Mar 8, 2018

Birth rights and the hidden threat of obstetric violence

It might seem counter-intuitive that in an activity experienced only by women, women are nonetheless pushed to the bottom of the power hierarchy and treated so appallingly, but this is the case.

Rhea Dempsey

Childbirth educator and counsellor

Today, International Women’s Day, impassioned women, their partners, midwives and doulas are marching to demand birth rights.

They are marching because on International Women’s Day -- which for so many years has championed the international women’s rights agenda -- and in the social and cultural moment encompassed by #MeToo, it is time to unleash the many silenced voices of women on issues of assault and "power over" violence in the Australian birth system. Time to highlight birth rights, the scourge of obstetric violence and the distressing prevalence of birth trauma.

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9 thoughts on “Birth rights and the hidden threat of obstetric violence

  1. Clare McKay

    I’m sorry to see there has been little improvement in the treatment of women during childbirth. Nearly 40 years ago I was told I had to be induced because I was too old to be having my first child (34). It turned out she was going away and wanted my baby born before she left. On the labour table I was called stupid, when I didn’t want her to use stirrups she used straps to tie my legs up, because my cervix was too slow opening she used her hands to open it. She even pushed away the midwife who was trying to stop her. And I found out when you are in labour, lying on a labour table, you can’t sack your doctor. I was so traumatized by her I couldn’t allow her to touch me again. Fortunately my baby survived unscathed.

    1. zut alors

      You’ve answered the question I was about to pose ie: is there any evidence that female obstetricians are more empathic to the needs & best interests of birthing women? Clearly not in your case.

  2. Bob the builder

    Great article.

    This issue was only recently brought to my attention as pregnancy and childbirth and often relegated to “women’s issues” – but it’s an issue for all of us and we need more articles like this that get it out in public where it should be.

    The health system as a whole disempowers patients, but in that most intimate and vulnerable and treasured experience, bringing life to the world, that disempowerment is multiplied manifold.

  3. Richard

    An opportunity for disaffected, dissatisfied and genuinely maltrreated to speak up.
    The biology of childbirth is apolitical.
    The pregnant woman and people around her are not.
    The great majority of medical practitioners, male and female, do the best for their patients.. as in safest. Unfortunately, the politics of power can so easily and insidiously come between safe obstetric practice, common sense and often self serving first world political mumbo jumbo.
    How many women having “fulfilling” home births have regretted it or died?
    You won’t get too many women crouching behind a bush in the third world, with a difficult labour, (and maternal mortality in the double %ages) complaining about “wanting to have more control in the birth process and experience”.. Odd that.

    1. Bob the builder

      Richard, a great collection of non-evidence based generalities.
      The stupidest is probably the comment about women crouching behind a bush in the third world, as if women and their long-esteablished cultures hadn’t developed ways of giving birth, as if they were just ignorantly walking along and suddenly found themselves about to give birth.

  4. AR

    Another aspect of medicalised birthing intended for the convenience & comfort of the ‘professionals’ is mother lying on her back attempting to push the baby uphill through the birth canal to the wide open world.
    The houses of the first city, Catal Hayuk, had the birthing footstones at the front door, any number of early tales refer to women standing up, usually holding onto tree branches and then there is Sarah telling Abraham, “go into my maid that she may give birth on my knees”. Gen 16:2-3.
    Given the joys of puerperal fever in the doctor created, 19thC UK birthing factories, it’s a wonder enough survived to continue the Empire.

    1. Bob the builder

      Despite what the article hints at, my recent experience was that lying down giving birth is a thing of the past, particularly among midwives, who actively encouragement movement, shifting positions and standing or sitting in whichever way is comfortable.
      Apparently my parents’ generation were subjected to enemas before giving birth, then strapped into those horrible contraptions on their back … unbelievable!

  5. nino

    It is appalling that nothing has changed since the 70s when Leboyer wrote so eloquently about the violence of birth. Odent wrote about it throughout the 80s, and Robbie Davis-Floyd wrote the excellent Birth as an American Rite of Passage in 1992, which covers similar ground. It seems to me though, that most women are mainly thinking about themselves here, rather than the future health impacts on the baby. Having had a traumatic birth I can attest to its devastating consequences, which only increase as you age. Leboyer wrote that of you want to understand where the madness of the world comes from look at the violence of birth. This will forever remain the most important fact ever written.

  6. mary wood

    I am conflicted about this. I know from personal experience that when something unexpected happens during childbirth it can become an emergency very very quickly. Whilst the treatments described can never be described as best practice, but as abuse of the birthing mother, the thing I wanted above everything else was a live, healthy baby. I really don’t think this would have happened in a home birth.

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