At least information about PTSD from birth is finally getting out. Now if only that leads to doctors, nurses and midwives respecting pregnant women, maybe birth rape can be a thing of the past.
There’s a new documentary being released that looks at the way women’s rights are violated during birth.
Check out the link to view the press release for Freedom to Birth
That you are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress following a traumatic birth can be hard to admit. First attempts to discuss the topic are often met by stern faces, disapproval and an obvious lack of understanding:
“Your babies are here, safe and sound –
That’s all that matters“.
Is it all that matters? I wish there was more understanding toward women experiencing birth trauma. I wish there was compassion. I wish people would only listen, if they can’t understand or support.
I went into hospital for a routine antenatal appointment on the 20th December, where I was ambushed by doctors who told me that my babies had to come NOW. My local hospital was unable to take me due to a lack of scbu cots, so I was transferred to another hospital hundreds of miles away. I was separated from my support network. I had nothing with me that I felt I needed, I didn’t have my hospital bag, my hypnobirthing CD or my birth plan. My mother was supposed to be there as my birth partner and doula but the hundreds of miles of snow-covered, congested A-roads between us meant I was to face this hospital without her.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were told there was no rush and they would be inducing me the next day. On the 21st December they gave me the pessary and left me to labour alone for the day and over night. A consultant came in and tried to convince me to have an elective c-section as “most twin births end in cesarean section anyway, even if one twin is born vaginally”. I refused this offer about 3 times before they left me to labour alone again. I didn’t see a midwife again until 22nd, when I was given another pessary to keep things moving.
I saw a consultant again on the 23rd who explained that I was to be put on the drip to attempt to speed up labour. Before they put the drip in, they wanted me prepped for theatre, “just in case”. A consultant came around and scanned the babies to make sure they were in a viable position for a vaginal birth, he again tried to convince me to have an elective c-section before the drip was put in. I refused.
I was again left to labour alone for most of the day with no pain relief needed as I was using hypnobirthing and all was going well. When at 6pm I hit transition and said that I felt I would need to push soon, I was told not to push. The room swarmed with various medical staff, midwives, doctors and HCAs. I was asked to come through to theatre to deliver my babies, “just in case”.
I consented to going through to theatre, but once we got there, I was told that I could not birth upright as they knew that I had wanted to. I had to be strapped down to a theatre table as it was a narrow table and they worried about me falling off. They strapped my arms down by my sides and my legs up in stirrups. I wanted to go back through to the delivery room but was told that once I was in theatre, I could not go back. I had wanted my birth filmed – but this was not allowed. I believe the reason they did not allow video footage to be recorded during my birth is because it would implicate them, as evidence of their involvement in the crime that proceeded:
By the time they allowed me to push a whole hour had passed and the urge had subsided. I found it very difficult to push in the position that I was – with my legs in stirrups that held my pelvis pointed upward. After a half hour of pushing, the doctors gave me an episiotomy without telling me they were going to or asking my consent. I asked what they were doing and why it was necessary and got no answer. I screamed at them to stop as they had not given me any anesthetic and the pain was unbearable. I still remember the sound of blunt scissors hacking through cardboard.
At this point I was terrified and was screaming at the doctors to stop, the pain was too much – the midwives tried to force gas and air on me. I know from previous birth experience that I don’t get on with gas and air. It makes me feel sick and clouds my mind. I was asked continually to, “just try it”. I explained that it makes me sick but they condescendingly told me it is the pain that makes me feel sick, not gas and air. I took one suck of gas and air and immediately felt like throwing up. I again started screaming, “I do not want gas and air, I do not want gas and air, take it away!” but they kept holding it to my mouth and telling me to suck on it.
I somehow managed to push my first twin out through all of this and immediately they started sewing me up – again with no anesthetic. Again, I repeatedly asked them what they were doing and screamed at them to stop, and they ignored me and carried on. I believe from the start they intended me to have a cesarean section for the second baby. I can think of no other reason why they would have stitched up the episiotomy before I had birthed the second baby.
The midwife began pushing forcibly on my tummy. I asked her what she was doing and why and she ignored me. I asked her to stop and she ignored me. I screamed at her to stop and I was told, “No, this is a crucial part of twin birth”. The pain from her pushing on my tummy was more excruciating than any other pain I have ever felt, I kept screaming at her to stop, and I was ignored.
Soon after this my placenta detached and I started to hemorrhage so I was given a general anesthetic.
I woke up in recovery, feeling sick to the bottom of my stomach. My baby had been born and I had missed it. I almost felt like there wasn’t really a twin pregnancy at all and it had all been some sort of con – a ploy – I gave birth to my first twin. I felt it, I remember it clearly. I saw her and heard her cry. I even held her for a brief moment before they whisked her off to SCBU, even as they were stitching me up from my unwanted, totally unnecessary episiotomy. Then as what I believe was a direct result of their intervention, they knocked me out for c-section with a general anesthetic and the next thing I knew I was in recovery and I was handed photos of two babies, but I’d only given birth to one. I only remembered giving birth to one.
I have no pictures of my third daughter’s birth. My husband had to leave the room. What was her birth like? I watched a cesarean birth on youtube to find out and ended up crying my heart out. Was she held after birth? Did she wait until I saw her the next day before she had any human contact? Was she ripped from my body, and then left alone in an incubator over night? She wasn’t even in the same incubator as her twin. She went from being inside me and with her sister, to alone with nothing surrounding her. That thought still tortures me.
I tried to talk to my family and husband about the way that I was feeling, and tried posting on an Internet forum for support, but I very quickly learned that birth trauma is a taboo topic. And I began my descent down a very slippery slope to post-traumatic stress disorder. I felt guilty, and the longer it went on, the greater my guilt became. I was afraid to tell anybody what I was going through.
For months after the birth, the experience occupied my thoughts almost constantly – day and night. It was like being pulled apart inside. I felt heart-broken. I experienced flash backs, involuntarily re-living the birth, and I’d torture myself with thinking up new and different ways in which I could have reacted to the situation to prevent the birth going the way that it did. I felt robbed of my natural birth. I felt betrayed by the doctors and midwives under who’s care I had been placed. I felt violated and abused.
More recently I am able to not think about it. I am able to shut the flashbacks out, I am able to push the thoughts from my mind. But when I do allow myself to think on it, or when I am offered unwelcome reminders: Whenever anybody asks about the birth, or when facebook reminds me that on this day in 2009 my facebook status was, “Looking forward to my natural twin hypnohomebirth!”, I break down. I can’t help it. It still hurts me deeply.
I am aware that many people do not agree with the term, “birth rape” and believe there is no way the two could be comparable. I have experienced both. What happened to me during the birth of my twins honestly effects me as deeply and as painfully as the other. I felt just as violated, just as abused. I had all control and any choice about what happened to my body taken from me. My cries of , “Stop! Please stop!” were ignored. My questions about the necessity of these interventions was ignored. I was physically restrained. I was forcibly cut, stitched, fingered, fisted, pushed, grabbed and hurt without my consent and despite my desperate pleas to stop. The long term effects so far prove to be just as painful and debilitating as those of rape. I am suffering PTSD as a result of the violations I was subjected to during the birth of my twins.
If you still think women are exaggerating, or should just “get over” the assault & abuse they have endured during birth, maybe reading this woman’s horrific story will help you see that there are real crimes being committed against women. Real crimes which are covered up or ignored because “at least you have a health baby”. This violation needs to end. A woman giving birth has just as much right to refuse treatment as anyone else, just as much right to say no and just as much right to have JUSTICE when her rights are violated.
Amity Reed at the F Word has a great new article refuting all those claiming that birth rape isn’t really rape.
There have been a lot of posts on blogs in the last week or so about birth rape. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who think it’s impossible for doctors/midwives/nurses to do do something so wrong that it can feel like rape. The more this subject is talked about, the more understanding and acknowledgement there will be and then maybe we can stop this kind of treatment from happending to others.
Here’s a round-up of the posts about birth rape I’ve seen in the last little while. The comments on some of these (especially the post at Jezebel) are pretty harsh sometimes, so please beware if you’re feeling sensitive. If I’ve missed one, please let me know. And if you’d like to share your story, please go to my submissions page for info.
And edited to add this great post. It also has some wonderful, thought provoking comments.
On Birth Rape, Definitions, and Language Policing at The Curvature
My mom is currently taking a law degree & she feels the need to have me edit her assignments. One of her answers on her most recent assignment included the following as part of her answer:
Even if the treatment is necessary to save the patient’s life, if the doctor proceeds against the patient’s wishes, he can be sued.
That’s the theory, anyway. Too bad reality doesn’t work that way. I know far too many women who’ve had their refusals ignored, or had procedures performed without even being asked, much less given a chance to refuse. Very few of them feel as though they have any recourse and the few who’ve tried to do something about it find that because they are apparently healthy and their babies are healthy, no one will take any action.
If police and lawyers would actually uphold the law and start charging/suing medpros for their assault and battery of birthing women, maybe there would be a lot fewer women being abused during birth.
The birth situation here in North America is awful, but apparently medpros in other parts of the world are even worse assholes. (I apologize for the language, but given the cruel and sadistic behaviour, that’s as polite as I can be).
These stories are heartbreaking and may be triggering.
I thought I’d never share this…
Thanks to DomesticDork for finding this article about birth trauma for me.
A Discussion About Birth Rape and Its Results
We all know that birth trauma can occur in infants, but what about women? For years women have been suffering in silence from birth trauma that results from their treatment during labor and delivery of their child. The feelings some women have about their negative experiences are overwhelming, so much so that some women suffer from PTSD afterwards. Some women refer to their treatment as birth rape, especially if they had instruments placed inside them without their consent.
Some believe people use the term ‘birth rape’ to sensationalize their trauma and feel it is disrespectful to actual rape victims. The pain these women feel is just as real, and they are just as much victims as anyone else. One dictionary definition of the word rape is “to violate or abuse.” State laws about rape usually consider any forceful penetration of the vagina or rectum to be rape. Ladies suffering from birth trauma display some of the classic symptoms of rape victims, including silence and shame about their ordeal.
This [rape] can include having Q-tips, speculums, scissors, forceps, vacuums, fingers, hands, and other objects inserted into a woman’s vagina or being given an enema, IV, epidural, or C-section without her consent. Having one’s water broken is another example of doctor’s taking control, which is basically what rape is all about. Being coerced, manipulated or deceived so that one will be obedient and go along with these treatments is another form of birth rape. Some even consider making rude and discouraging remarks to influence the mother rather than empower her to be included in the definition. Moving a mother into certain positions without asking and telling her what to do are further examples of mistreatment.
Some deny the existance of birth trauma in mothers or believe that they or exaggerating, especially being that misconduct is rarely reported. Some 54% of women in one study had grounds for a complaint but did not file, which is a classic behavior of a person experiencing PTSD. Some go as far as to suggest that postpartum PTSD is caused by past sexual assault that is refreshed as a result of the traumatic birth, though many victims of birth rape have no history of abuse.
Anywhere from 3-10% of postpartum women suffer from PTSD after birth which can lead to postpartum depression. Six months later the rate is about 1.5%. Forty-three percent of those women develope postpartum depression. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes any event that causes “fear for the life of bodily integrity of the person or a loved one” to be cause for PTSD, and birth can definitely meet that requirement.
Among the symptoms of birth-induced PTD are obsessive thoughts about the birth; panic near the birth location; and flashbacks, nightmares, and disturbing memories of the birth. Generally feeling sad, afraid, anxious, or irritable can also be caused by PTSD. Some mothers with PTSD may behave differently toward their children, particularly the ones associated with the specific birth that caused the PTSD. Symptoms can last for a year but usually subside within a few months. It can take a lifetime for the wounds to fully heal, and relapses often occur.
It is recommended that birth professionals empower women to prevent birth trauma. Give her control. Show her that she is valued. Treat her with respect. Ask permission anytime you are performing an intervention or even touching her. If she asks you to stop, do so immediately. Above all, listen to her, and show her that you care not about her and not just her baby. They also recommend a period of ‘debriefing,’ where the woman is encouraged to talk about her experience. This can be therapeutic and also help her recognize ways in which she was mistreated. She can chose then to confront the abuser, file a claim, or just walk away knowing that at least someone understands, believes, and recognizes the abuse.
Perez, “PTSD After Birth” Childbirth & Family Education, Inc. URL: http://childbirthfamilyeducation.org/cfe/PTSDafterBirth.htm
Dr. N. George,”Articles about Post Partum PTSD” Tabs.org URL: http://www.tabs.org.nz/pdfdocs/tabsptsdreviews.pdf
Unknown, “Postpartum depression.” Wikipedia. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postpartum_depression
Unknown, “A Different Kind of Pain in Childbirth.” Navel-gazing Midwife. URL: http://navelgazingbirthstories.blogspot.com/2004/08/different-kind-of-pain-in-childbirth.html