Idaho midwife cases turn on handling of risky births

Some patients of a Meridian birth center, one of whom has sued, allege problems could have been prevented.

adutton@idahostatesman.comApril 21, 2012 

Monica Walters-Wolfe gave birth five years ago in the driveway of the Baby Place in Meridian.

Crouched on the ground after midnight in mid-April 2007, she delivered her son, cleared his airway, tightened a knot on his umbilical cord and walked to a nearby house to ask for an ambulance.

She’d arrived at the Meridian birth center that night to meet midwife Coleen Goodwin, co-defendant in a lawsuit scheduled for a jury trial Monday in Ada County and one of three midwives disciplined by the Idaho Board of Midwifery in the past year.

Walters-Wolfe said Friday that the events laid out in the board’s recent order against the Goodwins — stemming from an investigation into the deaths of three babies — could have been prevented if action had been taken years ago.

She called lawyers in 2007 but was told she had no claim because Idaho midwives aren’t required to carry insurance, no formal rules were in place at that time, and her contract didn’t specify that Goodwin had to be present for the delivery.

Few lawsuits have been filed against midwives in Idaho.

On that night in 2007, Walters-Wolfe called Goodwin while she was in labor, but the midwife didn’t arrive. In a 2007 report by the Idaho Statesman, Goodwin said the incident was a “tragic miscommunication” and that she’d delivered about 700 babies by then.

“There would never be a good reason why a human being — a midwife or a mother — would leave a woman to have a baby outside (in) a parking lot,” Goodwin told the Statesman in 2007. “There is no reason why that would happen intentionally.”

The Goodwins recently said they will not make any statements.

Walters-Wolfe believed, and still believes, that Goodwin is a capable and experienced midwife. She recovered from childbirth — baby Forrest survived, staying in the hospital a few days — but says Goodwin dismissed her worries about warning signs of a high-risk birth.

Walters-Wolfe said she had swollen joints, sudden leg weakness and greenish vaginal discharge that could indicate a baby is in distress, but Goodwin assured her it wasn’t an emergency. She said when Forrest was born, his umbilical cord was knotted and wrapped around his neck.

The Boise mother of two now urges expectant mothers to find midwives who work closely with doctors and have a policy of speeding mothers with signs of complications to the hospital.

The board’s recent order for emergency suspensions against Goodwin and daughter Jerusha Goodwin — and a police investigation into one of the baby deaths — allege the midwives didn’t react properly to warning signs like dropping heart rates, greenish vaginal discharge and prolonged labor.

Walters-Wolfe talked to reporters and called lawyers in 2007 after her mother said, “People are going to die (and) we have to do something.”

Two years later, the Idaho Legislature passed a licensure law, and regulations were created outlining what midwives can and must do, which includes giving each patient a “written protocol for emergencies including hospital transport.”

Walters-Wolfe said she hit legal dead ends before the rules existed.

Even before the rules, there were standards of care for midwives to follow, said Eric Rossman, the Boise attorney for Adam and Victoria Nielson. The Nielsons filed the lawsuit, set to go to trial Monday, against the Baby Place and the Goodwins after their baby was born with severe, permanent brain damage.

The Nielsons were under the care of midwives at the Baby Place in 2008. The expectant mother was more than 42 weeks pregnant — a high-risk pregnancy for which a midwife’s care is now illegal — and dilating more slowly than normal.

“Every midwife knows what a high-risk baby is (and should) not deliver high-risk babies,” Rossman said. “That’s for hospitals.”

He took their case pro bono, without pay. He doesn’t expect any significant money for the Nielsons. The Goodwins’ attorney — who couldn’t be reached for comment — said his clients planned to file bankruptcy and the trial may not even happen, Rossman said Thursday.

“The only reason we’re pursuing this case is the concern about this particular clinic continuing to practice,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience dismiss this case knowing the circumstances of this case coupled with the other cases that brought the (midwifery) board to its decision.”

Rossman said his clients aren’t saying midwifery is unsafe.

“We’re simply offering that a midwifery clinic (outside) a hospital should not be delivering high-risk babies,” he said. “Now (under the 2009 law) it’s an express violation.”

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448

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