Most people will have never heard of it, some may have experienced it but not had a name to call it, some may think it’s just a crock of shit and that women (in general) should just be grateful that they are alive and have a healthy baby (assuming that the one who experienced Obstetric Violence actually did have a healthy baby which I do know for a fact isn’t always the case).
So what is it?
According the MidwivesVictoria1 blog maintained for the Midwives in Private Practice (MiPP) collective Obstetric violence is “the act of disregarding the authority and autonomy that women have over their own sexuality, their bodies, their babies and in their birth experiences.
It is also the act of disregarding the spontaneity, the positions, the rhythm and the times the labour requires in order to progress normally when there is no need for intervention.
It is also the act of disregarding the emotional needs of mother and baby throughout the whole [childbearing] process."
The World Health Organisation2 defines Obstetric Violence as “disrespectful, abusive or neglectful treatment during childbirth in facilities” and “included outright physical abuse, profound humiliation and verbal abuse, coercive or unconsented medical procedures (including sterilization), lack of confidentiality, failure to get fully informed consent, refusal to give pain medication, gross violations of privacy, refusal of admission to health facilities, neglecting women during childbirth to suffer life-threatening, avoidable complications, and detention of women and their newborns in facilities after childbirth due to an inability to pay.”
In addition Obstetric Violence also includes committing acts against the birthing person, including but not limited to medical intervention (both physical and via IV), without valid informed consent and verbal permission (after obtaining valid informed consent) to do so.
Obstetric Violence can also include holding a baby’s head inside the birth canal, performing a routine episiotomy without informed consent and against the birthing persons wishes, performing a caesarean against the birthing persons wishes (even if it puts the unborn baby at risk – the birthing person has the legal and human right to accept and/or refuse any and all medical treatment regardless of if it’s during childbirth or not), stitching up a perineal/vaginal/rectal/vulval tear without valid informed consent, denying a birthing persons request for specific procedures (hysterectomy or other sterilisation, delayed cord clamping, genetic testing for a known genetic disease within the family etc) and/or rejection of intervention (refusing ergometrine/syntocinon injection for delivery of the placenta, refusing a canula/IV, refusing internal examinations, refusing to be confined to the bed, refusing to use continuous fetal monitoring/CFM etc), giving the birthing person IV or intramuscular medication without valid informed consent, bullying/coercing/scaring/manipulating a birthing person into interventions that the birthing person otherwise would not have consented to (this also goes against the Human Rights laws and Australian law – Australia is also a cosignatory of the Human Rights laws meaning that they apply here and anything going against those laws is a violation of the Human Rights laws).
For some of these things it can be argued that they are lifesaving procedures – and while many of them can be for many women I am not talking about them right now (although some of them have involved violations of human rights too). The issue I am writing about here is to do with Obstetric Violence. Violence perpetrated against a birthing person that is either verbal or physical or even a combination of both.
If we take away the hospital/medical setting - the gloves, the gowns, the masks, the lights and equipment, and transpose these abuses into any other setting, eg the cinema, the shopping center/mall, the car park, a private home, basically anywhere else except for in a hospital or other medical facility – everyone would be in an uproar, the perpetrator would be charged with assault, with physical abuse, with domestic violence or just simply for perpetrating violence against another person.
The media would be all over it, the general public would be screaming (well maybe not screaming exactly but at least calling loudly) for justice, if it just happened to be a native Australian who experienced it there would be a giant uproar and picketers would be barricading Parliament House demanding reforms and justice and changes to the law.
If it was a celebrity who experienced it there would be stories in every magazine, it would be known pretty much all over the world what had happened, and the court case would be all over the news.
But it is in a hospital setting, and because of that it’s “accepted”, it’s treated as “normal”. The birthing people who go through such a horrible experience are left to deal with on their own with very little support and sometimes even no support at all.
They don’t get any justice.
If they lodge a complaint with the hospital they may or may not get an insincere apology designed to cover the hospitals arse, the perpetrator may or may not get a slap on the wrist and will then most likely go straight back to doing the exact same thing to other birthing women.
If they lodge a complaint with the relevant regulatory authority they might see the perpetrator investigated, or they not see anything done at all.
If they contact the police they are normally told that “there’s nothing we can do”.
If they contact a lawyer they’re told “we can’t help you”.
Obstetric Violence is being perpetrated against birthing people every single day in hospitals everywhere and the victims have no recourse.
They get no justice for what was done to them.
They may get an insincere apology.
They get minimal help – and what little help they do get is usually limited to seeing a psychologist or counsellor to treat PTSD and/or depression caused by their experience.
Those who are creating awareness of Obstetric Violence, who are trying to bring into the public’s knowledge and sight so that something can be done, are usually those who have personally experienced it or who have personally witnessed it.
The victims of Obstetric Violence, those who have already experienced it, those who are experiencing it right now and those who will experience it in future, all need our help. We need something to be done right now.
OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE NEEDS TO BE STOPPED.
1 - http://midwivesvictoria.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/definition-of-obstetric.html
2 - http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/134588/WHO_RHR_14.23_eng.pdf?sequence=1