What are my rights?
Pregnancy, birth and postpartum are highly complex periods in a woman's life, with many moving parts that she can't always control. However, one thing she should be able to rely on is the unconditional support of her maternity care team.
Pregnant women have the same rights to bodily autonomy and informed decision making as any other person. Babies don't have their own rights until they are born alive. So, the decisions for the baby are to be made by the mother.
No one is more physically and emotionally invested in a baby's safe arrival than the mother. No one else is literally risking their future health prospects to ensure the best outcome for the baby.
Read more on your rights to respectful maternity care.
How do things go wrong?
However, in the complexity of our medico-legal maternity care system, protection of a mother's rights to informed decision making and bodily autonomy can be forgotten in favour of hospital policies and practices. While policies and practices are helpful for ensuring the running of the service, they aren't always in the best interests of individual women and their babies.
As a result, some women reluctantly undergo treatments or procedures that they do not want or feel unsure about. Sadly, they can live to regret this. Other women may be seeking care options that are withheld from them, leading to outcomes they didn't want either.
This is not how maternity care should be delivered. We all have the right to informed decision making and evidence based care.
What can I do about it?
Fortunately there are ways to complain so you get the care you want (if you're pregnant), or have the opportunity to have the system changed so it doesn't happen again (after birth).
Change is possible, but only if we speak up.
There are lots of ways to make complaints, but we've put together some simple steps for you to follow, depending on the state you're in (see below).
Sophie is pregnant with her first child. She has had a normal, healthy pregnancy but now at 36 weeks she has been told her baby is measuring larger than normal. She is booked in to birth at her local public hospital under the care of a team of midwives, which is overseen by obstetricians if necessary (the standard of maternity care in Australia). The midwife has told her an early induction would be best so she can avoid delivering a “big” baby, especially as a first time mum.... Read more.
Jessica is at the hospital, in early labour with her second child. Unfortunately her labour has stalled due to the journey from home to the hospital, then the long walk along brightly lit corridors to finally arrive in the birthing room. After an hour or so of quietness, Jessica is finally starting to go back into active labour again, but a midwife enters the room and expresses concern that she is not progressing “as she should”... Read more.
Lilly attended her hospital in labour at 41 weeks with her first child, and as she was unaware of her rights and the hospital made their recommendations sound like legal requirements, she agreed to their interventions, which unfortunately led to an unplanned caesarean section. In the difficult weeks and months after her baby’s birth, recovering from the operation and trying to establish breastfeeding and motherhood, she starts to reflect on her experience... Read more.