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Monday, September 6, 2010

birth rape

"It is little wonder that rape is one of the least-reported crimes. Perhaps it is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused and, in reality, it is she who must prove her good reputation, her mental soundness, and her impeccable propriety" - Freda Adler

I was asked to place a warning that this post may cause triggers.

Birth rape is a hard subject to write about because a part of me feels that I may be criticized for using the term "rape." I want to clarify that I am in no way downplaying the seriousness of rape as we define it in our society. However, I am trying to bring to light why women feel the need and purpose to recognize rape in all its forms.

In the Webster dictionary, one of the definitions for rape is: "
any violation or abuse"

I found this definition of birthrape from THIS WEBSITE and found it very accurate:

As most who are reading this blog know, I am also processing issues surrounding birthrape and how midwives (not just OBs and nurses) facilitate the birthrape experience for women.

(a definition in the making)

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.

I thought it was time I shared some of the thousands of comments I have personally heard that have facilitated birthrape over the years.

When a woman is about to give birth - she is in a very vulnera
ble state. When entering a hospital to labor, she is immediately asked to change into a hospital gown. She will have nurses and doctors sticking their hands in her vagina - and, often, putting foreign objects up there as well (such as an amniohook). These women will have to fight for their rights to do simple tasks, such as walk - or eat. They will be bullied into accepting interventions they do not want. They will have actions done to their body that they did not know were going to happen. And it happens

Shortly after my son was born, I was lying on the hospital bed by myself. It was just me and the doctor. Everyone else was with the baby. The doctor was look
ing between my legs and I assumed she was checking for tearing. All of a sudden, without notice or permission, the doctor pulled my placenta out of my uterus. It felt like velcro ripping from the walls of my stomach. I gasped, but didn't say a word. This doctor did not tell me to push and did not ask for my consent to do a dangerous and unnecessary procedure. And, for what? Because it was 7pm and she wanted to go home? Later - when discussing why I wanted to have a homebirth with future children, I was describing the event to my husband and the only word I could use to describe how I felt was "violated." She did things to my body that I did not want her to do. Yet, she was my doctor. I signed a blanket consent. What was I going to do?

So, I did nothing.

At a birth I attended recently, the mother was screaming at the ER nurse to stop racing her down the hallway as she pushed her baby out on the stretcher. The mom was screaming, "STOP! STOP!!!! STOP!" I finally grabbed him and the bed and yelled, "She.said.STOP" before he listened. If you take that situation out of the birth setting, what would you think? If a woman was screaming, "STOP!" and everyone around her was ignoring the situation? If no one listened? If no one stopped?

And, we're not the only ones.

I posted a poll on Twitter and asked, "
At any point during your labor, birth and/or postpartum period, did you feel things were done to you without your knowledge or consent?" These were the results at the time that I wrote this:

This is NOT ok.

49% of women. FORTY-NINE. Yes, only 68 votes were counted at that time (and I let women answer multiple times if they've given birth more than once). However, that number would be too high if it were 2% of women. Women should not be made to feel like they are being violated when they are giving birth.

And doctors and nurses and midwives should NOT be getting away with treating women like this. Just because they are in a hospital setting does NOT make things like this okay.

We need to end things, such as
performing pelvic exams on anesthetized women. We need to recognize that women can develop PTSD from birth rape. We need to continue being an advocate for women to have a right to their bodies - even if they're with a medical professional.

Most importantly, we must recognize if these things happened to us. Birth trauma can cause women to carry around negative feelings and sensations for the rest of their lives. It can prevent them from progressing in future pregnancies and births. It can hang a rain cloud of fear over their head if they don't accept the fact that they have a right to be angry. They have a right to be downright pissed off that things were done to them against their will. They have a right to be sad, depressed, confused, scared. And, they need to know that it's not their fault that it happened.

The first thing we can do to make a difference is to accept this fact:

birthrape is real

Secondly: It is vital we choose care providers whom we trust for this very reason.

Thirdly: We can not accept these actions as normal. We are women and we have a right to our bodies. We are better than this and we deserve better for ourselves and for our babies.
We have rights.

Lastly, if you can - if you are willing, share your own personal experience/s. Let your tale be known - for you are not alone.

(International Cesarean Awareness Network - assists with ALL kinds of birth trauma)
Birth Partners (find a local midwife and/or doula)
A Different Kind of Pain (great article about Birth Rape over at Navelgazing)
Birth Rape (a place to discuss and share stories - to heal)
My OB Said What (a humorous, yet painfully true list of quotes from birthing staff)
Violence in Labor
(an article over at the Unnecesarean)


  1. This was very interesting. The title certainly caught my attention. You're right - this happens way too much. I didn't vote in your poll, but unfortunately I'd be another yes. :-/

  2. Copied from my facebook comments to you:

    I think the worst thing for me was having what was a perfectly normal pregnancy turned upside down and ruined... tainted... because of a 'professional' that didn't know what she was doing. It was almost like it was intentional, the bedrest anyway. She knew I wasn't dilated. She didn't even write down the bedrest in my chart. She didn't even remember it the next time I saw her. I remembered it, though. I remembered being forced onto my left side when my baby went to her first day of middle school. I couldn't even watch her leave, and there was no reason for it.

    I had two L&D nurses and the doctor that oversaw this CNM tell me I wasn't dilated. I checked my own cervix eventually. I wasn't dilated.

    It was because of this bedrest that I developed Gestational Diabetes. If I had been able to exercise, my sugar would have been normal. When I quit the bedrest, it was fine.

    Then when I had her, the doctor acted like he was angry because I woke him up. He tried to talk me into an episiotomy by using scare tactics. He told me he wouldn't do one but that bad tears happen when you don't. I knew from my own research that tears are worse WITH them.

    When I pushed, I screamed through the ring of fire and he told me to try it again, this time without screaming.

    Then he told me that he wouldn't be tying my tubes. I signed papers to have it done at 28 weeks. He asked if I was aware that they had privileges at the Catholic hospital. For a long time, I didn't understand what he meant. They told me I could deliver where I did. My stepsister delivered there with the same ob. Then it dawned on me. He was telling me that he wouldn't tie my tubes because he was Catholic. His religion decided the future of my family.

    I was so traumatized that I never went back for a 6 week checkup and ended up getting pregnant within a couple of months of the birth. The next pregnancy and birth was everything I needed it to be but I'm still traumatized by the way my birth was ripped away from me for no good reason.

  3. my last birth was at home and i remember the first time i met with our soon to be midwife - i asked her about cervical exams both before and during labor and her response was "do you want them?" to which i replied "no" - "okay" she said and i never had to have one

    it was a blessing and an outrage - having my body treated the way i wanted it treated should be something we all expect and received - NOT something we are lucky enough to find.

    sadly, this same midwife was forced out of practice by the state after one baby died in childbirth - one baby in over 10yrs - you do the math - it was a total witchhunt and my community has ever since been lacking a truly great midwife!

  4. What bothers me is when women act as though its only male healthcare practitioners who commit these offenses. There simply AREN'T any men who work as labor nurses or midwives. And most ob/gyns these days are women. So, casting the blame on men is wrong. Ladies, we need to take a long, hard look at how women view other women, and how women treat other women.
    I had a violent, forced cervical check done to me by a female labor nurse. Also, had two female aides yank me out of bed and force me to stand up after a C-section when I was in incredible pain already.