BY ANDREW BENNEY
A kind, polite bedside manner is what all patients should receive from their doctor. This is Canada and that is simply expected. When you entrust someone with your health and well-being, quite literally sometimes putting your life in his or her hands, you hope that person would not take advantage of their position by treating you in anything but a dignified and respectful way.
Yet despite this expectation, there are horror stories of mistreatment from all across Canada, which, until recently, have gone unnoticed; stories from mothers of newborn children no less; stories which should never take place in a health-care system such as ours.
Recently, thanks to an investigation by CBC News, Canadian mothers have begun to speak out and bring light to the real problems that women face in delivery rooms and with maternity care at hospitals. Their experiences show the reality of the abuse endured by unknown numbers of patients at the hands of nurses and doctors, and it is truly beyond disgusting.
Women have been victims of non-consensual, painful vaginal examinations, which often left bruises, while others were submitted to abusive and patronizing verbal comments. Then there were others who suffered far worse, such as Marie McMahon who, right after giving birth, had her doctor attempt to manually and forcibly remove her placenta – without enough anesthesia or even her permission.
In a November 2016 CBC news article, Polina Gorodetskaia, who had a child in 2015, said when she expressed uncertainty over the number of cervical exams being performed during her labour, her doctor replied, “If you want to call the shots you may as well not take up a hospital bed.”
With this matter finally garnering media and public attention, it’s time for change.
There has to be more concrete and well-known rules in place about how far doctors can go when a patient is under their care. I understand that during a process as stressful and difficult as childbirth, the attending physicians are doing their best to ensure the safety of the newborn and mother. However, if a woman’s dignity and emotional stability are sometimes the cost of this safety, then new, better methods have to be put in place immediately.
On top of this, the current system for filing formal complaints about hospital service during maternity care must also be amended. Typically, all physician-related complaints involve the patient’s representative informing the chief of staff at the hospital of the grievance, who then follows up with a thorough investigation. This, however, has proven to be an unsatisfactory method for instigating change where it is needed.
With no in-depth research currently being done to track mistreatment during childbirth, mothers deserve a better way to voice their opinion about the care they receive.
CBC reports finding hundreds of complaints about mistreatment experienced when delivering. Alberta and British Columbia alone have tallied up almost 800 complaints between them in the last six years. Yet somehow leaders at health institutions across the country are adamant on remaining ignorant to this blatant problem.
“(The profession’s) systems are rigorous at all levels such that Canadian women can be firmly reassured this is not a concern in Canada. Hospitals have well developed policies to address any specific individual concerns,” John Kingdom, chair of the University of Toronto’s department of obstetrics and gynecology said in a Nov. 7 CBC news article.
Unfortunately, to many mothers this kind of care is not totally unexpected and has even caused cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in women who dealt with especially grievous mistreatment.
Columnist Emma Durand-Wood said in an article for Pregnancy Winnipeg that, “I was enraged but not at all surprised by any of the accounts shared in these articles or on the radio. But, I am really pleased to see the mainstream media start to cover what those who are passionate about good maternity care have known all along: women are often treated terribly – even abusively – during their maternity care.”
The bottom line is that no one should fear going to the hospital, especially not women going through what is one of the most demanding periods of their life. The challenge of childbirth does not need more obstacles for parents to overcome.
If a hospital’s goal is truly to deliver a happy, healthy baby, then it should also be to ensure that the mother who takes the child home is equally as happy and healthy. Unless action is taken against our current broken system, women will continue to be scarred during what should be one of the most beautiful moments of their life.