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Birth - rape and otherwise

My mind cannot stop the thinking about the birthrape issue and NO ONE in my life, not even my partner, wants to hear one thing about it. A childbirth educator friend said she would talk and we could process, but she is a client of mine, albeit my hypno-therapist, but I have horrid feelings of guilt I have begun exploring about HER birth. She has told me she loved her birth, even when I sobbed speaking about how I hated what I did to her at her birth (retrospectively; after my hands-off birth). It doesn't make my heart rest any easier... well, maybe a little.

I can't stop diarrhea-ing.

I think the insanity and birthrape guilt are separate and together. Maybe I am paying for my past now instead of later.

Just dig in.

As I learned to be a midwife, I did horrible things to women in the name of education. I have held women's legs open ("to get the baby out"). I have pulled placentas out ("to learn how to get one out that needs help or if the mom is bleeding"). I have squished a woman's belly until I could nearly feel her spine, which is, actually, the wording used by the teachers (plural): Push until you find her spine ("to keep her from hemorrhaging and expel clots"). I have pulled placentas until cords have fallen off. I have grabbed women's nipples and shoved them into their babies' mouths. I have done vaginal exams on women who were screaming NO! I have coerced women to allow me into their vaginas for exams. I have done "finger forceps" [a misnomer] (using my fingers to press the ischial spines open wider for a baby to come through faster). I have ruptured membranes because I needed to learn how. I have manually dilated cervices that did not need to be touched because I needed (or thought I needed) to learn how to do it in an emergency. I have manually dilated a cervix on a woman having a waterbirth (and I wasn't wearing gloves) and got her cervical flesh under my fingernails.

As a doula and student, I stood by and watched as women screamed to be left alone. I watched midwives with 3 inch fingernails shove cervices from 3-10 in a few minutes. I watched as women had cytotec inserted into their vaginas secretly. I watched as women unknowingly drank cytotec from Gatorade bottles. I witnessed pitocin being secretly injected into the vaginal vault to projectile a baby in second stage arrest. I witnessed pitocin being put on gauze and put in women's vaginas without their knowledge. I watched as the gauze was put in their rectums without their knowledge. I have seen women sutured who might not otherwise need it simply because someone needed training. I have seen OBs cut an episiotomy because they are in a hurry. I have heard evil things coming from OB's mouths towards clients and stood by and said nothing. I have heard even more evil things come from midwives and stood by and said nothing. I have seen and heard women be screamed at to shut up, grow up, that she asked for it by opening her legs 9 months ago, that she gets what she deserves. I have seen a woman slapped by a midwife. I have seen a midwife, on more than one occasion, hang a baby upside down and slap the baby up and down the back to revive him/her. I have seen, on more than one occasion, midwives take a fainted woman's nipples and twist them nearly off to revive the woman.

I have seen many illegal maneuvers that have saved women trips to the hospital and have learned amazing amounts of information that I would never use unless a woman or baby were dying in my arms. I have NOT done other equally unethical acts... have not ever cut an episiotomy because I needed to practice... have not sutured because I needed to practice... have not ever used forceps or vacuum extractor. I have learned how to birth a baby in the caul. I have learned how to sit and wait from long second and third stages. But it doesn't remove one iota of the pain I feel. There is no catharsis.

I am the enemy of many women. I am their pain. I embody it. I created it. I am more filled with shame than there are words to describe.

Does it make any difference that I have grown to not do these things? Did I have to walk that path to get where I am? Why did I love the learning I experienced? Why did I get high from all the energy and the uncertainty? Do I really believe I wouldn't be the midwife I am today if I didn't know all I know? Am I better able to speak the language of the enemy because I am the enemy? Do I have any right speaking to the women whose hearts bleed and whose bodies are mutilated?

I pray to find the balance of peace and forgiveness... all within my Self.

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Reader Comments (11)

I know this is an old, old entry, but I imagine this sort of pain is one that doesn't ever fully go away. I thought I'd share a little something with you that someone very wise told me recently:

the learning from, the sharing the story (whenever and however you want and need to), the doing things differently next time (and not just in birth, but in ALL aspects of your life)... THAT is how all the regrets are resolved and healed.

September 6, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterShylah

thank you for this, what you have wrote is incredibly cathartic for me, as I have suffered a traumatic birth experience, and 2 other births with too much interference....

You are an amazing woman....birth rape happens on such a depressingly large scale, thank you so much for sharing on this issue.....

I have since had an amazing HBA2C, and now how great birth can be now....but it sorrows me that so many women are subject to horrifying experiences when it never should have to be this way.

November 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

My heart goes out to you and the birthing women you learned from. But truthfully, you sound as if you are traumatized by your professional experiences.

Have you considered seeking therapy? More then purging it to a blog you need professional help to process your experiences, you also sound like you are falling apart emotionally.

November 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterI heart LLL

Hi there, Navelgazing Midwife. I'm about to start writing a term paper on birth rape for one of my women's studies classes, a topic which was introduced to me by this post. It really caught my attention not only because it's completely horrific, but also because I'm a volunteer at a sexual assault centre, and because my primary medical caregiver growing up was the midwife who helped birth me at home. I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about doing this, but I'd really appreciate some literature recommendations...articles, books, transcripts of speeches, anything. The problem is that in writing academic papers we aren't really allowed to cite blogs as our sources, but I haven't had much luck finding any information anywhere else, and I very much want to write on this topic. Any suggestions (from anyone!) would be seriously appreciated. My e-mail address is hannahlorah@gmail.com. Thanks so much for blogging about this!

November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I'm praying for you because you need to see what a blessing this article was --hard to read, even harder to write, yes, but a blessing. For so many. And you need to let yourself off the hook now.

Be well.

November 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGine

I just pray that someday the OBs, doctors and midwifes who do these things to women will be tried and found guilty of assault, battery and rape. Not that I wish it on you, and I do somewhat fear for your liability as you've now admitted fault, but I hope that there will be some justice for the women who have faced it, as well as penalities for those who inflict it.

March 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenne

I am glad you have recognized what you and others did as wrong and I have the impression that you wouldn't watch it being done again without trying to help the woman giving birth. But I don't understand how midwives, being women themselves, can act in such a disgusting manner. I thought it was the bad, impatient male physicians who do such harm for money and for their ego. I am shocked that women can be so mean to other women when they are dependent and in pain. As to me, I don't have children but wish to be a mom. After I have read on different sites, I will have a home birth with a midwife, and if I don't feel respected by her, I will simply throw her out of my apartment.

July 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I appreciate what you say, but the women don't generally realize the disrespect/cruelty until *after* the birth. Women in labor are in NO position to gauge others' motives or actions. Somehow, it's easier in the hospital, but I generally find women who understand what is going on to 1) have an epidural or 2) have a doula that reflects what is happening in a "voice" that is heard by the laboring couple.

And midwives are a product of their experiences... just like all of us. When we are taught things, we *assume* they are the correct things to be learned and mimic them to get a good grade, pass the course, etc. It wasn't until I had some different experiences under my belt before I could see what was being done wasn't right.

Yet, 99% of the women who have the type of care I described probably don't even know there is another way.

In fact, when I talk to women of my mom's generation (that had babies in the 50s and 60s), they are flabbergasted women *don't* have to endure the indignities they themselves had to. They considered it a rite of passage of sorts to birth in a humiliating manner.

It will be interesting to see what our future holds.

July 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Thank you. I read your post and pretended that the doctor who did something you mentioned to me during my birth was saying those words. I think what separates you from him and those like him is that you are sorry. You do care that you might have hurt another person. You can't undo what is done but your decency and humanity shine through in your willingness to admit it and wish it were different. If my doctor could have simply said "I'm sorry" I don't think I'd be having as much trouble healing and moving on. Instead he and his colleague treated me like a troublesome head of cattle for speaking up for myself and shamed and humiliated me for daring to protest.

June 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHolly Noelle

I realize this is a years old topic on this blog, but I've been lightly grazing this topic since my own horrific experience several months ago. I have pretty severe post traumatic stress disorder and for now, with all due respect (and I mean that, as this was a meaty and brave topic for a midwife to write about, however encouraging or otherwise discouraging), I disagree with this comment:

"the women don't generally realize the disrespect/cruelty until *after* the birth. Women in labor are in NO position to gauge others' motives or actions. "

While I think I see where this comment was coming from, when my midwife was doing the things she was doing to me during my labor, I was acutely aware of the way I was being MIStreated, mishandled, and abused. The thing I was in no position to do was argue for myself, due to the excruciating level of pain and frustration I was experiencing and therefore, a near inability to talk or come up with an alternative plan.

I've played it out in my head so many times since then, wondering what else I could have done under the circumstance. It's a tragedy because midwives are really given an almost godlike (or goddesslike if you will) persona amongst women. We expect they will treat us with love and kindness, with empathy and healing, gentle hands. If you had asked me a year ago, I would been driving that bandwagon, or at least pumping a little gas into yet. Yet, more and more over these last few months I am finding stories similar to my own (typically not as severe, but with some similar elements) and it horrifies me. I had always wanted another child after this one, but after this experience, I really don't think I can endure another birth psychologically or emotionally, knowing there may be nowhere truly safe to give birth in this world, and that's a tragedy in and of itself in more ways than one.

September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllie

Sometimes just an apology helps a great deal. All too often women are admonished to "own" what happened to them, to "take responsibility" for whatever was done to them. That's just a cop out and a crock.

I was told my transport was my fault because I made my midwives "uncomfortable" - I decided at the last minute I wanted my mother. That was my choice to make. It was not okay for 2 people I was paying for a service to make up an emergency that required a crazed drive across town, when there was no emergency. How was I supposed to divine your discomfort in the middle of transition? Why was I even supposed to care about anyone except for my baby and myself?

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