There’s this thing happening with social media right now where everyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment posts using #metoo. Seeing that hashtag so much the last couple days, has me thinking I need to share something here about sexual assault in the birth room. You read that right. Birth women are sexually assaulted in the birth room during one of the most emotional and vulnerable times of their lives by the very person/people they have hired and trusted to take care of them. Let that sink in for a moment.
How could this be? Of course birthing women have their most private of places looked at, touched, prodded and probed during labor. That’s normal, right?
Not really. I mean, it is. But, it didn’t used to be and I don’t think it should be any more. You see, women can have babies without someone putting their fingers into their vaginas. I’ve done it actually. And I’ve witnessed other moms do it. Cervical checks are one of many tools that can be used to determine a course of action when labor seems to be outside of the parameters of normal. But, routine frequent checks during labor are not necessary. And they are especially not necessary during pregnancy. Side note: the definitions of a normal labor by the American maternity care system are setting moms up for unnecessary interventions. Want to read more about that? Check out Midwife Thinking’s blog.
This post isn’t totally about necessity of routine cervical checks during pregnancy and birth. Many moms know this is a standard part of maternity care and accept and agree to them. But, many moms also don’t. At least not all of them. You see, those checks are like sex. Just because you agree to one doesn’t mean you have to agree to more. But, many providers expect you to agree to all of them, whenever it is that they say they want to do one or think for some reason that you need one. And those providers can sometimes employ some pretty shady techniques to get these moms to submit to the exam. Fear is a pretty common tactic. I’ve also witnessed a provider who had never met the birthing mother, walk into the birth room while the mother was spontaneously pushing, put on a glove, and shove her hand into the mom’s vagina without introducing herself or asking for consent. I’ve witnessed a laboring mom refuse a cervical check and then be physically shoved down onto the hospital bed by her doctor who then pried her legs apart and forced his hand into her vagina. All the while the mom was crying and asking him not to. I’ve also seen a birthing mother repeatedly ask for the medical student who was sitting between her legs to not check her cervix, not break her water, and not catch her baby. All of those requests were answered by the overseeing physician with “It’s OK honey. She’s with me. I’m watching her” while that medical student checked her cervix, broke her water, and then caught her baby.
Friends, all of these things were sexual assault. And I didn’t share everything with you; this is just a few examples. I’ve experienced secondary trauma from what I’ve seen. And the hardest part of that was feeling so helpless as it all happened and then questioning my role as a doula and whether or not I should have done more and whether or not a doula’s role is contributing to such assaults being dismissed as normal maternity care.
This needs to be spoken of or it will continue. This is not normal. This is not OK.
Amber Piller - Professional Birth Doula and owner of Agape Birth Services. Serving Northwest Houston including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, and Katy Texas.