A MOTHER whose baby's death contributed to an independent inquiry into Wyre Forest Birth Centre has made a heartfelt plea for health campaigners to understand the agony she has suffered.

As she marks the fourth anniversary of her son, Connor's, stillbirth this month, Claire Shurmer says her pain is greater than ever.

In an exclusive interview with the Shuttle/Times & News, she said she wanted other mothers to bear her experience in mind when demanding the facility be reopened.

"I just want people to know what things can go wrong before they decide whether they're going to a birth centre with no back-up because this is your baby's life you're playing with," she said. "You think it gets easier but it gets harder."

Mrs Shurmer, 33, of Stoney Lane, Kidderminster, was classed as a "low risk" patient when she went into labour with Connor on February 6, 2001.

She had given birth to a healthy daughter, Sophie, six years earlier at Ludlow birth centre and says she experienced an "uneventful" pregnancy with Connor.

She had reported itching all over her hands and stomach, which she had not experienced during her first pregnancy, but claims she was told this was "normal" by her midwife, who gave her cream to soothe it.

It was later found - when she was expecting her two-year-old son, Charlton - that it was a symptom of a condition, called obstetric cholestasis, which can cause premature labour or stillbirths.

It was also discovered, in a vaginal swab taken shortly after Connor's birth, that she was suffering from haematilic strep C, an infection that can harm unborn babies and should be treated with intravenous antibiotics at the onset of labour.

She said: "When my waters broke at 2.20pm, I went to the birth centre to get checked, they did a swab and said 'you're fine, come back in four hours'."

At 9.10am, the following day, she said the trace of Connor's heartbeat "wasn't brilliant" but she was told she was fine to go home.

By 1pm, the pain was "getting too much" and, when she returned to the birth centre, midwives were unable to pick up a heartbeat. An ultrasound scan revealed no foetal heartbeat and she was taken by ambulance, to Worcestershire Royal Hospital, where Connor was stillborn.

Mrs Shurmer believes that if the earlier "dip" in Connor's heartbeat had been referred to consultants at Worcester, her son would be with her today.

She complained to the health council in 2001 and when she consulted a solicitor a year later, negligence was admitted within three months.

The birth centre was closed for deliveries on September 19, 2003 and an independent inquiry was launched in the January after a further five babies died unexpectedly within less than three years.

The inquiry found that only one of the babies had a significant congenital defect - a heart problem - and concluded that failings in the standard of care may have contributed to babies' deaths.

"They paid me compensation in August but that doesn't bring back Connor back," Mrs Shurmer went on.

She added she suffered severe depression after the birth, which caused her to push her loved ones away and led to a period of separation from her husband, Kevin.

"If it wasn't for my friends and family I wouldn't be here today," she said, "because I was very, very poorly."

She said she only became "better" when she discovered she was pregnant with her and Kevin's second son.

"Charlton and Sophie are my towers of strength - they're absolutely brilliant children," she said.

She added she was unable to have any more children but would never go back to Kidderminster, even if she could.

That said, however, she is "not totally against" the reopening of Wyre Forest Birth Centre - as long as the recommendations of the independent inquiry are implemented.