Friday, June 03, 2016

Eating Our Young, Chewing on Each Other – Call It What It Is

This is not an evidence-based research blog entry.  Today, I am writing some personal reflections.  And while I know it may not be as riveting as an article about pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding, in a way – it is about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

All too frequently these days I hear stories of maternity care professionals….. PROFESSIONALS…..berating younger professionals, and humiliating peers.  Hey, let’s be clear. It’s all bullying.  Yes, BULLYING.  Call it what it is.  It is being cruel in order to really hurt someone.

And also, let me define maternity care professionals.  They are doctors, nurses, childbirth educators, doulas, lactation professionals  - basically anyone who provides any type of service
to childbearing families.

Let’s break this down.  You work in maternity care.  By definition, you are welcoming a new human being to the planet.  You are assisting in a miracle.  When we work in maternity care and spend a lot of time harassing or bullying another co-worker, you are taking time and brain power away from the work we are called to do.  This interferes with care.

Another way to look at it.  You are a professional.  Does cruelty to a peer or bullying sound like professional behavior?  No?  Then just stop it.

If a younger maternity care professional cannot perform, ask yourself if their orientation was enough for them.  It may have been the standard orientation, but all humans are not created equal so this younger person may need more nurturing and mentoring.

If a peer seems distracted or not as on-point as usual, instead of swinging immediately into attack mode, perhaps come along side of them and find out if there is another reason for the behavior.  Let them know gently that they have lost their edge and may need to step back and reevaluate.  Be ready to give them sources of support – even you.

Bullying can be vertical (where a manager bullies someone under his/her supervision) or horizontal (where maternity care professionals  bully their colleagues).

And basically if you are a bully, you don’t need to be in the maternity care field.  For that matter, why are you in health care?

The American Nurses Association reports that between 18-31% of all nurses have encountered bullying in the workplace.  And there may be more who have not reported.

Jennifer Larson, contributor to says, “Like schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying involves a real or perceived imbalance of power and repetition of the negative behavior.  The behavior can be over, such as yelling or threatening, or it can be more insidious and passive, like refusing to cooperate or perform necessary tasks.”  She goes on to note, “Bullying can also result in harm to patients.  In a 2008 Sentinel Alert that addressed disruptive behavior. The Joint Commission noted that “intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors and (lead) to preventable adverse outcomes.”

Additionally, in 2009, The Joint Commission began requiring that organizations establish a code of conduct that defines and distinguishes acceptable and unacceptable behaviors to maintain their accreditation. This was too little too late for many.

But what if you are an independent childbirth educator or doula or other birth professional.  Think you are exempt from bullying? Far from it.  However, be aware of the Grievance Policies that are in place in the various certifying organizations.  You may be pleased to find that international and national organizations have very little patience with true bullying.

The final question may be: what do I do if I am being bullied by someone not affiliated with a hospital or organization with a grievance policy.  Here are five steps that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Don’t react to them.  This is so very difficult but if you do react, you give them fuel to keep going.
  2. Have 1-2 people in the “business” in whom you can confidentially confide.  
  3. Be aware of your behavior.  Again, don’t give them something to use against you.
  4. Give it time.  Lots of time. If you don’t react, they’ll lose interest.  This is often easier said than done.
  5. Find delight in karma.

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