My dear friend Colleen Scarlett, a Licensed & Certified Professional Midwife in Miami, Florida and previously a midwife in Jamaica, wrote a comment to my Birth Abuse post that, I am sure, will be an eye-opener for many of us in birth. Surely there are others that have "seen" these reasons/causes for birth abuse, but I have never considered most of what Colleen says below. It is in this piece that I can finally see a glimmer of hope in erradicating all aspects of birth abuse.
"Is there any other field of medicine so rife with the potential for abuse than obstetrics/midwifery? Is it because she's, for the most part, naked? Lying on her back? Legs spread? Is it because she's carrying a baby, and we forget that SHE is just as important as her passenger? Because we think a labouring woman is temporarily stupid and incapable of thinking or feeling? Do we really think she "forgets all about it" when the baby is laying in her arms? Why is it that doctors, nurses, and midwives assume it's ok to be rough, yell, push, pounce upon, belittle a woman in labour?
Can you imagine an oncologist walking into a room and saying, "I'm just hanging this bag of medicine, don't worry about it, it will make you feel better" without discussing the risks/benefits and obtaining informed consent? Can you imagine a proctologist shoving his fingers up someone's rectum without introduction or permission? Yet it happens with labouring women every minute of the day, in every hospital, in every city and town.
When you work in birth, you get to witness it all...all the abuse, both physical and verbal. You get to witness the misogynist OB cut an episiotomy with a disgusting smirk on his face while the mother screams and begs him not to. You get to listen to a midwife berate a woman having a difficult labour, telling her it's "all in her head" that she should get over herself and have the baby, already. You get to see her legs shoved open, grabbed and put into stirrups or up by her ears, you get to see fingers put in places only lovers should go, and sometimes, you get to perpetrate these acts yourself.
What, on God's green earth, is the root cause of all this? Why is it we think it's ok to do this to labouring women? If we're going to put a stop to it, we need to figure it out. It's a prevailing attitude, perpetuated by the media in film and television, that pregnant and labouring women, or even women in general, are raving lunatics incapable of making rational decisions, who, like disobedient children, need an authoritarian firm hand to guide them, and even discipline them, in order to get their babies out quickly and safely. And like parenting, for some, discipline equals punishment.
And even women, like victims of domestic violence and child abuse, accept the blame for their treatment. How many times have we heard a newly postpartum mother apologize, APOLOGIZE! for her behavior during labour? For not pushing hard enough when being coached to PUUUUUUUUSSSSHHHHH! For making loud noises while being admonished to "breeeeaaaattttthhhhh!". For trying to escape probing fingers and painful exams while being told to "RELAX! You're making it harder on yourself!".
We've been so brainwashed into thinking women completely lose their minds during labour it makes it easy to abuse them. How can you have a rational discussion with an irrational being? It's easier to just do what you have to do to them and not bother with trying to get them to understand what you're saying. If you think women are so out of it that they can't even hear you, much less comprehend what you're saying, and "won't remember a thing when the baby is in their arms" anyway, it makes it all justifiable. And if women believe, no, FEAR, that they are going to become crazed, violent lunatics who spew profanities, sweat, groan, grunt, roar, bite their partners and shit on the bed, we become even more susceptable to those who use our fears to abuse, coerce, and degrade us."
Simply amazing, Colleen. Thank you so, so much for articulating something I haven't been able to and bringing to light ideas I'd never even considered. Thank you, dear friend.