I keep saying that I believe that stories are going to be the catalyst that propels this birth revolution into an unstoppable force.
Courtesy of Birth Bootcamp facebook page
There are just so many stories, so many violations. Sometimes a woman just feel shitty following her birth experience and she can’t really name or understand it. She may sit for months or years in confusion, uncertain of why she feels incomplete, why she feels shattered. Then she reads another woman’s story – one that sounds remarkably like her own. She can now name it. It is no longer abstract, no longer unmentionable. This part of story-telling is powerful. It is tremendously hard to heal from an experience that hardly anyone validates.
Stories hold individual truth. They contain perspective, emotion, and ownership. While one can argue rhetoric, and one can argue theory, one can not challenge someone’s personal experience. Stories hold a certain sense of power in that way.
I was reminded the other day that when we are so indoctrinated to view birth as a catastrophe waiting to happen and a pregnant woman as a vessel, it actually becomes a part of our culture’s reaction to challenge even a personal story that conflicts with that narrative. If a woman relays an experience that involves trauma but she had a “healthy baby” and that’s “all that matters,” sometimes people don’t know what to do with it.
I recently read an article where a woman shared her experience of being bullied while in labor. In her article, she told of being condescended, told that she needed to focus on her baby – that it was about her baby now, not about her. She was told she needed to stop crying, called a “crybaby” while on the operating table, and on and on. Hundreds of comments poured into the article. Many were encouraging. Some relayed their own trauma and thanked this woman for speaking out. Some, on the other hand, were anything but supportive. This comment, left by a reader, summed up the gist of what others who were more verbose were saying:
“Exactly! Even if they were the biggest dicks in the world, their job is to deliver a healthy baby. And they did that.”
Whenever I read something I like this, I’m taken aback. It is always shocking to me the utter lack of ability to acknowledge another’s humanity; to honor their experience. I get that this story clearly challenges the dominant narrative of “healthy baby is all that matters,” but what’s with this wall-sized hurdle of affirming a woman’s investment in her own baby and her right to a humane birth experience that seems too great to scale?
At what point did the pregnant woman – the mother – become irrelevant in this “healthy outcome” discussion? Why is it considered ethical to verbally bitch slap women during their labors so long as the baby comes out with a good APGAR?
I asked the readers at the Birth Anarchy Facebook page if anything that was said to them during their pregnancy or birth experience felt like a verbal bitch slap that has replayed over and over since the experience. Within moments dozens of responses rolled in.
“Can you feel this?” On the operating table, during a c section pushed by my ob for no medical reason, as I was screaming at them not to cut me until my husband was there.
It’s so nice to be treated like a piece of meat.”
“When I asked if I could go to the restroom before a cervical check just before transition: “Well if you’re going to do that I’m going to go back to my office, I have other patients waiting.”
“I commented that the doppler gel used during my prenatal with a student was ice cold. He said, “Aww, you big baby” in that kind of voice one would use when talking to a puppy.”
“When I said I’d read that purple pushing wasn’t necessary and I was worried about oxygen supply to the baby, OB yelled back, “I don’t know what kind of books YOU’VE been reading.” In a voice that said I was too stupid to read.”
“I had midwives so the fact that they went against their normal practice hurt about as much as what they said: “We HAVE to cut it now, you don’t have a choice”. (In regards to my insisting on delayed cord clamping even though there was fresh meconium in the sac when it broke.)”
“It’s too late honey.” After i told the doctor to STOP yanking the cord minutes after birth. He ended up busting my placenta into pieces and having to go in for a manual retrieval of all the parts. Then, not nearly as bad, I was told “Next time get the hep lock honey”….yeah um I’m smart enough to know that had Dr. Impatient just waited there would have not been an “emergency” in the first place.”
“I’ve not given birth yet, but during a pregnancy support group a lactation educator told a group of pregnant people, some days away from their due dates, to make sure we eat before going to the hospital because once we get there we are the hospital’s property.”
“As I was getting cut in delivery the dr said you shouldn’t have put those last 5 lbs on….”
“so the OB said he is going to do a vaginal exam in transition, being stuck for 2 hours at 8cm, and then, when his hand was in me, he said “Until now this was a game, now we start obstetrics” [Eddig tartott a játék, most kezdődik a szülészet. ~ Hungarian], and he started manually dilating my cervix for minutes, which he did not explain at all, did not ask for my consent, and I was just screaming (mostly inaudibly for myself).”
“First three hospital births I wad told to shush because I was too loud. Fourth was at home with a midwife, and I was told to pull myself together because I was kind of freaking a bit due to past birth trauma. Midwife and I talked it out, and I had a good fifth birth with her. Still makes me sad though. I can still hear it.”
“It’s 5:00. I’m calling the OR.”
“(while 7 cm dilated with a ruptured bag during a planned VBA2C) “I’ll LET you deliver vaginally only if you get an epidural and catheter.”
“As three nurses held me down on my back, the one with her hand inside me kept saying “stop pushing. The doctor isn’t here yet”.
“well I am going to go ahead and take you back to the OR so I can go to lunch.“
“My last was a precipitous labor and the nurses wanted me to stay in bed so that the baby would not come before the doctor got there. At one point I said that I needed help because it hurt so much the nurse was right there and she looked at me coldly and said “you wanted a natural birth.” and turned away. A few contractions later I had a very loud vocal contraction. Two women ran in the room and when they saw I was not pushing they laughed and said “ha ha, thought we were having a baby” and left without introducing themselves. I was having a baby!! !#@$#%”
“I transferred from a planned homebirth with my 1st child. When I arrived at the hospital and started to explain what was happening to the midwife, she said to me “You don’t tell us what you need, the dr will decide that. You’re in a different model of care now, you need to hand over the control.”
“Whilst in labour with my twins I was rushed in for an emergency c-section and was screamed at to hold still while they attempted to put a spinal in mid contraction (which were right on top of each other at that stage), instead they held me down and gave me a general anesthetic. Something I haven’t gotten over 4 years on.”
“I was made to justify why I didn’t want antibiotics for group B Strep, even though it was written on my birth plan. “YOU tell me” she said, while I was in the middle of labour. One of many instances that lead to a horrible birth and PTSD.”
“Said by my OB in a very angry tone – “I KNOW you don’t want to be induced, but SOMEBODY’S got to look out for the best interests of the baby!”
“My OB came to see me after my daughters’ births (twins) and told me “I only did what I thought you wanted me to do”. He was completely puzzled why I would be upset that he continued with a procedure while I screamed at him to stop.”
The more we share these stories the more other women will find their voice.
The more we share our stories the less unbelievable they become.
The more we speak out, the clearer the reality of violence against pregnant and birthing women becomes.
Do you have a story to share?
Do you feel courageous enough to share your story? Bold enough to share these women’s stories?