Why this story matters:
The battle for Polish women's right to proper maternity care is far from over. The next instalment is about to begin.
All that women wish for is a dignified labor, in line with the WHO recommendations -- one they will not have to fear, one that will not leave them traumatized.
In her recent piece published in “Wysokie Obcasy”, Agnieszka Urazińska examines the state of maternity care in Poland and paints a bleak picture. Among many stories, she recalls those of women who did not receive epidural anesthesia, although it is every patient's right. Some doctors still believe that labor "has to hurt".
This happens in spite of regulations -- sometimes because the staff is ignorant of them or chooses to ignore them, other times because doctors have too much on their plates.
“Anesthesiologists are scarce in Poland but, certainly, the hospitals would find employees if they were willing to pay decently. But hospital directors claim they cannot afford to hire extra staff. In some months a hundred children are born at a maternity ward, in others thirty. In the low months it is not worthwhile to have a full time qualified anesthesiologist on staff. In this way health care administration begins to shape the health care system.
Urazińska spoke to an anesthesiologist for her article. "A woman in labor deserves anesthesia whenever she requests it," he told her.
He also recalled a patient who described her childbirth as "the day that destroyed my life". When, in terrible pain, she shouted to the midwives --"Either you ladies help me or you can f… off!", she was told that first she had to prove that her contractions had really started.
In Poland, these are not isolated cases. It comes as no surprise therefore that women are afraid of labor. Hence, many of them choose a caesarean section. As many as 43% percent of Polish women opt for this solution, according to "Medicalization of childbirth in Poland", a recent report prepared by the Foundation for Human Development (which has been fighting for the right to dignified childbirth for years).
This is four times the amount considered to be standard by the World Health Organization. One of the reasons behind it is that epidural anesthesia is available only in 49% of Polish hospitals.
The authors of the report are also alarmed by the amount of induced births. In Poland it is as high as 19%, while the WHO explicitly states that labor should not be induced without a medical reason. Therefore, this proportion should not exceed 10% of all births.
Half of women have their crotch cut without consent, although it is a doctors’ duty to ask permission. Also, the staff has no right to shave the patient’s pubic hair -- unless she consents to it -- which happens in 75% of cases.
"Harmful and outdated procedures are still prevalent in Polish delivery rooms and neonatal units," the report concludes.
Details from the story:
- Epidural anesthesia is available in only 49% of Polish hospitals.
- 19% of births are induced.
- 43% of women choose to undergo caesarean section -- which is one of the highest figures worldwide.