Friday, March 28, 2008

Recognizing Birth Rape

As my readers know, I experienced PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after the birth of my first child. It was because the process of giving birth was particularly grueling or painful, but it stemmed from feeling like my bodily integrity and autonomy was taken away from my by hospital staff during the vulnerable time when I
was bring my child into the world.

Since his birth, I have learned alot about PTSD after childbirth and found something surprising: the treatment I received can be considered a form of rape. And my considering that term, I can say that exactly what it felt like to have strangers forcing me to do or submit to certain practices.

Amity Reed, blogger of TheFWord describes birth rape in these terms:

A woman who is raped while giving birth does not experience the assault in a way that fits neatly within the typical definitions we hold true in civilised society. A penis is usually nowhere to be found in the story and the perpetrator may not even possess one. But fingers, hands, suction cups, forceps, needles and scissors… these are the tools of birth rape and they are wielded with as much force and as little consent as if a stranger grabbed a passer-by off the street and tied her up before having his way with her. Women are slapped, told to shut up, stop making noise and a nuisance of themselves, that they deserve this, that they shouldn’t have opened their legs nine months ago if they didn’t want to open them now. They are threatened, intimidated and bullied into submitting to procedures they do not need and interventions they do not want. Some are physically restrained from moving, their legs held open or their stomachs pushed on.

The writer goes on to describe that many women who experience birth rape also suffer from post traumatic stress disorder like I have and something called tokophobia or fear of childbirth. If, and they often do, women find themselves pregnant and facing the birth of another child, Reed states that their actions include:

Those who experienced trauma or rape in their first births are either electing for planned caesareans (which have their own, very real risks), terrified of going through the pain and degradation again, or forgoing hospitals altogether and birthing their babies at home, sometimes even unassisted by any professionals (called ‘unassisted childbirth’ or UC).

Those who are familiar with my plans for my next birth know that I refuse to experience that type of abuse and degradation again and instead am opting for a homebirth that may or may not be attended by a birth professional. I do not want to be exposed to another person trying to exert their will or exhibit control over my body when I'm working and allowing the process of birth to take place.

I wish that more birth professionals and hospital birth attends will learn that their actions have the same psychological effects as rape on the women they treat in that way. I would like to see trainings and seminars for obstetricians, midwives, nurses, family doctors and pernatoligists that discuss ways to prevent this result from happening to other women. As Danell Swim of TrueBirth states, "these Birth Rapes are perpetrated by an individual, or several individuals. It is not medically necessary, and yet the act is horrific, and leaves emotional and sometimes physical scars." Birth professionals need to be aware of this, in order to prevent it.

And wouldn't it be nice if the individuals who perpetrate these actions are held accountable? Reed states that attempts for complaint or criminal persecution are often "remote and insignificant." I hope that someday a birth rape case will be won on behalf of the victim and that the financial and liability wake-up call will be enough for birth professionals to change their ways.

No comments: