Sexual Trauma During Childbirth
Trauma Healing Series Introduction
My experience of sexual trauma during pregnancy and childbirth, healing that trauma through reiki and de-armoring techniques, and my continued witness of other's experiencing trauma has prompted me to start a new blog series.
I had to have a cervical exam at 34 weeks due to a preterm labor scare that sent us to the hospital. The hospital doctor dug around trying to find my cervix to see if I was dilated. His fingers scraped my insides as the bones of his hands ground against my pubic bone. All the while he proceeded to tell me that he would never let his wife give birth in a hospital because it isn't really a safe place to have a baby. One of the movements your cervix has to make besides dilating, is moving from a posterior to an anterior orientation aka moving from facing your back to your front/center. A posterior cervix can be difficult for a practitioner to reach, and when some discover the cervix to be that far back, they don't try and reach it. This provider didn't practice that way. Even though I stopped having contractions, and wasn't in labor, I wasn't allowed to go home unless I had a cervical exam. The doula in me now knows I could have refused, but at the time I didn't know I could say no. I shut myself down in attempts to ignore the pain, the invasion, the loss of control over decisions and myself. It took a lot of self healing work to not be triggered by similar sensations and to connect with my partner again.
I see this over and over again with my clients. Not giving consent, and even revoking consent only to have those pleas fall upon deaf ears. Being told to "just hold still", "breathe through it", "it'll be over shortly", "I have to do this, you don't have a choice" are phrases I hear spoken by providers, nurses, and well meaning partners. I've seen women physically crawl away from the hands of their provider, only to have the provider keep at what they are trying. I've seen an anesthetist touch a woman's clitoris after giving her an epidural to see if it took. Let's be clear I'm not talking about any sort of life saving touch or measure, I am talking about something being done to a women simply because another person wants to do it.
There's a controversy about sexual assault during childbirth being a "real thing". Either because some truly believe a woman has no right to her body when she is pregnant (or any other time), or because other's believe care providers always know best, and would never do anything unnecessary.
Maryland law (and other states similarly) defines a first degree sexual offense as "Engaging in a sexual act with another by force, or the threat of force, without the consent of the other and: ... - Threaten or place the victim in fear that the victim, or a 3rd person known to the victim, imminently will be subject to death" The later part of the law I see expressed through coercion regarding the baby's health and survival. How is there doubt that sexual assault exists and matters in childbirth? There are cases where the woman has video evidence, and still nothing is done, or it takes years to even get a lawyer, see a judge, and have the case resolved. Woman are scorned for being upset at their birth experience, especially if they "have a healthy baby".
Trauma in childbirth is real, it is a problem, women need the space and support to heal from it, and the medical system needs to change. This is the start of a blog series that will discuss implied vs explicit consent, healing birth trauma, finding your sexual autonomy again, and more.
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