Obstetric abuse is not new to me; I have been through it myself and know many others who have also been through it. Seeing it discussed openly and respectfully with suggestions of things that we (doulas) can do to help any of our clients who may be on the receiving end of it and hearing about the different ways that obstetric violence can be presented was very helpful and I know that I will be taking away much of what I have read and using it to help any of my future clients who may experience obstetric violence (I bloody well hope that none of them do!)
The biggest issue discussed was about many of those who experience obstetric violence AND have a doula supporting them while it is happening – specifically about the client blaming the doula for not stopping what happened and what we, as doulas who may be witness to this awful practice in the future, could potentially do to not only stop it from happening but also to potentially prevent it from happening at all. The one thing that I noticed most about this part of the discussion (and from a documentary that discussed women’s experiences of obstetric violence) was that the doula was often blamed for not stopping it, not preventing it, not fixing the problem.
Having personally experienced "birth rape" during the birth of my youngest child - I didn't have a doula during that birth and I did blame my husband for a LONG time afterwards (and still have some residual anger towards him that I have not yet been able to release, it has been nearly 6 years now and the long term negative effects of that experience still affect me to this day - I have forgiven my husband however, and I have no doubt at all that had I had a doula I would have blamed him/her for not protecting me instead of my husband) for not doing anything to stop what was being done to me (in his defence he truthfully had no idea what was going on and was focused on our baby who wasn't breathing yet and needed resuscitation). I blamed the person that I trusted the most during the most vulnerable moment of my life for not protecting ME, for not SAVING ME, for not ripping that fucking obstetric registrar away from me and ripping his damn head off. I still blamed the registrar for his actions, but most of my blame went to the person who was supposed to be my protector.
We as women who have experienced obstetric abuse still blame our care provider for what happened - that's obvious - but we also blame the person that we trusted most to protect us, either our partner, a family member/friend or our doula (if we have one), because in our eyes they DID NOT protect us and they were supposed to.
Blame, choosing one person to blame for what happened, is (unfortunately for us) normal and is part of the grieving process, it's awful for us who are on the receiving end. And we are grieving after what happened to us – we are grieving for what should have been, grieving for the pain we have experienced that we shouldn’t have had to experience, grieving for everything that should have been perfect and right and instead went so very very fucking wrong.
WE the doulas become the scapegoats instead of the other support person (if there was one) just because of our presence in that room, WE become the ones who SHOULD have done more, SHOULD have been better, SHOULD have been able to FIX whatever was happening, SHOULD SHOULD SHOULD have done SOMETHING, ANYTHING to stop what was happening from happening in the first place. WE doulas are the ones who are trusted to protect our client, to keep our client safe, to tell our client what is happening and when. WE doulas are often expected to do more and be more than we actually are – like that old blog post about airy fairy doulas full of unicorns and rainbows from way back in 2014.
All that we as doulas are physically able to do in the birthing room is to tell our clients what is happening, speak up (out loud so that everyone present is aware of what we are saying) and ask our clients if they are ok with what is happening or if they wish for it to be stopped.
We cannot control what their care providers do.
We cannot physically stop their care providers without risking being charged with assault ourselves and as a result leaving our client alone, vulnerable and still in the hands of that care provider (here in Queensland, Australia we are now not "allowed" to even raise our voice in anger or frustration at a care providers actions, regardless of if we are in our role as a doula, as a patient or as the support person/advocate of a family member, without risking being potentially charged with abuse against that care provider ~ carries the risk of spending up to 14 years in jail if we are charged), we can do what we can within the limits of the current system wherever we are but we alone cannot change it, we can only create awareness and make sure that our clients know all of their options.
The harsh reality is that there isn't all that much that we doulas are able to do in the moment and we cannot stop all of it from happening. All we can do is support our client, inform them and their other support people, tell our clients if we see that something is being done without their consent and remind them that they can say NO and STOP and can kick their care provider out of their room if they don't stop what they are doing.
After the birth we can register complaints with the hospital and the relevant medical authority as witnesses of what occurred and we can provide a witness statement that our client can use for what we saw happen. We can support our client physically and mentally/emotionally and we can find suitable resources for our client so that our client can hopefully begin the process of healing, if not physically then at least mentally/emotionally.
It kills me inside that I cannot do more. I wish I could do more. I wish that I could save every single woman from experiencing anything like what I went through – I know that I can’t but the wish is still there – and all I want, more than anything else in this world, is to see those care providers who practice obstetric violence be appropriately punished for their actions and for all of the damage, pain and heartbreak that they have left in their wakes.
Just a little end note:
- If you or someone you know has experienced obstetric violence please lodge a complaint against the person who perpetrated that violence with both the hospital that it occurred in and also with the relevant regulatory authority for that persons profession.
- If you or someone you know has experienced obstetric violence and is struggling mentally/emotionally please encourage them to seek help from a maternal mental health counsellor/psychologist with experience in treating complex PTSD caused by obstetric violence/birth trauma.