MARION COUNTY, Fla. - An expectant mother who paid a licensed midwife to help deliver her baby at home claims the midwife missed the child's birth, despite being notified hours earlier that labor had begun.
"She was supposed to be here for me and she was not here for me at all," said Ashley Stevens, who claims the midwife finally arrived more than an hour after her son's harrowing birth. "I really feel betrayed by her."
The couple claims that during the delivery they experienced several unexpected complications such as the umbilical cord becoming wrapped around the infant's neck and the child failing to breathe right away.
Stevens and her husband said they have filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Health alleging Colleen Bach violated numerous state midwifery rules.
Bach told News 6 she recently stopped working as a midwife, despite still holding a valid state license.
Bach declined to comment on the allegations made by Stevens, citing patient confidentiality rules established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
"That would be a violation of privacy," Bach told News 6.
Bach did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls from News 6 seeking answers to questions unrelated to medical privacy issues and the Stevens' complaint.
Couple claims midwife was late to prenatal visits
Weeks after learning she was pregnant with their second child, Ashley Stevens and her husband began looking for a midwife to provide prenatal and postnatal care, while also assisting with the baby's delivery at their house.
"We wanted to do it in the comfort of our own home and have a great experience for both of us and the baby," Ashley Stevens said. "We wanted a more naturalistic approach with it, so we figured going with a midwife and doing a home birth would be best."
After learning about Bach from a friend and reading positive online reviews about her services, the Stevenses said they met with the midwife.
"Everything was great in the beginning," said Chris Stevens, who, along with his wife, decided to hire Bach to accompany them through the pregnancy. "At first she would arrive on time. She usually brought a student or an assistant. She was very polite."
But according to the couple, Bach soon started showing up late to some of their prenatal appointments.
On one occasion, they claim, Bach completely missed a scheduled visit at their home.
"No call. No show. Nothing," Ashley Stevens said.
The couple said they discussed switching to a different midwife but opted to remain with Bach.
"At that point (the pregnancy) was already at 31 weeks and trying to find another practitioner to take you on after 28 weeks is nearly impossible," Ashley Stevens said.
The couple now believe the midwife's alleged tardiness during prenatal visits should have been a red flag.
"I just wish I had gone with my gut then," the mother said. "To know it could have cost my son's life really put it into perspective. It's just not worth it."
Midwife misses infant's birth, parents say
In the early morning hours of Dec. 11, Ashley Stevens said her water broke, indicating labor could soon begin.
At 7:48 a.m., the couple said they began sending text messages and placing phone calls to Bach to inform her of the developments.
"I was assuming she was going to be getting up and packing her stuff up and heading this way," Ashley Stevens said. "She was going to arrive whenever labor ensued, (or) shortly after labor ensued, and set up a (birthing) pool here in the living room."
But more than four hours after contacting Bach, the couple said the midwife was still not at their home.
"It was before (noon) that she mentioned that she was going to head this way," Chris Stevens said.
He estimated it would take Bach less than 45 minutes to drive to their home if the midwife had been at her own home in Ocala.
"She admitted I was in active labor," Ashley Stevens said, referring to a text message she reportedly received from Bach that News 6 could not independently authenticate.
Shortly before 3 p.m., with the midwife still missing, the couple said their infant son began to arrive.
"I was in so much pain, I literally just fell on the floor and I went into the fetal position," Stevens said.
The couple believe their baby was originally turned face-up toward the mother's abdomen, a commonly painful labor condition.
"She failed us miserably," Ashley Stevens said.
She believes the midwife could have potentially helped ease her physical discomfort while also providing emotional support and reassurance as labor progressed.
As the infant appeared, the child's father noticed some problems.
"When he started to come out, the (umbilical) cord was wrapped around his neck," Chris Stevens said.
Even more troubling, the couple say the infant did not immediately start breathing.
"For probably 30 to 45 seconds, he didn't take a breath," Chris Stevens said.
The couple said it was a terrifying feeling.
"I thought I delivered a stillborn," Ashley Stevens said. "I was pretty sure he was just gone."
Fortunately, Chris Stevens is a local firefighter and paramedic who is trained to handle medical emergencies.
"If I had a different job, I don't know if I can say he would be alive today," Chris Stevens said.
He used stimulation techniques to encourage his son to begin breathing.
"Because (the midwife) wasn't here to do her job, thankfully by the grace of God I was here and I was able to do what I needed to do so he would be here today," the father said.
Stevens later learned Florida Department of Health rules require midwives to have oxygen and a sterile obstetrical pack ready for use at delivery.
Midwives are also responsible for monitoring the mother's blood pressure during labor, checking fetal heart tones, and identifying risk factors that may require a physician to be consulted or the mother transported to the hospital.
"Even though I've delivered a baby before, there are situations that I haven't seen. And the midwife is supposed to catch that," Chris Stevens said.
The paramedic recommends that any parents opting for a home birth should have some basic medical training.
"If, God forbid, they don't show up, at least know basic CPR," he said.
Midwife arrives more than an hour after delivery, couple claims
More than an hour after Silas Stevens was born, the midwife finally arrived at their home, the couple claim.
"It was awkward," Chris Stevens said. "I think she did have a brief apology. But she just acted like it didn't happen."
"She kind of laughed it off," added Ashley Stevens. "She said, 'Chris, I knew you were going to deliver this baby.'"
According to the couple, the midwife did not explain her whereabouts over the previous eight hours.
"She never said she was with another patient," Ashley Stevens said. "She never said she had an appointment. The only excuse is that she got pulled over."
According to the couple, the midwife claimed she was stopped by law enforcement personnel en route to their home.
Bach did not respond to emails from News 6 asking her to confirm the couple's account and, if true, inquiring which specific police agency conducted the traffic stop and where it occurred.
A News 6 review of court records in Marion and Alachua counties do not reveal any traffic citations issued to Bach on the date of the infant's birth.
Following the child's birth, the couple said the midwife returned to their home for only two of six scheduled postnatal checkups.
Then the midwife vanished again, they claim.
"She ignored our phone calls. She ignored our text messages," Ashley Stevens said.
Parents file state complaint
Financial records provided to News 6 by the Stevens' indicate they paid the midwife $1,800 prior to their son's birth.
The couple said they expected Bach would collect the remainder of her undisclosed fee from their health insurance provider.
According to the couple, the money they gave the midwife was supposed to be applied to their insurance deductible.
After their son was born, the Stevenses claim they were notified that Bach never billed the insurance provider and the money they gave her was not credited to their deductible.
"It was like we never paid her," Chris Stevens said.
As a result, the couple claim they had additional out-of-pocket expenses to cover their deductible when they took their son to the hospital for treatment for severe jaundice.
Feeling misled by the midwife, the Stevenses said they filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Health.
"Per (Florida statute), the department can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint until 10 days after a finding of probable cause," a Florida Department of Health spokesperson told News 6 in response to questions about Bach.
Bach has been the subject of no prior public administrative complaints or discipline, according to the agency's website.
In May, Ashley Stevens received a letter from a Department of Health investigator asking her to formally request copies of her patient records from Bach.
Under state rules, midwives must retain patient records for a minimum of five years or provide patients with an address and phone number of where such records can be retrieved should the midwife relocate or terminate practice.
Ashley Stevens said all letters mailed to Bach have been returned by the post office and marked as undeliverable.
According to Bach's licensing information posted on the Department of Health website, her address of record is at a commercial location on Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala.
However, News 6 discovered that property now houses a children's clothing store.
The Department of Health provided News 6 with a secondary address for Bach, but court records show she vacated that residential property more than a year ago after the landlord filed an eviction complaint.
Midwives who fail to update the agency with a current address within 60 days face a potential $250 fine, according to a spokesperson.
Bach did not respond to emails from News 6 asking for a current address where former patients can submit requests for records.
"She just doesn't care," Ashley Stevens said. "She didn't care about me. She didn't care about the baby. She didn't care about what happened."
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