HEAVILY pregnant women fear they will find themselves giving birth in their homes or on the side of the road if Castlemaine Health further suspends birthing services.
Expectant mothers, GP obstetricians and community members gathered outside the hospital yesterday to send a message: "We can't wait six months."
The health service is considering further suspending birthing services as it transitions to a new model of maternity care.
Services were suspended in May to allow for a review, the outcome of which is expected to be decided on Monday.
"The reviewers advised that it would present an unacceptable risk to reopen the service until the critical recommendations are addressed," Castlemaine Health said on Thursday.
It had previously suggested services might resume from July 1.
First-time mum Katie Dircks is due to give birth on Monday.
She had hoped she might still be able to give birth in her place of choice if the baby came late.
Ms Dircks lives close enough to the hospital to have considered walking there. Now, she is faced with having to travel to give birth without a team she felt had really well supported her.
"It was pretty devastating to find out that we had to go to Bendigo," Ms Dircks said.
"It's been really disappointing as well, just the communication. We found out we had our birth plans completely changed by a Facebook post, and weeks later received a sort of pro forma letter from Castlemaine saying, 'We're terribly sorry.'"
She wasn't the only pregnant woman at the rally to say they found out about the suspension of services via social media.
"It's really frustrating they're insisting it's about making sure women are well cared for and supported because I have to say the care and support we have received through Castlemaine has been exceptional and we were really looking forward to birthing here," Ms Dircks said.
"It's going to be a very different experience, the birth I am going to have at Bendigo as opposed to what it would have been here, where I would have felt supported by people who are part of my community and by staff I have met."
Newstead mum Danielle Brain planned to have her third child at Castlemaine, just like her previous two.
Left with no choice but to travel elsewhere, unless birthing services resumed, Ms Brain said would probably have her baby at home.
"My last child, my second stage of labour was 10 minutes," Ms Brain said.
She faced almost an hour's drive to get to Bendigo Hospital.
Ms Brain said: "It's kind of one of those scary situations, like... three car seats in the back of the car, I can't really lay down in the back of the car to birth a baby on the way to Bendigo Hospital, so do I just stay at home and call the ambulance to come and assist and then they can take me after the baby?"
If her partner were to drive her to hospital, they would have to wait on someone to care for their other two children before heading off.
"The baby could be well and truly out before I even leave home," Ms Brain said.
She said she was nervous about her options, if Castlemaine Health's birthing services weren't open more than a month from now.
Laura Sing gave birth to her eldest child in Castlemaine two years ago.
"It was a really successful birth and I want to do it again," she said.
"I'm due shortly, so if they don't reopen now, I won't be able to have that option."
Ms Sing was afraid Castlemaine Health's maternity services would not reopen if they were suspended for six more months.
"So I just want it to open straight away," she said.
GP obstetricians Dr Veronica Moule and Dr Frankie Harkin called on the health service's board and executive to consult with stakeholders before making such a pivotal decision.
They wanted the suspension lifted, they wanted GP obstetricians to be involved in transitioning to the new model of care, and they wanted an articulated plan of what was going to happen, how and when.
Responding to Castlemaine Health's latest statement, Dr Moule said: "It would be good for them to explain what they mean by risk."
"We manage a low-risk cohort of women and our statistics show that we do it safely."
She said it was "extraordinary how little communication we've had from all of the executive and the board."
"It's actually been almost absent," Dr Moule said.
Community group Support Birthing at Castlemaine Health called on the board to give its full support to the midwives and doctors, who had expressed their commitment and dedication to meet all requirements and recommendations of the review.
"As a community, we demand the Castlemaine Health board of management and the CEO act in accordance with their stated intentions to ensure the continuation of birthing services," the group said.
"We seek the immediate return of birthing services at Castlemaine, as optioned in the review, with an active investment and prioritisation from management into transitioning to a new model of care, as recommended by both reviews of 2017 and 2020."
Castlemaine Health was contacted for further comment. The Bendigo Advertiser also attempted to reach Member for Bendigo West, Maree Edwards.