[Editor’s note: Trigger warning for frank discussion of sexual violence.]
In less than three months’ time, my son will be five. It will be five years since I gave birth to him. Five years since my husband and I cried with joy as he was laid on my chest. Five years since one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.
I don’t feel I should have to detail what I went through in order to talk of all that happened but so many make judgments and feel it is their inherent right to have that private knowledge if what I say is to have any legitimacy.
When he was born, my son was eight days late. He was born at 10:31 p.m. on a Sunday night. I had been in labour since 03:20 a.m. Friday morning. By some point on Friday evening or Saturday morning I was 4cm dilated. I stayed that way until approximately 5 p.m. on Sunday night. Constantly contracting. I had two forms of pain relief offered: paracetamol and a TENS machine. I was not properly instructed in using the TENS machine, and even then it is far from a guaranteed success for every woman. By 5 p.m. on the Sunday night, I was moved from the Midwife Unit across some corridors to the Labour Ward.
The process here in the UK is that with a low risk pregnancy, a midwife will usually deliver a baby. Otherwise the midwife or obstetricians will deliver a baby with additional assistance and help in the Labour Ward. My hospital was such that both were within the maternity hospital.
By 5 p.m. on that Sunday, my husband and my mother were at their wits end. For three days I had barely eaten, I had barely slept, I had no pain relief of consequence. The midwife, like a petulant child, went to the Labour Ward at their begging request. The Labour Ward was furious. I was very ill with pre-eclampsia. I was exhausted. Taken immediately into their care, I was hooked up to machines to monitor our son, and myself. My waters were broken soon after and I was given morphine and Entonox. Within five hours my son was born. Within those five hours, there was a surgical team on standby for a crash caesarean; they were in the room as the obstetrician did his best to help me give birth to my son as quickly as possible. Yet, I have no memory of the surgical team. I was exhausted. My blood pressure had skyrocketed. I had to be told by my husband and mother of all the events that had happened. The obstetrician had to use forceps, too, after which there was shoulder dystocia. The latter, again, I did not learn about until later.
Many women will say they have forgotten the pain. Perhaps they have. I remember every day of it in a way that frightens me. I remember it when I think about if we will have another child. The pain terrifies me.
Once he was born, and placed on my chest, I am at last able to remember something other than the pain. I remember my husband and I crying. We had made it. He was okay. We knew he was a he. He had earned his name, the meaning of which is “fair warrior.”
My son has a teddy bear named after the obstetrician who delivered him. I am thankful for the male obstetrician and the two female midwives who showed compassion to me. I will forever be thankful for their compassion. Those three people are some of the few outside my husband, my family and my close friends to show compassion for me.
If there was more acceptance of birth trauma, more compassion, I perhaps wouldn’t have been awake until near 5 a.m. on a recent morning going through it all, and still unable to sleep once in bed.
What I went through was a traumatic birth. Society suggests that I merely had inappropriate expectations. That I had visions of rejecting the medical approach and embracing nature. That I deserved to be brought back to earth. That I was naÃ¯ve, too. I was a young mother, and as such, should suffer. That my youth rendered me a dumb slut for becoming a mother at all and I should be put in my place. That I should surrender my body to those who know better. That, in short: I deserved it – deserved the pain and the trauma.
There are many other women who have had traumatic births. There are many women for whom their traumatic birth has included birth rape. There are many women who would deny those mothers the words: birth rape.
In the UK, marital rape wasn’t illegal until 1994. Some women view birth rape in the same light that marital rape was up until 1994. At some point consent had been given, it didn’t matter if they changed their minds.
The World Health Organisation defines rape as: “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.”
Many mothers, those who would call their trauma birth rape, have been through what the WHO defines as rape. They are coerced, threatened, until they bow to penetration: examination or interference they don’t want. At times, it is simply forced. Midwives or obstetricians penetrate these women, with either hands or objects, against their will. Protesting or not. Their pregnancy is deemed their consent. At her most vulnerable, a woman is denied her autonomy. Outside of maternity hospitals, many continue to deny these women their autonomy. Many of those that consider these mothers to be misusing the word rape, are women.
The mothers who have endured traumatic births, whether that includes birth rape or not -– many of whom live quietly with Post-Natal PTSD – are all around. If you meet one of these mothers, please don’t deny her a word because her violation and trauma aren’t up to your standards. She has been denied the inherent right to consent. She has been derided and mocked as simply being a woman with high expectations. Please don’t deny her a straw at which she’s grasping as she tries to make sense of what she’s been through. Please don’t deny her trauma. She is a woman. She is a Human Being.