A License to Rape

by Birth Without Fear on December 9, 2010

*I understand there are good doctors and midwives. To those that listen to and respect women, thank you. This blog post is about the many that do not.

Painful, traumatic childbirth, birth rapeRape? A doctor?  A midwife? Yes. Birth Rape to be more exact. I remember the first time I read about birth rape. At first it is shocking to see birth and rape in the same sentence. To be honest, I never thought I would use the term, but it happens and I am not going to pretend it doesn’t. I’ve had enough.

There are many mamas on our BWF Facebook page now. It’s a wonderful community of women (and some men). We often get updates that a BWF mom has birthed and celebrate in their empowering experiences. They may have birthed at home, in the hospital, had a vaginal birth or c-section. It doesn’t matter as long as they felt they made educated choices on what was best for them and their baby and that those choices were THEIRS to make.

This week however, one mama posted something a little different when announcing the arrival of her sweet son. She labored at home, then when she felt she needed to, went to the hospital. She was given the help she needed and continued to labor beautifully. When she was 9 centimeters, that changed.

“The doctor said he wanted to check the baby’s position and the pressure of my pushing. He had been great so far so I let him. While inside of me, he decided to manually dilate the last lip of my cervix. He HURT me. I had bright red bleeding and he BROKE my spirit. I ended up having a c-section.”

We had a discussion about this on our FB page and other women commented about their experiences. Here are a few.

“My mother had just birthed her 6th child (so it’s not like she was new to the game) and her 20 something yr old Dr. decided that her placenta wasn’t delivering fast enough for him to get to his flying lesson. Against my mother’s (loud!) protests, he reached in and yanked it out himself. He scarred her uterus so badly that she had miscarriages for 4 years.”

“It sure felt like rape to me. Of course no one else at that time would have ever agreed. When I compared my c-section and what led up to it to rape, my husband finally understood how horrible it was for me. Do people honestly think if the trauma women incur was no big deal, that we would have such a huge number of women with PPD and PTSD?”

“My medwife started stretching my cervix after 30 something hours of intense back labor. She did not ask my permission or even warn me. The pain of that was even worse than my contractions (I have a very sensitive cervix). When I begged her to stop she kept going, told me to trust her, and that I would be glad she did this. Well what did I do? I had a total complete meltdown and asked for an epidural, which I’m sure to this day is the reason I ended up with a c-section. I’ll never be able to reconcile my decision to get the epidural, but damnit, had she not violated my rights to have my body untouched, I never would have lost it like that.”

In what other situation would one human being put their hand (or instrument) in a woman’s vagina and do whatever they want and get away with it? Even if a woman consents, if it hurts her, if something is done she does not want or she is BEGGING them to stop, it is not OK. Ever. This is sexual abuse. This is birth rape. No man or woman should ever have their body violated in such a way. No doctor or midwife should feel they have the license to do it. No one should say it does not happen and tell women to get over it.

These things lead to traumatic experiences, post partum depression and post traumatic stress disorder. The amount of women with PPD and PTSD is much higher than realized. It is not hormones, it is trauma. It is abuse. It is rape. The trauma many women experience with their births is sickening and a lot women don’t even realize it. Why is this? The AMA, ACOG and media have made it ‘normal’. So many women have experienced it and told that this is just how birth is. Suck it up.

Many doctors set women up for failure. Whether they intentionally do it or not, depends on the doctor.  The road to interventions and abuse is like a tornado. You can get caught up in it, thrown around like a rag doll, and before you know it you are abused and traumatized. I recently expressed my thoughts on this while watching 16 and Pregnant.

Inducing a woman because baby is ‘too big’, it is her due date, there is high or low fluids, baby is too small, baby is breech, and many other reasons doctors come up with is unethical and immoral. If there is a TRUE medical emergency to intervene, that is one thing, but the amount of times that is actually the case is slim.

Here is another BWF mama’s story:

My first baby was “due” June 23rd. On the 21st I had an appointment. My doctor stripped my membranes and told me she scheduled my induction for the following week. (No reason given). She told me to go home, have sex, walk and hopefully labor would start. I had some contractions, but nothing really. I started to wonder if I was in labor, so I went to the hospital. I was told my babies FHT were dropping and that they were keeping me over night. I stayed the night to be told in the AM that the doctor was going to “get this show on the road”. They broke my bag of waters and started pit. The nurse said “Dr. hopes to have this baby here by 5″. She knew I wanted natural (back then I didn’t associate pit and the AROM as unnatural, I was “young and dumb”).

I labored with pit naturally (had an amazing nurse). I was at a 4 and was told that I couldn’t relax enough and my doctor wanted me to have Nubane to help. They told me Nubane makes you feel like you have had a few drinks and won’t get to your baby. I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. I had no control and that’s when the contractions were terrible! Dr. came at this point while I was drunk on drugs and could barely speak to do and exam. During the exam she put in an internal monitor ( I about came off the bed). I asked her what she was doing. “I am putting in the internal monitor”, she yelled. Then she looked at the monitor, said my contractions weren’t strong enough, and turned the dial a few clicks (it should be a click every 30-60 min). I had the most excruciating contraction. She looked at me and said “Now either you can have an epidural now or you can have one in an hour when I take your baby by c-section.

It was 3:30 at this point. I started crying. She wanted to know why I was crying. (Gee I don’t know…becuase you just said the 2 things I am absolutely terrified of in one sentence). I did the epidural. She came in at 4 and told me she wouldn’t be delivering my baby because she had prior obligations. My daughter was born at 9:03 that night. I was left feeling as though there was something wrong with my body. I asked her what went wrong and her response was, “some women just don’t labor well and you needed help”. Obviously, I have learned my body works just fine, thank you, and I am now a childbirth educator and hope to change the birthing world!

~Melissa Holstrom

Yes, women have to be responsible for educating themselves and speaking up. However, they are competing with a fear based model of care. They are being lied to. They are told their babies are in danger, that drugs won’t effect them or the baby and the next thing they know they are exhausted, mentally wore down, and their spirits broken. They become vulnerable and that is when interventions and abuse can easily happen. It happens to the most educated and strongest of women. It happened to me.

The thing is, birthing women are the ones who have to change this. It will not happen any other way.

What can you do?

  • Report any abuse. I know it is a vulnerable and emotional time, but we have to speak up.
  • Find a care provider that will listen to you and respect you. If you see any red flags and if your gut gives you the slightest uneasy feeling, switch providers ASAP. It is never too late.
  • Birth in a place you feel completely comfortable and empowered to make any choices for you and your baby.
  • Make sure your spouse is completely supportive and on board with your wishes.
  • Hire a doula and make it clear that you want them to speak…not for you, but to you (reminding you what you want, that you have a choice or to simply ask that you may have some privacy to make a decision). When you are exhausted and fear is being put on you, this will be needed!
  • Do not start down the winding path of interventions. No unnecessary ultrasounds, cervical exams, etc.

Epowering, peaceful water birthDon’t ever worry about hurting someone else’s feelings. Don’t ever give in to anything you don’t want. Once you do, you make yourself the victim. There is a fine line between a traumatic birth and an empowering one. Don’t give your power away.

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{ 277 comments… read them below or add one }

Brandee May 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm

This is how I felt with my 3rd baby my son the other 2 where vaginal everything fine nothing crazy but with my 3rd everything began normal I was contracting took my time to go the hospital by the time I did I was 5cm when the nurse checked me she said baby is very high still so I won’t break your water 10 mins later the doctor showed up and said I’m going to break your water …I’m mad at my self till this day 3 years later on why I didn’t say NO the nurse said he was still high so NO but I didn’t when she broke my water It caused a prolapsed cord which caused the most terrifying moment in my life an emergency c-section and my son almost died she came back and said its because you had to much fluid but I knew that it was her fault and mine for not telling her to leave me alone !! :(

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Lauren Stauber May 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

This was my experience, too. After my water broke, and I did not go into labor “fast enough”, I was induced through a series of interventions. When I wasn’t dilating “fast enough”, the midwives “stripped” my cervix to try quicken the dilation. The first time, I was shocked by how painful it was. More painful than the most painful back labor contraction. My whole body went into a sort of shock. They did this to me about 4 times (maybe 3, maybe 5) over the course of my long and what they called “unproductive” labor. Each time they stripped me, I shook from head to toe. I screamed. I cried. I felt myself disassociate. And each time, it would take me time to relax again. To open. To find that zone of surrender that is birth. The last time they wanted to strip me, I begged for about fifteen minutes for them not to do it. But I was pressured into it, convinced that somehow that was the only way for things to proceed. After that last strip, and being told I was only 4 and a half centimeters, I lost all my strength to go on. And I begged for the epidural. 60 hours after my water broke, I had an emergency C-section because I had developed an infection. I am convinced that these invasive and horribly wrong feeling procedures are part of why I developed that infection. I’ve also dealt with extreme pain with intercourse for years after the birth of my son, because the muscles of my vagina locked themselves up into a contraction that I intuit is related to the experience of this painful procedure. I have little by little worked through this tightness, gradually coaxing these muscles to relax again, slowly, painfully, patiently, with the incredible support of my partner. But it has not been easy, and four years later I am still not completely recovered. In the scheme of things, the blessing of being my son’s mama far outweighs any of this trauma. And I would go through it all over again to be his mama. But sometimes I feel angry. And sometimes I do feel that I was, in some way, violated in one of the most vulnerable, personal, and sacred parts of my body. It has been difficult to integrate it all, because I ultimately know that the midwives had my best interest at heart, and they are good women. But when I read this post, the truth of my own wounds said hello. I guess I need to tell my story, too. That is part of the healing. <3

Birth Without Fear is such a valuable forum. Thank you for being here!

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Caro May 20, 2013 at 7:26 am

I sit here reading this and feel like my heart is breaking while simultaneously feeling sick to my stomach that women go through this kind of hell. I implore anyone reading this – find a loving and educated midwife and birth at home. Birth your babies surrounded by peace and love.

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Liana W. May 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

My heart breaks for the women who have had to experience this. We have been blessed to have not gone through such. I showed this to my husband and we read the comments together; he was quite angry! While we have a lot of compassion and empathy for what these women have gone through, my husband couldn’t get over one question: where are the husbands/coaches/doulas who are supposed to protect these women during this vulnerable time? My husband is not violent man, by any means, but he stated very clearly that if any of our nurses/doctors had not explained to us everything that they wanted to do before doing it, or responded correctly to “no”, there would have been immediate physical and, later, legal repercussions.

Again, we haven’t had to experience this horror, so we’re not judging these women or their families since we do not know the whole of their circumstances or understand the lasting pain that goes with it; we are just genuinely concerned about where the support team was.

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Rob May 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Ok I know I will get my head ripped off but I am not sure I would classify this as rape. In fact I think you are doing a great harm to women who have been raped. These experiences were horrible and traumatic I totally agree. And many of these doctors should lose their license but I don’t think it is the same as someone acting maliciously to inflict harm or rape someone. I cocky over confident or negligent doctor is not the same thing as a rapist. When you are giving birth there is always going to be some type of physical examination involving your genitals and granted they should not be going against a mothers wish or disregarding her birthing plan but it is not the same thing is going in to have your thumb examined and the doctor is putting his hands in your vagina. I am sorry this happened to these women and I understand being traumatized but I wouldn’t put them in a rape support group just yet. I imagine if I were held down and raped or taking advantage of by a predator while I was unconscious I would be a little resentful of the lady in there sharing her labor stories. Words are powerful and if we just start applying them to everything then they lose their potency. Yes, if someone touches you or puts things inside of you against your wishes that is a violation and abuse but let’s not pretend that a doctor doing something in the course of labor or an examination (yes they should stop if hey are hurting you or you request them to) is similar to my boss sticking his hands in my pants during a business meeting….the intent and purpose is clearly different. If people are really passionate about this then lets educate doctors on better practices when dealing with women in labor. I think most doctors see themselves as the “experts” and so they view what they decide, and do, as the “right” way to handle things and that needs to change but I don’t believe more these doctors acted in a malicious manner intent on hurting or violating women. If we start labeling everything as rape, then people take it less serious (even more so than they already do) and they are less likely to take it seriously.

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Mrs. BWF May 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Well many women who have been raped would disagree with you. Enough said.

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Nico May 26, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I think until you experience something like this during a procedure of someone in the medical field that you trust has your best interest at heart you will not understand. For a men they isn’t any procedure out there that equals this.

As for women who have been raped I have experience this also. A violation is a violation.
During delivery you are vulnerable.

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Crystal_B October 30, 2013 at 10:21 am

I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, and while I wouldn’t label my first birth as ‘rape,’ either – because I consented to what was done to me, I can tell you that what I suffered at the hands of medical professionals was worse than the sexual assault, and it was made far worse by everyone’s responses to it. When I was sexually assaulted, my parents and friends took my side and empathized with me and allowed me to grieve. When I was threatened and lied to and mistreated and treated as an object in the hospital, it was “my fault” and I “had a healthy baby” and I “should just get over it.”

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spaceranger April 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

As a woman who has been raped (regular ol’ rape, not birth rape) I will say that as I read this article it was VERY EASY for me to understand why the word rape makes sense to describe these traumatic experiences. I felt in no way like application of the word rape to describe birth rape in any way made the word rape less powerful or meaningful. And actually as I was reading the article I kept thinking how hard it would be to understand (and effectively deal with) the emotions that inevitably come along with a trauma if the trauma isn’t being identified as trauma-using the word rape makes it clear that there is trauma and lots of support and help healing is needed. So. I think if “birth rape” seems like the right terminology to a woman who has been violated and traumatized during birth–we should take it seriously and not tell her that it wasn’t actually that bad.

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Erin Winegar August 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

When our 3rd baby decided to make her appearance, our doctor was not on call. Our doctors colleague showed up, checked to see how far I was dialated, and asked if I had ever had an episiotomy. I said no. He informed me that he wanted to give me an episiotomy (I wasn’t even close to pushing at this point). I said no. He persisted. Finally, I had it. I told him if he cut me, I was going to take the same pair of scissors he cut me with, and I was going to cut his pee-pee! Guess what?! No more talk of episiotomy!

I don’t think “rape” is the correct term to use in these type of situations being mentioned. The women are not being sexually harmed, even though their sex organs (vagina, uterus…) are being touched. “Rape” in childbirth, is when a man FORCES himself upon a woman immediatly after she has given birth. Otherwise, their right to have the kind of birth they are entitled to, however, has been stripped from them. This is birth trauma, or violation of birth rights, not rape.

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Mrs. BWF August 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

This is so ridiculous that this is the only response I’ll give at the moment.

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mandi October 21, 2013 at 9:43 pm

What the writer means is the feelings you are left with, are very similar. Being a woman who was raped the biggest question in my mind was, Why did my words have no power, why did I protest, say no and yell, yet it still happened? You feel worthless when you feel violated, and you feel powerless when your words are given no meaning, when you’re told “it’s okay, just be quiet”

Its not ok. When a person doesn’t want something done to their body, it shouldn’t happen.

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Charity January 29, 2014 at 10:28 pm

I see how someone could compare this to rape. And reading stories like these makes me so grateful to have had the birth experience I had. It was in no way perfect (c-section) and could have been considered traumatic, but thanks to all involved (l&d nurse, obgyn), it wasn’t. My only knowledge of childbirth going in was my sister’s experiences, she delivered each of my nephews drug free and very quickly with wonderful doctors. I had not researched at all, and just “went with the flow” for the most part. I was terrified that I wouldn’t go through with it if I went to classes or read any articles (like that’s even possible). Now that I’ve been through it, it doesn’t scare me as much, and next time I want to do everything possible to deliver naturally. Reading this blog has made me feel that it IS possible, and my body was created to do it! I guess I got off topic, but I am so sorry to any of you if you had this type experience. A woman’s body should be treated with respect even through childbirth. And thank you, BWF, for this blog. It has given me hope.

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