Why parents don’t register a complaint after disrespectful care
Why don’t most new families file a complaint when they’ve received disrespectful, abusive, harmful, coercive, or non-evidence based care?
For many of the same reasons that victims of rape or sexual assault seldom report the crime: re-victimization, not being believed, secondary trauma, no support from family or friends, self-blame, and guilt.
Yet, new parents are also dealing with the realities of life with a newborn: exhaustion, caring for an infant, postpartum recovery, or recovery from major abdominal surgery. These individuals may also dealing with postpartum depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder.
We asked victims/survivors to tell us why they chose not to file a complaint or what happened when they tried. What stands out is that these survivors have been primed to expect retaliation – retaliatory medical treatment, involvement of “authorities” (read: CPS), or poor or abusive care in the future. They also expect that nothing would be done.
There are significant barriers to clients’ concerns being reported and heard. Without appropriate feedback, clinicians, hospitals, and regulatory agencies are at a disadvantage to improving their services. Mistrust on both sides keeps this from becoming an opportunity to change how maternity services are delivered. Clinicians may feel defensive and fearful of litigation. Hospitals and clinics are avoiding the cost of litigation by not acknowledging any abusive treatment. And clients are not only grappling with the realities of parenthood, but may also be dealing with trauma, and a fear of retaliation.
These families need more support. And hospitals and practitioners need more accountability. Both are achievable without creating a punitive environment for either.
Read the words of these parents to gain insight into the hurdles they are facing:
“There wasn’t much point in filing a complaint. In the past when I filed a complaint, the nurse came in and lectured me about why she “had to” do what she did and why I was wrong to feel so upset about it. I knew that if I complained again, the response would be largely the same.”
“They really like to stress that you should meet directly with the midwife responsible and let them explain to you why what they did was “necessary”. If you already feel violated by that person the last thing you want to do is let them near you ever again, let alone listen to them justify their actions.”
“I felt like filing a complaint would limit future health care options, getting labeled as a client/patient that complains (makes care providers lives difficult) and they might conveniently not have room in that practice to offer you care again.”
“I worry about causing a fuss that gives “officials” a reason to delve into my life and upset my relatively happy family life.”
“I didn’t file a complaint because I didn’t want to live through the trauma again, and I didn’t want to be subject to being ripped apart by those trying to cover their asses.”
“The anesthesiologist on call was abusive. My mother stood up to him but it just escalated his behaviour. She mentioned filing a complaint to me and he must have overheard. As I was being taken into the operating room he leaned over and quietly said ‘I’m sorry for what happened but if you file a complaint nothing is going to happen’.”
“No support. I kept hearing ‘good luck finding a doctor if you report this one – no one is going to want to take you into their practice ‘.”
“I spent the time to submit a complaint about their care in writing. I was pretty detailed in it. The only response I got was ‘thanks for telling us about your care with us, best of luck to you and your family’.”
“Health issues – each time I’d start researching what to do something would happen to either me or the baby. My c-section site infected and then not healing properly. Baby developed allergies at 3 months old and was in constant pain. I’m struggling with my physical and mental health after having my baby – I’m struggling to function, stand or walk some days.”
“The societal view that anything the healthcare provider does is absolutely required or death will result is pervasive and ridiculous, very few will even entertain the idea that it’s entirely possible for a care provider to choose to violate a woman’s rights just so they don’t have to explain incomplete paperwork.”
“Fear that I would be mocked, belittled upon filing or that the doctor may do something to make me suffer more – I refuse to name him unless I’m talking to friends or family for fear that he will charge me with slandering or something.”
“I’ve heard from another mom that the disciplinary actions are often times a “joke” and that there’s barely a smack on the wrist for the wrong doings.”
“Trauma – each time I tell the story I end up suffering for a week.”
“I filed complaints and it did F*CK. ALL. Let that sink in.”
“I am terrified to be told I am being ridiculous/stupid/dramatic fill in the blank.”
“Thinking about the trauma exacerbates symptoms of PTSD. So you want to make a complaint but also hate that a complaint requires thinking about it in that much detail.”
“I had no evidence because my medical files do not reflect what happened to me or the conversations I had with the medical professionals involved in my daughter’s birth. I saw no point in going through the difficulty of filing a complaint when, from what I gathered, there was little point in pursing it, as I had little hope of my complaint making a difference.”
“I didn’t file a complaint after the birth as I was in denial and dealing with ppd. I didn’t get up the courage to make a complaint until a couple years later but got no response.”
“I didn’t want to write out the details to a professional organization only to have them invalidated even as those details changed me and haunted me.”
“My biggest fear was having to face the person who traumatized me, I was promised they would not be in our meeting. I was afraid they would have a different account or excuse what happened because of hospital policy.”
“Also, what they had charted was not the same as what I or my support people experienced/witnessed. So it’s hard to argue with the charts when they lie in them.”
“I didn’t file a complaint because it took me a few years to figure out exactly what all went wrong in my birth and why I felt so traumatized.”
“I didn’t file a complaint for my first traumatic birth because I had ppd and it took me until my next pregnancy to realize it, and I feared retaliation if I needed to go to te hospital for help with my current pregnancy.”