A new mother enduring excruciating pain, bleeding and bruising from a severe birth injury was dismissed with one short sentence: “you’ve just had a baby”.
It is one of many stories set to be aired at the NSW parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma, sitting in Wagga Wagga on Tuesday.
The committee, which has received 4000 submissions from patients and clinicians around Australia, is examining the effects of birth trauma, which can range from injuries to life-threatening experiences.
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The inquiry was in part triggered by the stories of 30 women who wrote to the Health Care Complaints Commission last year with claims of poor treatment at Wagga Wagga base hospital.
The women variously reported having examinations without informed consent, being abused by staff and having serious symptoms and pain dismissed.
One mother, whose name is suppressed, has told the inquiry she suffered a tear while giving birth at the hospital, but was sent home despite bleeding, bruising and pain.
She soon had to return for corrective surgery and was told doctors had not recognised the severity of the injury, which left her incontinent, according to her written submission to the inquiry.
Her medical records did not reflect her repeated reports of terrible pain, which she said was dismissed as a normal part of childbirth and recovery.
“I will forever live with the mental and physical pain sustained from my birth trauma,” the woman wrote.
“This is unacceptable (in) this day and age, something has to change.”
Another woman said she suffered a severe injury during birth at the hospital in 2020 and spent two days covered in blood and bodily fluids, with no advice on when and how to shower safely.
She was discharged to a smaller rural hospital, where there were no doctors to prescribe strong pain relief, she wrote in a submission.
The woman felt so “unsupported” that she went home, but she and her baby soon returned to Wagga Wagga hospital when the infant started vomiting blood.
Murrumbidgee Local Health District chief executive Jill Ludford apologised to the women who wrote to the complaints commission.
The district had conducted a “resilience assessment” of the hospital’s maternity services and was seeking feedback on a midwifery-led model of care.
Ludford and other health district executives are due to give evidence on Tuesday afternoon.
Australian research has found one in 10 women have reported “obstetric violence”, defined as an abusive or dehumanising birth experience.
Wagga Wagga obstetrician Carl Henman said women fared better with continuous care before, during and after birth from known clinicians.
“Birth trauma — both physical and mental — is bound to occur despite the best efforts of passionate and well-trained medical and midwifery teams,” Henman’s submission said.
“It is my strong belief that many of the instances would be dealt with much better … if women were more frequently afforded the opportunity of genuine continuity of care.”