An open letter to the CEO of the SOGC

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An open letter to the CEO of the SOGC

An open letter to the CEO of the SOGC who denies ever having encountered the issue of disrespect and abuse in maternity services:

Jennifer Blake, CEO
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
780 Echo Drive,
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5R7

Re: Canadian women share stories of alleged mistreatment in the delivery room, CBC News, November 7, 2016

Dear Jennifer,

I am writing to you on behalf of the members of Birth Trauma Ontario. Birth Trauma Ontario is a peer resource for mothers who have experienced a traumatic pregnancy, birth or postpartum. About one third of Canadian mothers report that their hospital births were traumatic and about 1 in 10 mothers complete their birthing experience with postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. Research suggests that it is how the mother was treated, rather than any particular emergent event that triggers trauma. In other words, it is the mistreatment of birthing mothers that is responsible for this shocking outcome.

I can assure you that Canadian women are most certainly experiencing mistreatment in the delivery room. But as you are quoted saying, the issues of disrespect and abusive behaviour have not been raised in any of your leadership roles. This speaks to the systemic problem that birthing mothers encounter. No one in leadership will address this pervasive issue.

It’s disingenuous to suggest you’ve never encountered this issue, as it’s been problematic ever since mothers moved into hospitals. Lack of leadership, ‘cya’ policies, lack of transparency, and outright dismissal have stymied any potential move towards improvement.

The core issue resides in the culture of maternity services. Disrespect for the autonomous choices and the dignity of birthing people have allowed this to fester unchecked to the point where we now have therapeutic specialists that work exclusively with mothers-of-trauma. It’s wholly inappropriate for you to suggest this issue has never been raised as the walking wounded pay the price for your arrogance.

Coercion, bullying and threats are used routinely to gain compliance to outdated and dangerous routines. Most of us know of a mother whose obstetrician threatened or did call CPS to ensure the patient acquiesced to the provider’s demands. It’s important for you to acknowledge and address that women do not have autonomous choices when it comes to childbirth. Mothers are still physically forced onto their backs for delivery despite it being understood as obstetrical violence. They are still having their genitals ritually cut open and are still denied food and access to an advocate of their choosing. Mothers are routinely forced into mandatory surgery for suspected macrosomia, isolated oligohydramnios at term, breech presentation, having had previous caesarean surgery and more.This is easily accomplished with the threat of a “dead baby”, something far too many members of Birth Trauma Ontario have experienced.

As CEO of the SOGC, you have the opportunity to take a strong leadership role in beginning an open and transparent investigation into this serious and long-standing issue. Addressing the current culture of maternity services will be a challenging task as re-education in the law of consent and refusal, training in open and non-coercive language, and a better understanding of patient autonomy will require overcoming current attitudes of complacency, denial and superiority.

We cannot wait for another generation to pass as another 1 in 10 mothers enters motherhood with PTSD. We call on you to exercise strong leadership in forging a path towards respectful services with transparency and accountability.

Billie Harrigan
Birth Trauma Ontario

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