Blame and guilt – a mixed methods study of obstetricians' and midwives' experiences and existential considerations after involvement in traumatic childbirth

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Abstract

Introduction.

When complications arise in the delivery room, midwives and obstetricians operate at the interface of life and death, and in rare cases the infant or the mother suffers severe and possibly fatal injuries related to the birth. This descriptive study investigated the numbers and proportions of obstetricians and midwives involved in such traumatic childbirth and explored their experiences with guilt, blame, shame and existential concerns.

Material and methods.

A mixed methods study comprising a national survey of Danish obstetricians and midwives and a qualitative interview study with selected survey participants.

Results.

The response rate was 59% (1237/2098), of which 85% stated that they had been involved in a traumatic childbirth. We formed five categories during the comparative mixed methods analysis: the patient, clinical peers, official complaints, guilt, and existential considerations. Although blame from patients, peers or official authorities was feared (and sometimes experienced), the inner struggles with guilt and existential considerations were dominant. Feelings of guilt were reported by 36–49%, and 50% agreed that the traumatic childbirth had made them think more about the meaning of life. Sixty-five percent felt that they had become a better midwife or doctor due to the traumatic incident.

Conclusions.

The results of this large, exploratory study suggest that obstetricians and midwives struggle with issues of blame, guilt and existential concerns in the aftermath of a traumatic childbirth.

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