What to Do if You are Unhappy with Your Hospital Experience.
Many birthing people have experiences that range from neglectful to outright abusive.
What can you do if you’ve been treated unjustly during your hospital stay or homebirth?
- Report wrongdoings to the medical board, which can be found by googling “reporting to medical board (your state)” see also: Federation of State Medical Boards
- Report homebirth midwives to whichever regulatory board certifies their license (ie, CNM vs. CPM).
- Describe your experience to a patient advocate or ethics board at the hospital where you gave birth. This information can be found on a hospital’s website.
- Speak openly about your experience to others
- Pursue a civil case in court (ie, sue your provider)
First, an explanation of why you probably can’t “sue,” even though we know you want to:
- Many quickly learn our society does not provide for effective legal action against a perceived abusive provider or hospital unless there was serious long-term physical harm done to the child during the course of the medical care.
- It is challenging to find a lawyer with the resources to face-down hospitals, which have seemingly endless financial resources.
- “Medical Malpractice” is measured by the community standard of care. This is defined as the actions any reasonable practitioner in that community would be reasonably expected to do. Because non-evidence and physician-centered care are standard of care in the U.S. Maternity Care System, most of what most people experience during childbirth is not considered malpractice.
- Even though the scientific literature increasingly identifies serious and definable emotional and mental damage caused by traumatic birth (eg. PTSD), there has yet to be any significant number of judgments won for damages of this sort and most women do not seek care that would diagnose these types of injury.
The internet has made possible a network of information sources about physicians and hospitals that was impossible just a few years ago. As pregnant people are more able to research their options, they will choose to “vote with their feet”, refusing to give their business to hospitals with poor reputations and reviews.
This is the power of ICAN. Our peer-to-peer network allows you to connect with other pregnant and birthing people in your area to openly and honestly discuss the level of care and standard of treatment you received with providers and hospitals in your area.
Often, reporting to a medical board or the hospital’s ethics board is a retraumatizing and unsatisfying experience. Hospitals are likely to disregard serious emotional implications of birth trauma and deny any responsibility.
- Explain your experience on the ICAN facebook groups.
- Send copies of letters to the ICAN Advocacy Director at Advocacy@ican-online.org and indicate if you would be willing to speak with the media. We are often contacted by members of the media looking for women with a story to tell.
Ultimately, each of us will need to do our part to be part of a bigger change. Filing complaints is an important part of making change happen.
When filing a complaint, either to the medical board or the hospital, a few steps you may consider taking:
- Write your birth story as you remember it
- Obtain your medical records
- Write a detailed explanation of why your care was sub-par, being specific about timelines and details of care (ie, names of nurses, medication amounts, any direct quotes you can remember)
- Gather any witness statements, which can also include how you told your story to loved ones or therapists shortly after giving birth
- Be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s unlikely that the hospital will award you any money or fire anyone, but you might be able to get your bill reduced.
- Prepare emotionally: the hospital might ask you to tell you story in-person, which can be retraumatizing especially if they respond by disregarding your experiences. Write down what you want to say (it’s a high-pressure situation!) and keep your expectations low. Don’t expect apologies.
Reach out to ICAN groups for support, advice, and more advocacy training.