birth. They declined my appeal despite me giving them my reasons and history of birthing with them," she said.

Ms Schiavon took her complaint to the Health Complaints Commissioner and after a six week wait received a final rejection letter from the hospital telling her she was one minute outside their 30-minute midwifery group practice.

The hospital did agree to let her have her children in the delivery room however, as she was unable to birth at home, Ms Schiavon chose to give birth at Mercy Hospital as it would involve less travel once she was in labour.

"They have changed the system in how they calculate the distance using a different navigation system since my last birth. I can find it at 29 minutes using Google maps and emailed this to the management but because it is not the system they use they wouldn't accept it.

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"They need to deal with cases in a human way and a case-by-case basis. I am low risk, and this is my fourth baby."

Ms Schiavon gave birth her fourth child, a baby boy she named Saleh on August 10.

Her neighbour drove her to the hospital at 3am, while her husband stayed home with the couple's other children. 

The baby was born at 8am and Ms Schiavon's husband arrived 30 minutes later.

"It wasn't ideal because I didn't have my husband, but he was there within 30 minutes.  He kept messaging me while I was in hospital," she said.

"I am upset I didn't get the home birth I wanted, but I can't complain, the midwives all knew what I wanted. 

"Everyone at the Mercy knew the story so they knew what I wanted and my birth history.  Everyone was beyond supportive of my wishes and what I wanted out of the birth."

Professor Dahlen from Western Sydney University said the concept of 30-minutes from medical care being a safe distance was arbitrary and unnecessary in every woman's case.

"There are multiple factors that need to be taken into consideration. It is about risk factors, whether you can get an ambulance into your place, which hospital you are transferring to," she said.

"Most women give birth between 1am and 5am, so at those times there would be no traffic.

"I find it really distressing that people are still using (the 30 minute rule)."

She said it is cases such as Ms Schiavon's which are forcing women to freebirth in Australia.

"It is never about the woman as a whole complex and individual human being with her own unique needs."

Essential Baby contacted Sunshine Hospital for comment, but did not receive a reply.