Continuing in Dr. Rixa Freeze’s Born Free doctoral dissertation, starting on pg 118 of the pdf (pg. 104 of the dissertation), Rixa begins a discussion on “Birth-rape,” which is of course, highly troubling. Some women will choose to use the word “trauma” instead of “rape,” but the idea is definitely conveyed — outsiders doing things to a woman (specifically her genitals) against her wishes, and sometimes even against her explicit objections. The discussion goes on for several pages, and I think everyone involved in birth needs to read this, so that they can be more attuned to the concept — that some women feel traumatized by past births, or can become traumatized by future ones; that sometimes doctors and nurses can cause or contribute to those feelings; and that these things are real. Several women that were interviewed for this paper described previous birth experiences as either traumatic or “rape” — and this wasn’t restricted to hospital births attended by male doctors, but included births attended by female doctors and midwives in the hospital, as well as home births attended by a midwife. These experiences were so bad for these women, that the only way they could feel safe in birth was to go unassisted, since they could no longer trust medical personnel not to abuse their power as “professionals” or their office of trust.
One midwife who later came to believe that she had participated in “birth rape” said:
As I learned to be a midwife, I did horrible things to women in the name of education. I have held women’s legs open (“to get the baby out”). I have pulled placentas out (“to learn how to get one out that needs help or if the mom is bleeding”)….I have done vaginal exams on women who were screaming NO! I have coerced women to allow me into their vaginas for exams….I have manually dilated a cervix on a woman having a waterbirth (and I wasn’t wearing gloves) and got her cervical flesh under my fingernails.
As a doula and student, I stood by and watched as women screamed to be left alone. I watched midwives with 3 inch fingernails shove cervices from 3 to 10 [centimeters] in a few minutes. I watched as women had Cytotec inserted into their vaginas secretly….I have seen and heard women be screamed at to shut up, grow up, that she asked for it by opening her legs 9 months ago, that she gets what she deserves. I have seen a woman slapped by a midwife.
Rixa goes on to say, “Because such practices have become routine, few maternity care givers consider them abusive or inherently inappropriate.”
This is unfortunately all too true. You don’t have to look very far to find stories of women who were yelled at, sneered at, made to feel bad somehow (even stupid), forced to lie in bed, physically moved from a comfortable position into an uncomfortable one simply for doctor convenience, given unnecessary vaginal exams, given rough vaginal exams, cut unnecessarily, sutured unnecessarily, not given anesthesia for the suturing, etc. And this can happen even with “nice” midwives and “nice” nurses and “nice” doctors, which is the most troubling fact.
And this is why some women leave medical care and go unassisted — because they don’t like the way they were treated. After all, if you got raped when you went to a bar, would you go back to that bar again? I wouldn’t. And maybe not just that bar, but any bar, because that’s (obviously) where the rapists hang out, since one was hanging out there and raped you.
Average care in the early part of this century is better than average care in the 50s — there is more patient autonomy (no mandatory general anesthesia, major episiotomies, forceps births, etc.); but just because it’s better than it was doesn’t mean it’s as good as it can ever be, nor as good as it should be. Just as hospitals looked closely at their policies in the 70s with the advent of the “natural birth” movement and reemergence of midwifery, in order to keep women satisfied with giving birth there (not requiring general anesthesia any more, allowing husbands to be there when giving birth, making hospital rooms more “homey”), even so hospitals ought to look at their policies of today and address areas of discontent that many women have — including the area of loss of autonomy which the woman may process like rape.
Filed under: birth story, labor and birth Tagged: | abuse, baby, birth, birth rape, birth trauma, born free, bornfree, free-birth, freebirth, home birth, hospital birth, midwife, midwifery, obstetrician, obstetrics, pregnancy, pregnant