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Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Birth and Violence", Part 1

"Birth Rape" by Dani Arnold-McKenny 2010

"Trauma" "Rape" "Violence"... Shocking words that conjure shocking images, yet when you put the word "Birth" in front of them, immediately you will get a hoard of people pooh poohing you, telling you that there is no such thing, it's all in your head,  or my  two favorites:

"Get Over It!" & "At least you have a healthy baby".

Nothing subjugates modern western women more than those two sentences. Not just because they belittle, humiliate and demean women, but because they are spoken constantly and by the very people that these women thought they could trust: Doctors and Husbands, Fathers and Brothers, Friends and Co-Workers.... and yes, even by their own mothers and sisters and female friends.

... "get over it" as in: Stop your whining and trying to get attention- just grow up and get on with it.

... "at least you have a healthy baby" as in: you have absolutely no value other than as a baby incubator.

And yet women will utter those words to post partum mothers all the time!!!

One article I've read talks about the experience of one women "Lynsey" who was subjected to verbal ridicule and physical assault by her midwife in England:
As a result of this trauma, Lynsey suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and tokophobia (fear of childbirth). She became deeply depressed, had nightmares and flashbacks, trouble bonding with her son, and her marriage nearly broke down because her husband couldn’t acknowledge that she was raped by the midwife and he had stood by while it happened. He begged her to stop calling it rape and to let it go, get on with her life. As so many new mothers can attest, any anger, sadness or disappointment expressed about the birth is usually swept under the rug. Everyone says: “Yes, but it’s all in the past now. You have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters.” As if the woman who endured the birthing experience was merely a passive observer, the emotionless vehicle through which the baby arrived.

We like to think that the bygone era of  "Twilight Birthing" is over, that the Cruelty of Maternity wards during the 40's and 50's is just a bad memory that we try not to talk about, but we have a much bigger problem in our society.  A dilemma that is so pervasive and enigmatic that it stares us in the face daily, yet society as a whole is incapable of seeing it. Sexism is alive and well in our so called "developed nations".  For generations women have fought for the Right to Vote, the Right to advanced schooling, the Right to have "Equal Rights".  We cheered when court battles were won that pushed the Rights of women into the media and force laws to be changed.  Yet When it comes to the ultimate of Human and Womens Rights, the Right to birth in peace, the Right to informed consent and the Right to be treated with dignity, we are kept completely in the dark.  So much so that many many women don't even realize that their Rights have been violated. And when they leave the hospital to begin that incredible journey of motherhood feeling traumatized and degraded, as if they've just returned home from a horrific battle, they are told to smile and get over it.  They are told that the anxiety and depression is just because they are tired and it will get better.  They are told that their inability to bond with their child is just because it's "all new" and that they'll get use to parenting soon. And when they can't "get over it" they are treated as if they are lazy, weak, selfish or even crazy. So these women suffer in silence and internalize their pain until many times it overwhelms them.

 If they were members of the Armed Forces, they  would get attention and treatment and councilling for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but as mothers they are are left to fend for themselves.

More and more women develop some of the symptoms of PTSD.  All of these women suffer birth trauma.  An Australian study found 1 out of 3 women reported a stressful birthing event with three or more trauma symptoms when interviewed 4-6 weeks after a vaginal delivery.  [Creedy et al Childbirth and the Development of Acute Trauma Symptoms: Incidence & Contributing Factors Birth 27(2), 104 – 111]. 

Birth Trauma Canada gives an extensive outline of what causes birth trauma. A vast proportion of  these causes are those things that have "been done to" the mother- medical interventions being forced without full consent or full disclosure, poor labour support, being denied food, water, clothing, courtesy or respect by medical personnel, being ignored, dismissed, disrespected and denied.  I just finished reading the NavelGazing Midwife's article about Birth Rape and wanted to cry as I can remember going through so many of these examples my self through several of my births.

Birthrape: The experience of having fingers, scissors, and/or tools put/pushed/shoved inside a woman's vagina or rectum without her direct (or indirect) permission.

Being coerced, manipulated, or lied to regarding the health and safety of the baby or themselves so the midwife is able to do something to the mother's vagina, rectum, cervix, or perineum, usually with excuses; rarely with apologies.

Some find the definition expanded to:

The midwife taking the woman's Power by using disparaging comments, unsupportive expressions, speaking around her as if she is unable to hear or process requests or information.


Even though consent forms are signed in the hospital, birth center, and at home, consent for care does not include the manipulations or coercive words to get women to obey the caregiver....

Directives That Disembody Her Being
* Lift her leg.
* Move her to the bed.
* Grab her knees.
* Put her feet in the stirrups.
* Put her hands on the grips.
* Push her head to her chest.
* Push her chin to her chest.
* Put pillows under her head.
* Put pillows under her butt.
* Pull her down to the edge of the bed.
* Push with her so she knows how to do it right.
* Count for her so she knows how to do it right.
Coercive and Manipulative Remarks
* pressing knees apart - I need to do a vaginal exam.
* C'mon, just let me see what is going on.
* I'll do it quick and fast, I promise.
* I promise to be gentle.
* I just want to see how dilated you are.
 * I'm just feeling your cervix... it might hurt a little. (as manipulations to the cervix are done... from stripping the membranes to manual dilation)
* I'm just feeling your cervix. (as cytotec is put onto the cervix)
* Do you want your baby to die?...

 Where does a woman go for help, when the medical professionals themselves give no credence to their mental state and pooh pooh their birthing experience? Not just Doctors and Nurses, but Midwives too!! Who does a woman turn to for support when she wishes to have another child?  The NavelGazing Midwife goes on to say

"I share them and am writing about them and speaking about them and nearly screaming about them in the hopes that midwives will hear what they are saying that is sending their clients into therapy, pushing them to depressions that require medication and alternative therapies, keeping them from coming back to the midwife at all because of her Power Hunger and covert misogyny. Too many women (in my opinion) find Unattended Birth their only acceptable option after their experiences with professional caregivers in birth."
 Women would rather have their babies at home with just their partner for help and comfort, than to face the very real trauma of dealing with the medical personnel that inflicted them with so much physical, emotional and mental pain and abuse. And some women will forgo having another child altogether to insure that they never have to live through the ordeal again.

Our patriarchal society has for generations kept a close rein on pregnancy and childbirth, insisting that women be denigrated and treated as if they are too stupid to have any control over their own bodies- an automatic incubator that functions within the parameters of the medical machines controlling arms.  If the incubator is unable to fulfil it's designated roll within those parameters then the necessary steps must be taken to put the machine back on track..... regardless of the will of the incubator..I mean "Woman". Though we might look to midwives to change this, they too are under the thumb of "the man", and are under constant pressure from medical associations, hospitals and doctors to toe the line or else loose their privileges in their catchment hospital or even their own midwifery governing body.

So what do you do? Women need to take back their births and use their power to empower other women to follow suit.  Until we stand up for ourselves change will not happen. Until we support each other through our experiences in childbirth and educate and share our knowledge and voices, we will not be free to exercise our Womens Rights to give birth and reclaim our births.

To Quote Amity Reed from "The F Word":

"No means No, even in the delivery room"