12/28/15 Update: Dr. Abbassi has surrendered his medical license and can no longer practice in the state of California.
Almost a year ago, Kimberly Turbin’s forced episiotomy video went viral when Improving Birth shared it as part of their Break the Silence campaign. When I watched the video with a colleague via Skype, I knew this had the potential to be a game-changer.
Now, Kimberly, armed with a prominent civil rights lawyer, has filed a lawsuit for assault and battery against the physician who cut her vagina – 12 times – against her will.
All eyes on this case, which could be the first time we see a U.S. judgement handed down on violence against women in the obstetrical setting.
Here, Kimberly speaks with me about trauma, recovery, and what motivates her to keep going.
Kimberly, thank you for talking with me. I asked on the Birth Anarchy Facebook wall what folks would like to ask you. One person said, “I don’t want to ask her anything. I just want to say thank you from one victim of obstetrical violence to another. You are warrior strong. You are the voice of countless women and we are a all cheering you on. Stay strong”
The video of your forced episiotomy is hard for many people to watch. I imagine it was horrifying for you to relive. What made you decide to post it, publicly on Youtube?
I posted my video on youtube so it won’t happen to anyone else. I wanted to make sure it was well exposed in women breastfeeding groups and groups on facebook.
So when I saw my video for the first couple times I’m like, “this is not normal and none of the other birth video’s look like mine.”
My pain was out of this world. I started sharing the video publicly because my female friends who had birthed before and my family were saying things to me like, “it’s ok, they cut everyone.” But I kept saying, “no it’s not normal.” They kept trying to minimize what had happened. Like I was delusional or being dramatic.
My mother said. “Kimberly, I didn’t know he was going to cut you like that. I thought he was just going to snip you once or twice. Not 12 times or with scissors.” I tell my mom, “it’s ok mom, it’s not your fault.”
Yes, TWELVE cuts. The number of cuts to your vagina was astounding. How has the physical healing process been for you?
After being cut by Dr. Abbassi the physical healing process felt like never-ending pain in my genitals. When your genitals are cut this many times it makes it really hard to breastfeed successfully or sit. I had to go to Ross [medical supply store] and buy a cushion. My mom had to buy me random pool floating devices to sit on like donuts. I was in pain all the time. I had to change my diet and juice and take fiber so my stools could be as soft as possible. My life revolved around making my poop soft and not sitting, not ripping. I bled for months. I had to hold my butt area when pooping because it felt like my butt was ripping. I was terrified to use the bathroom.
Because of this forced treatment my life revolved around the pain in my genitals, when my focus could have been on my son, Rio. The healing process – dealing with it, physically – has left me tired and fearful, stressed and paranoid. Since I am in a relationship I can touch on sex a little bit. On the emotional side, I have crying outburst because it’s a flashback and it hurts. I get shooting shock pains in my vagina. The strangest part about pelvic pain is that when I’m sad or someone makes me cry my vagina starts to hurt.
I had to endure humiliation by nurses telling me to “get over it, this is normal,” but I just kept telling them it wasn’t. I didn’t even know where to go for pelvic pain trauma so I contacted a rape crisis center in Santa Monica [to] see if they can see me as a patient. Since I have moved away from LA area I had to look for another provider.
There are so many facets to trauma – the physical, the emotional, the mental. So many women are told, “Well, don’t dwell on it. At least you have a healthy baby!” when they attempt to discuss their birth trauma. It sounds like you experienced that with friends and family. What about when it comes up in public forums and on social media? How does that make you feel?
Yes, I encounter this on social media all the time. It makes me feel sad because I hear so many other women’s stories and I feel the pain with them. That makes me mad actually, it’s silencing the problem. It’s like “Hush, Hush, you’re a woman.”
How did you first find advocacy and legal support? What made you decide that you would pursue legal charges against your doctor?
I first found advocacy on Facebook. I was putting my video on Birth Without Fear and then they tagged Dawn from Improvingbirth.org and she told me, “I wish I can drive over to Los Angeles just to give you a hug!”
I brought my birth story to the attention of the hospital first, because that’s where the assault and battery happened. I just wanted an apology and ask them why they let Dr. Abbassi even touch me with that type of attitude. They took my complaint and ignored me.
So then I filed my complaint against the medical board and even filed a police report. Then I decided to file my lawsuit because I was already unstoppable. I had to keep going.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
What has kept you going?
What motivates me to keep going is because this video and everything and all the work being done behind the scenes – it’s all hurdles and obstacles that are overcome, and I just keep going! I keep going to press charges against Obstetric Violence because come on, has anyone yet so far – even the nastiest comments – has anyone said, ‘I want this Dr. to be my provider, I want to be treated exactly like this patient in this video??’ NO. And why is that? Because it’s violence. I’m a patient with right’s and I kept asking why, Why? Because I wasn’t given a reason to cut my vagina that proves it was an emergency. I’m still here fighting for this cause because I was forced to get cut unnecessarily for no medical reason.
Many who read this blog are here because they, too, experienced violence during their birth, and they carry the physical and emotional scars with them following their birth – and it’s not just measured in days, it’s most often measured in years. What have been some of your struggles, as a new mother, navigating the after affects of an abusive birth experience?
The hardest part is that I want to have more babies, Kathi and I’m very scared. This Doctor made me completely fearful of what can happen to me in a setting where I have no control over someone waving their freak scissors around my genitals or taking their rage out on my body for asking questions.
What would say to women who are entering pregnancy and preparing to give birth for the first time?
Look, people can say things like, “maybe she should have chose her provider better,” [but] I met this doc one time and then I went into labor the next day. I prepared myself to not do anything that they couldn’t explain was 100% necessary. If they couldn’t tell me a dire need for it I said no. These hospitals do whatever they want, they don’t care. If someone feels like they are about to go through this, I would call the chief of the hospital and call 911.
Kimberly is still working to raise funds for court fees, which are expected to exceed $50,000. You can visit her fundraising page and donate, here.