Obstetric Violence (trigger warning) 3

Obstetric Violence

Obstetric Violence is real and is major human rights issue! We sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee. The sky was a clear blue with a gentle breeze. As often happens, when women hear that I am midwife, she wanted to share her birth stories with me. When this happens, I try to listen attentively and remain open to their sharing. Her children are 50 and 51, yes born very close together, 11 months apart to be exact. As she tells her stories, she becomes visibly upset and even agitated. For her, these things happened yesterday. In my experience, this is a crucial part of dealing with birth trauma; it always feels so current, the pain is often just below the surface. She is angry and confused, still not understanding the things that happened to her. She remembers very little, just snapshots really. She was “drugged” and felt out of her body, something “cold and hard” was placed inside her to “pull” out her children. She was treated “like an animal” there was no compassion. The next day, she had bruises and abrasions on her wrists. For years afterwards, she would wake in the night terrified and feeling as though she were dying.  She still deals with pain “down there” all these decades later. She asks me; “Do you know what happened to me?”
Do I tell her? Do I tell her about ‘Twilight Sleep’, women being strapped down to tables, episiotomies and forceps and the assembly line that was a labor and delivery unit? I ask her; “Do you want to hear my answers?” She responds that she does. So, I tell her, I tell her everything that likely happened to her. She is calm and quiet for a time, occasionally nodding to herself. Eventually she says, “Now at least I finally know that I am not crazy.”  We two women looked at each other with silent tears on our cheeks and finished our coffee.

This is the truth behind the history of obstetrics in this country. This is the reality of what the knowledge is based upon. This is where “they are coming from” and we can never forget. Have we struggled, fought and toiled to make great strides to improve the care given to women during birth? Yes! Are we done? Hell No! This is why we must continue. Just because things are much better now does not mean that the work is done. I share this story so that we don’t forget, so that the new advocates and activists remember the history, know the past and never forget where they came from.

Image credit Aubre Tompkins, CNM

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3 thoughts on “Obstetric Violence (trigger warning)

  • Lisa Pontious

    Have had these conversations many many times with women….& it is always heartbreaking. You wish that you could go back in time & protect her. But just listening & explaining provides healing too. The saddest fact is that obstetric violence is not a thing of the past. When women come to us for care & describe their birth experiences (with many situations including disrespect & violence from 2 years ago, I get very very angry…)