Saturday, January 12, 2013

Birth Abuse

Birth Abuse. This is a commonly heard term these days in birth circles. What exactly does it mean?

Is it abuse when a woman wants to have a home birth but can't find a midwife because of government regulations, so she ends up compromising on one of the most important decisions in her life, and having her baby in a hospital, lying on her back?

Is it abuse when a woman from another country comes to the hospital in active labor and is spoken to very loudly as if she is a slow-witted child?

Is it abuse when a woman wants to give birth squatting, after a two hour labor, but the doctor insists she lay down, and after the head is born, a shoulder dystocia develops and the doctor pulls so hard on the baby's head that he breaks her collarbone?

Is it abuse when a resident has his hand in a woman's vagina, reaches for the amnihook, and before anyone can say "boo", he breaks her waters?

Is it abuse when a midwife insists that a woman lift her shirt so that she "feels more relaxed" as her baby is being born?

Is it abuse when a doula pushes a woman just a little bit too hard to avoid taking an epidural, and afterwards the woman feels she has been traumatized by the pain?

Is it abuse when a woman is pushing and the doctor stands between her legs and yells at her, demanding to be paid in cash?

Is it abuse when a doctor speaks in a sexual way to a woman who is ecstatic, just after giving birth?

I have witnessed all of these situations, and I believe they all are examples of birth abuse. Yes, some are more shocking than others. Some are definitely in the grey area. But, essentially, abuse in the birth world takes place when there is an absence of respect. Respect is paramount when a baby is being born. The woman who is doing the work of bringing a new life into the world is more deserving of respect than anyone else. But, strangely, in our world, this has been turned on its head. The birthing woman is under everyone else's thumbs, saying "yes" and being a good girl, and agreeing to other people's agendas and priorities.

Is it abuse when a woman goes to the hospital after laboring at home for many hours, and a collective decision is made that this baby needs to be born surgically? NO.

A simple procedure, or surgery, or an interventive test, do not constitute abuse. Abuse takes place when anything is done to a woman against her wishes, or without her agreement. Simple.

Birth abuse is big. Everyone who works with birthing women - doctor, nurse, midwife, doula, anyone - should take a few minutes out of each working day and have a close look at the way they have treated their clients, and if they feel they have not treated the birthing women in their care with the UTMOST respect, then they should make changes.

Birth can be powerful, it can be joyful, it can be frightening and terrible. Birthing women need to be at the centre of everyone's vision so that we can recover an essential balance that we have lost. When women are at the centre of the birthing world, who knows what miracles we will encounter?

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