Birth Rape, revisited

Previously, I wrote about “birth rape” and mentioned an article in the UK. Recently, I commented on a med student’s blog, in which the author discusses this from his/her perspective. It’s an interesting read, and it’s always good to get other people’s perspective on it; but the reason I’m linking to it now is for the person who commented after me. She tells a horrific tale of birth rape, beginning with an induction which she feels was unnecessary. (She was told her placenta was failing and her babies were in “immediate danger of dying,” but her records indicate no such life-threatening diagnosis.)

I will comment, though, on her comment about Australia having a 66% “surgical birth” rate. It’s possible that an episiotomy is considered a form of “surgical birth” since it is an incision made with surgical instruments. One article from 2006 stated that the 2004 Australian C-section rate was 29% at the time. I doubt it has doubled in the last four years. It’s possible the woman commenting made a typo, but more likely she’s including episiotomies in this rate.

Stories like this are uncommon, but they should be non-existent. Be informed.

14 Responses

  1. No Dear, I am directly grouping c/s and FORCEPS/Vaccum assisted surgical birth. Thanks for your interest. If you doubt me, look it up. Evie.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. When I see the term “surgical birth” I assume a C-section, and thought that others might as well. I was unclear whether an assisted birth is considered “surgical” or not. I thought it highly likely that Australia’s C-section rate may easily have gone up to 33% or 36% (hence the “typo” possibility), but wasn’t sure if instrument-assisted births were considered “surgery” in Australia. Thanks again for the clarification — I’m always ready to learn.

  3. Dear Kathy, (and friends I’m sure) I do not want to seem harsh or short. This all happened in early ’07, and is very raw. Writing out my birth story was like putting together a puzzle – fractured pieces everywhere. I had to write down individual incidents, and then timeline them. Thank you very much for the use of “horrific” as this is a word my husband and I use ourselves. I was very afraid that my story would meet with disbelief and ridicule, and it took over a year of reading posts from others about their own experiences to bolster my courage and begin telling my story in public. Unfortunately, what you – and others now- have read is not the entire incident.

    I’d like to encourage other women to seek counseling. It took a while to get the story out, but my therapist was sufficiently shocked, and that in itself is validating. She is helping my husband and I to work through what has almost ripped apart our family.

    I am also seeking legal advice, as the best way to keep incidents like these from happening is to involve a judge. This particular OB has had many complaints filed against him, to no avail.

    Stay safe Ladies. Information=Power

  4. Quite understandable!

    It was precisely this fear of “disbelief” that lead me to write what I did — I didn’t want anybody to question the accuracy of what happened to you simply because they couldn’t believe that Australia would have a 66% C-section rate (which is what I figured most people would assume when reading 66% surgical birth rate).

    If you would like to post the entire incident, you can do a guest-post by emailing it to me at kathy_petersen_283 @ yahoo . com (remove spaces, of course) and I will post it for you. My goal would be to educate women to know what happened, what they can do to avoid this (perhaps the doctor’s or midwife’s attitude leading up to the birth that, in retrospect, showed you their true colors), and also to provide support to other women who went through experiences like this — to let them know that they are not alone, that they don’t have to suffer in silence, and anything else they can or should do — such as your suggestions for seeking counseling.

    I’ve not had this type of experience, so look to others who have for better information about what to do. You may also find it beneficial — therapeutic, even — to write your entire story and submit it to magazines (those that deal with pregnancy, midwifery, or women’s issues may be most interested). Some people may not believe these stories simply because they aren’t being told. Adding your story to the growing list of other women’s stories will have a cumulative effect — like the bundle of sticks not being able to be broken, even though each individual stick can be easily snapped.

  5. Just a continuance on the “surgical birth” rate subject. The statistics for Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2006 have arrived. I birthed in a private hospital with a private OB. Such a mistake! I thought having an OB was a safety net until my family became tangled in it. The stats clearly state that some private hospitals have a 60+% c-section rate, then just add in forceps and vaccum! The argument from the Oh-Geez is that private health coverage is utilized by higher risk mothers more likely to need a c/s. The statistics do not support THAT though. Australia- Good on Yah!- is currently conducting a review of maternity services, and God willing will incorporate more midwives into mainstream services who have authority to attend births as more than just hospital lackeys.

  6. Well, anyone who can’t find a VBAC provider and who is considering travel for medical purposes outside the continental US might be interested to know that we do have independent midwives here legally available for HBAC, who will also attend hospital VBACs and act as very vocal advocates. The downside is that they are expensive, around $5000 AUD out of pocket, and the service is not reimbursed by Medicare (universal healthcare). It would make a great article that medical tourism has now extended to include availability of primary midwifery care. As someone who now knows better, I sure wouldn’t be moving out of AU while pregnant, unless it was to the Netherlands, next door to Ina May Gaskin, or within an easy drive to Mardsen Wagner’s office.

    According to 2005 Australian Mothers and Babies data, if I’m remembering correctly, there were zero maternal and baby deaths for those who had a planned homebirth. I can’t quote for 2006 stats in this area though.

    I can say that the leading cause of death for babies ’05 was congenital defects, the second was intrapartum asphyxiation, followed by maternal complications. Not great odds for hospital birth in general. I guess you actually have to MONITOR the CTG for it to be of any use.

  7. But, that would mean less birth assault & battery (sexual as it’s still a vagina even if there’s a baby hanging halfway out), because most problems can be very simply managed – no limit on labor time, proper positioning, and no unnecessary interventions!

    As anyone who has ever observed bully behavior will tell you, bullies “get off” on hurting others. If there’s a component of this picture that many are in denial about, it’s the fact that your provider, male or female, may “get off” on you and/or your baby’s obvious pain and discomfort, while still being able to maintain their status. Saying “no” and standing up to a bully usually ends badly for the weaker party, with the bully inflicting even more damage than usual in a sadistic effort to convince themselves, their cronies, and their victim of their superiority.

    Who could possible be more vulnerable than a pregnant woman in the throes of labor, and her unborn/newborn baby. What an opportunity for a sadist, who is payed overly well for the physical and emotional damage that was inflicted, and possibly even lauded for it by colleagues for dealing with such a “difficult” meaning non-consensual case?

    Ethical providers need to keep stepping up and speaking out against these kinds of atrocities. Enforcement of current legislation would also be a plus.

    Women should seriously consider going through with making that complaint. Families could be unified in dealing with the dregs of the traumas, and seek help for PND and PTSD instead of blaming the mother for not being able to get over it and possibly parting ways. Don’t trust me on this, ’cause I’m just another internet message poster, but even though writing that complaint was almost as bad as living through it again, and sending it in has me worried that the whole family is red flagged in the system, and getting getting over being worried that even my shrink wouldn’t support me took a few sessions, it’s gotten better. My husband is more supportive, my family is more understanding, and I’m proud of sticking up for us. I’m not going to be looking back later in life and wishing that I had made a complaint, got therapy, used this massive mess as an opportunity for growth – and found a way to not only alert officials to what happened, but maybe convince someone else to just take a look at evidence based practice before they become another percentage point in the rising c/s rate, or another survivor of provider assault & battery on their most intimate bits and their babies.

  8. I’m going to be posting soon asking for bad birth stories. It was women in the 60s and 70s that finally said “NO MORE” to the standard hospital practices of the time (enemas, pubic shaves, separation from family & husband, strapped down to the bed, general anesthesia, forceps, episiotomies, etc.) that got them changed. It was them going public with their bad birth stories that put pressure on hospitals to change and become more “home like” and more patient-oriented. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I think that having women who have gone through traumatic births (specifically ones in which the “care” providers provided anything *but* care) speak up about their stories will help embolden other women who were similarly traumatized find the courage to tell their stories. When women are not believed, they remain silent out of fear and shame. When victims are silent, the perpetrators become emboldened. On 20 Dec, I wrote a post about a woman who is suing a doctor for mistreatment during birth; on 26 Dec, I put the link to the actual court document. If you haven’t read these posts and the linked stories and documents, you may be interested in them. Some of the stories I’ve read about this lawsuit have comments about the woman, basically saying, “What’s the big deal? You’re alive and the baby’s alive — get over it!” Stuff like that infuriates me. Like telling a rape victim she should just be happy she’s alive. I don’t know what I can do, except help spread the word about stories like this (maybe I’ll write an article and submit it to mainstream American women’s magazines), so that women will be aware that things like this can and do happen, and put pressure on hospitals and hospital staff to keep this sort of thing from happening.

    Some months ago, I came across a blog written by a nurse who just started in L&D. In one post, she said that several women had remarked that she did gentle vaginal exams. Her gentleness was because she was unsure of herself and “new at the job” and didn’t want the women to be hurt. But she got so many comments (which I would have taken as compliments) that she decided she needed to toughen up and try to be brusque like all the other nurses and the doctors. I’m not sure why — maybe so she wouldn’t be so “obviously” a new nurse? maybe so she would fit in with the others? But it was just very sad to me that she would feel it necessary to no longer give gentle vaginal exams! Rather, L&D nurses should be taught that “gentle is best”! Instead, they have the greater tendency to become brusque and unfeeling, for no good reason.

  9. Maybe she equated “gentle” with “enjoyable”. Maybe she didn’t like discussing VE’s with the women she was doing them on as it was just too human. Maybe she was corrupted by the “childbirth is supposed to be painful because of Eve & the serpent” crud, and epidurals wear off, but c/s, episiotomies, and bad memories don’t. Maybe it was peer pressure to quit making the other VE-ers look bad with her superior technique.

    Whatever her reasons, this could be seen as a failure of the medical profession to support and properly train practitioners. If an L&D nurse thinks it’s a bad thing to be gentle with the mother, then what about the baby? Just watch “How Not to Wash a Baby” to get the hospital perspective on respecting infants, and look at unnecessary intervention rates to determine their take on the rights to bodily autonomy for both mothers and babies.

    As someone with biases based on personal experience, these people are not good for the public. Negative outcomes due to preventable factors are rising. Legislation governing consensual care is not being honored or enforced. Lawsuits, criminal proceedings, and complaints are not likely to be taken seriously if someone is not dead or seriously impaired.

    Personally, I think these instances happen more often than not. Some women are too drugged to remember what happened and take “We saved your life!” at face value, women who protest non-consensual contact are often too abused to raise the issue, and women who do raise the issue are all too often blown-off or even attacked for coming forward.

    It’s really telling that more energy goes into PETA protests than issues dealing with birthing rights. I’ll hazard a guess and say that it’s because birth is inherently sexual and people are uncomfortable discussing it. Also, we don’t hear about activists going into hospitals and disconnecting all of the pit. drips, or staging sit-ins on hospital induction days. I’ll hazard another guess and say that if people knew the reason they, their family member, or their friend had to wait 4 hours in the emergency room was because the OR’s were full of women having non-medically indicated cesareans, maybe this issue would grow some more teeth. If Pro-lifers looked upon infant death by non-indicated medical intrusion through drugs (fetal death by distress/hypoxia) or incision (immature lungs=asphyxiation) as another type of term abortion, we’d be getting somewhere.

    Until then, to everyone who is discussing these issues, even if you disagree and believe that it just doesn’t happen, would this type of treatment (rape/abuse/assault/battery during birth) be good enough for your lovely daughters? Or good enough for your possibly irritating daughter-in-law? Or you?

  10. Well said!

  11. On the induction of labor for twins issue that begat my webposting; it was due to the intentional misrepresentation of statistical risk! The female in question said that all meaning 100% of twins die from placental failure at 39 weeks. I said I couldn’t find any material to support that “fact”, but plenty to dispute it. She said to me, and I quote, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

    Well, I found a study, on the internet, that any family expecting twins should read.

    “Prospective Risk of Fetal Death in Singleton, Twin, and Triplet Pregnancies: Implications for Practice” B. Kahn, 2003.

    This study reports that at 40 weeks, for twins, there’s a 3.09 per 1000 risk of fetal death from placental failure. This equates to about 1 in 330, or less than 1%. The study goes on to say that twins should probably be delivered at 39 weeks to reduce the less than 1% chance of death at 40 weeks. What? In any case, the doctor I had was either mistaken or a liar, but without question did not have my consent, and is a batterer and criminal.

  12. Almost eight years ago I went into hospital to become a mother and left physically and mentally abused. I will never get back what was stolen during that time. Over the years I realised that I never stood a chance and was lined up for cs from the first scan (twins). I didnt want a cs so didnt inform myself in that field at all and seriously question the concept if informed consent. As it happens I signed a form without being told that it was to consent to a cs, I didnt know any better. There is an institutional blindness to the needs of the woman and all to often interventions are seen as help. Against wishes and all for the best reasons women are continuously being subjected to the worst. There is no hope for an appology nor even some form as closure as the notes are not representative of events – or rather they are but the real details and not what I was told.Foetal distress harms the mother psychologically especially when it is actually failure to progress. Get the men out of the delivery suite and insist the women listen to the mother and not to the protocol they are currently taught.

  13. Golly gosh. Giving birth in Australia is really not that bad. I have had three children in the last few years and although I received medical intervention in the form of epidurals, my experiences were good. I had an open mind going into each labour and not a set rigid birth plan which never really work out. I received good quality care with births in both the private and public hospital systems. I was never encourgaged to receive any treatment that was unneccesary and none of my children were born by c-section. My doctor was kind and considerate. Don’t make generalised derogatory comments about giving birth in Australia. This is based on one person’s very traumatic experience. Of all the Australian mothers I know, none have had this type of experience.

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