Updated: Apr 16, 2022
Have you had a negative experience in a hospital or with a doctor, nurse or midwife? Maybe you just had that one thing that you wish they hadn't done. Or maybe your entire experience was traumatic. You are not alone and it's more common than you think.
The most recent estimates say that 45% of births every year are traumatic. And most birth trauma survivors state that the reason for their trauma was the way that they were treated. In other words, in most cases it was completely avoidable!
I noticed that once I became pregnant and was seeing doctors who specialized in pregnancy, I wasn't treated as well as before I was pregnant. I was often dismissed, treated like a child and not given information I was asking for. I felt like I was on a need to know basis, and apparently didn't need to know. At first I was confused, aren't pregnant people supposed to be treated like royalty? That's what our culture teaches. Not true in the medical system. I realized fairly quickly that this was a common experience but most people dismiss it as a fluke.
The hospital was much worse. I had been in a hospital before and so I knew what to expect, but the maternity unit is a whole other world. Despite being extremely nice to everyone I interacted with, and for the most part, compliant with what they were recommending I do, I was treated worse than an animal. People were rude to me and unprofessional, scolded me, threatened me and denied me care, even emergent care. I was laughed at while I suffered and told my birth was "normal". It then occurred to me that they do this to people every day.
What Can I Do About It?
There have been many calls for change within the maternity care system. The response from the system has traditionally been "no one has complained about that so we don't see a reason to change anything".
When you write a complaint letter you accomplish multiple things:
Your complaint, thought it may not be in the public domain, will forever remain on their record. If enough people complain eventually something will be done.
It will help you to heal from your experience and move on. After my traumatic birth I was very confused and there was a lot that I did not understand. Going through the process that I went through when I wrote my letter, helped me to bring clarity to my experience and to process what had happened.
You may even change things for the next person. For hospitals, their reputation is very important to them. Their goal is to have as few complaints against them as possible, and they can only do this by addressing current complaints and avoiding them from happening again.
Who Do I Complain To?
You can complain directly to the hospital or health authority. If a doctor is involved you can complain to their regulatory body or medical board. For a nurse or midwife they usually have their own regulatory body or medical board. If it is a doula you want to complain about, you can find out what associations they are a member of and complain to them. Most of the organizations that deal with complaints also have a higher level you can go to if you are unsatisfied with the outcome. You can also complain to your local ombudsperson or a higher level of government, such as the ministry of health or your local elected official.
Will It Actually Make A Difference?
You have a lot more power than you think you do. What you have to say is valid and important. Share your story, it makes your complaint even more compelling. The patient experience is extremely important to the people you are making your complaint to. Be matter of fact in your writing, don't give them any reason to doubt you, and even include evidence to back it up if you have it. Believe in yourself and don't let anyone tell you it was nothing or dismiss your experience.