Recovering from a traumatic birth

Beverley Lawrence Beech

_AIMS Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2007, page 25

(Traduction en français : Se rétablir après un accouchement traumatisant)

One of the first reactions from women who have had traumatic births is ‘why me?', ‘why could I not give birth without all those interventions?' ‘I had an awful time and it must be my fault'. Often, the staff involved re-inforce those views by telling the women that their cervix was incompetent or ‘they failed to progress' or the most insulting of all - ‘they had unrealistic expectations'. In other words, what happened is the woman's fault, she should be grateful she has a healthy baby and she should stop going on about it.

This journal highlights the different ways women deal with their traumatic births but some women slowly realise that the reason they had a lousy time was a direct result of the over-medicalised management of their labours and the way they were treated by the staff involved in there care.

Some women feel that they will not recover fully until they understand what has happened to them and some women want to do something to ensure that it never happens to another woman ever again. So they decide to complain about the care.

The hurdles that are placed before them are immense. A convoluted complaints system, a collection of organisations established to ensure that the complaint never goes any further. Women are often offered pseudo-apologies, incomplete responses, printed signatures and the general tone and language used is often defensive and sometimes intimidating. Little is said about addressing the sub-standard care that was evident when the case notes were examined and women are often left in limbo.

Not every woman wants to complain and some women delay their complaints until they feel emotionally strong enough to deal with the responses and the tortuous, and often prolonged, procedures.

Some women make a complaint utterly confident that the staff will acknowledge the dreadful care they had and they can be deeply shocked and even more distressed when the response fails to acknowledge the truth of their compliant and makes a platitudinous comment along the lines of, ‘we are sorry if you feel that the standard of care fell below your expectations'. In other words it is your fault for expecting good care.

Making a formal complaint is one way of dealing with the trauma and really understanding what happened and why. It is not for everybody but if you decide to make a formal complaint about your care there are some principles that should be considered:

  • Get a copy of your case notes before you put pen to paper
  • Always put your complaint in writing.
  • Try to limit the complaint to a maximum of 4 pages
  • Write to the top - the Chief Executive
  • Contact _AIMS if you are not sure about what to do next and send _AIMS a copy so that they can monitor the quality of care.
  • If you are not happy with the response consider taking it further (to the Ombudsman, for example).
  • If you are not satisfied you can put the letter aside and try and forget about it or you can write and point out the error of their ways. By doing this your letter will be the last letter on the file and if they have claimed that ‘no one has ever complained about xxx before' you will be able to point out that they will never be able to say that again.
  • Write an article about your experience and ask _AIMS to consider publishing it, or send it to your local newspaper.

You do not have to rush into making a complaint, some women can take over a year or two before they feel able formally to complain, but be prepared for a response that may be far less than satisfactory. Some women can be further traumatised by the expectation of an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of their complaint when they see that subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, they are being further blamed for what happened.

Every woman has to take what she feels is the best course for her, and supporting that decision is fundamental to the way in which _AIMS responds to appeals for help. At the end of the day silence changes nothing and even if there appears to be little change very often the staff do take action, but don't want to let you know that.

On my office wall there is a poem:

> First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
> Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist.
> Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist.
> Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

> Pastor Niemoeller (who died in a concentration camp)

Beverley Lawrence Beech