…stories from women who were traumatized during labor or birth, whether the form of trauma or mistreatment took the place of retribution (mom refuses Pitocin so she’s given an episiotomy without anesthetic and while she’s not pushing so that it will be as painful as possible; mom refuses an episiotomy so the doctor unnecessarily puts the baby into the NICU for 3 days and she’s not allowed to see the baby), coercion (rough vaginal exam after mom declines to have her water broken until she gives in and “allows” it), abuse (verbal [being screamed at], physical [being forced into an uncomfortable position against her will], or mental [“Well, if you don’t mind a dead baby, I guess you can refuse it…” or “If you don’t dilate faster, I’ll give you a C-section”]), or rape (putting any object, including a person’s hands, forceps, scissors, amnihook, etc., into a woman’s vagina against her consent).
I sent an email on one of my VBAC email lists after a woman had mentioned retribution a friend of hers had received after refusing a C-section, and the subsequent aftermath this woman endured:
I know this is getting into off-topic waters, but I think it’s important that patient abuse not be allowed to go unnoticed, even if it remains unpunished. Think of what the doctors and nurses in the 50s were allowed to get away with — mandatory and (near) universal… episiotomies, forceps, general anesthesia, bed labor, no husbands or other attendants, scheduled visits only for the mom/newborn, pubic shaves, enemas, and even physical restraints on the labor beds (this last one was a holdover from “Twilight Sleep” which made women animalistic in their actions). Only when women began speaking up and saying NO MORE and going public with it, did this treatment change — and a large part of the change was probably due to the reemergence of natural childbirth and home birth, which actually gave women the options and/or power to step outside of the system if the system refused to change. It wasn’t lawsuits, as far as I know, that changed matters; but public opinion in national women’s magazines and such that put pressure on hospitals to change. While I wouldn’t turn down a nice article in Women’s Day, Ladies Home Journal, or Good Housekeeping or any other magazine, we’ve got the internet at our disposal, which can be beneficial.
I think it’s time for women to say NO MORE to these kinds of retribution, coercion, abuse, rape, trauma — whatever name best describes how they were and ARE treated.
I recently heard of a nurse who is being sued because she “accidentally on purpose” pulled out a woman’s IUD because she was pro-life and didn’t like the abortifacient aspects of the IUD (it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus). She is suing at least in part because the nurse performed a medical procedure on her without her consent. And a woman named Catherine Skol from Chicago is suing the doctor who attended her birth for mistreatment during labor and birth, including suturing minor perineal tears with a needle so large it was usually used for spinal taps and wasn’t even stocked on the L&D floor but had to be fetched from another wing of the hospital. (Her sin was that she didn’t call HIM before going to the hospital, although her regular doctor who was on vacation that weekend had told her to go to the hospital if she went into labor.)
These lawsuits may not garner multi-million dollar awards, and I don’t even think they need to. But publicity so that other women are aware of their options and rights is good; and bad publicity on the part of these @*!%$ doctors and nurses so that they are shamed and change their behavior (or their jobs) is also good imo. The settlements may be very small, as far as medical malpractice goes, because there are no dead or damaged babies, but if you get enough bad press and enough other women chiming in saying, “That happened to me, too!” then I think you’ll see things change, just like they did 30 years ago.
But if women keep silent out of shame, or fear of being not believed, or trying to blow it off as if it isn’t that big of a deal when it really is, nothing’s going to change except the perpetrators will continue their actions without fear of reprisal.
It’s gotta stop!
Sorry about the OT nature of this, but mistreatment of women — whether because they refuse a primary C-section or a repeat C-section or just don’t want to spread their legs to every Tom, Dick, and Nancy for unnecessary vaginal exams or whatever else the customer wants or refuses — needs to stop; and if women try to break VBAC bans by refusing unnecessary surgery only to end up feeling as if they’d been raped, and nothing is done about it, I don’t know that we’ve gained a real victory.
In response to that, a woman answered with her own email, which she allowed me to use:
I don’t think it’s off topic… With my first I ended up with an “emergency” c-section… I put the word in quotation marks because it was Friday afternoon when they discovered my baby was breech. (I wasn’t in labor yet, although I was one week overdue.) After telling me the baby would DIE if I didn’t have a c-section immediately, they offered me the option of waiting until Monday to have the csection. By then I was too terrified to wait and convinced that by Monday they’d be sectioning out a dead baby. So I went ahead and had the c-section Friday night. Anyway, two years later I was pregnant with baby #2. Five weeks into the pregnancy I went back to the same OB/GYN who said, “Oh yes, we encourage VBAC” but it was obvious that you have to have a textbook-perfect labor to accomplish VBAC. They specifically mentioned that I would have to dilate at 1 cm per hour — otherwise I’d have a mandatory second c-section. Even my husband could see that there was no way with that doctor…. I asked about homebirth and she told me that if I tried a homebirth I’d end up with an emergency hysterectomy. I decided to try a homebirth anyway. At 41 weeks pregnancy the baby was transverse and even my midwife said I would need another cesarean. (She had really tried for me!) I asked if we could find a female OBG/YN instead of her usual backup male OB/GYN. She called around and happened upon the same doctor’s office that delivered baby #1. They agreed to do the cesarean… until they heard my name. Then they told the midwife that if she brought me in to the hospital in labor, I’d be getting a hysterectomy. (This is after NO physical examination… It was just retribution for not being more thoroughly grateful for the first c-section.) At that point my midwife called me with the option…. Did I want to use her male back up surgeon and keep my uterus or use the female doctor and lose my uterus. I chose to keep my uterus. :) Anyway, it turned out well for me. One hour before my appointment with the surgeon the baby put his head down in my pelvis (for the first time in 41 weeks!) I went into labor a week later and had a head down, VBAC, waterbirth baby at home. Oh, and I got to keep my uterus. (Which is lucky… Because now I’m pregnant with Baby #3).
Things like this have got to stop. Spreading the word will help. Educating women so that they know it’s possible will help. I don’t want to spread fear unnecessarily — after all, the rate of abuse that women suffer at the hands of “care” providers is less than the rate of unwanted and unnecessary interventions in the 50s and 60s — but it still happens too often. How can you be sure it won’t happen to you? It’s something to be aware of, even if you’re pretty sure it won’t happen to you. If you’ve given birth in the past 3 years, fill out The Birth Survey — whether your birth was good or bad. If you’re in the New York City area, you can also use The Birth Survey to find out more information, directly from past clients of your doctor or midwife. Soon, nationwide information will be released. It shouldn’t take too long for abusive doctors and nurses and hospitals to get such bad publicity that they will have to change either their bedside manner or their jobs.
For those doctors, midwives, nurses, and hospitals who are true care providers, I salute you and hope that you are in the overwhelming majority! As for the others, I can only say, I hope you leave L&D as quickly as possible because you have no place in it.
You can leave a comment after this post (and you can make up a pseudonym, if you don’t want to give your real one), or you can email me at kathy_petersen_283 at yahoo dot com. Because it’s got to stop. It’s just gotta stop.