April 11 - 17, 2019 - This week, we are conducting a short, anonymous survey of Black birth workers in honour of Black Maternal Health Week. We are interested in hearing about how your identity and lived experience shapes the work you do. We also know that your perspective as a racialized individual is unique and often attuned to what others might miss.
This survey is spearheaded by The Reproductive Justice Story Project team member, Solana Cain. Solana is a journalist, photographer, and certifying Black birth worker passionate about creating stories that shine a light on reproductive injustice for Black and racialized communities.
“I was very anxious that I couldn't get much milk out. I needed to feed my baby and I really wanted to do it naturally. The lactation consultant must have said something to my midwife because that evening my midwife came in and said she wanted me monitored, and that she was going to send staff in every 3 hrs to make sure I was actually going to feed him and ***THAT SHE THOUGHT I HAD BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED AS A CHILD*** based on when they were wheeling me into the OR she thought I was sucking my thumb (I was biting my first as the contractions were strong). She thought that was regressive behaviour that showed this. Seeing as I was being monitored as though I was an unfit mom, still raw from the surprise c-section, and awoken every 3 hrs anyway - I could not sleep. I know statistically that sexual abuse happens primarily among family members and all I could think, as thoughts raced through my mind instead of sleeping, was who had possibly sexually abused me? That was what my child's birth story became. I was raw with exhaustion, wired with this shocking piece of information, still very afraid and alone in terms of figuring out how to breastfeed my baby.”
”Words have huge impact around these completely life changing moments like childbirth. I would like the midwifery profession to know the extent of pain that this caused.”
"I cannot rationalize the way I was treated, and as a health care provider myself it just erodes me to know this goes on day in and day out.
I had a sexual abuse history, but I find it absolutely absurd that you have to share that with people, just to get treated with more empathetic care in Obstetrics. All women should be assumed to have a trauma history given the statistics. And all women should be treated with empathy and compassion regardless of their abuse history. Also sorry, not sorry, not going to share that with someone just because you’re a health care provider, it's called building a therapeutic relationship. If you are asking me whether I've been sexually abused as a checklist, just like when my last menstrual period was, you probably aren't going to get an honest answer. I have been through significant gynaecological issues prior to childbirth and never felt traumatized by any procedure, despite my abuse history.”
“As a Catholic teaching hospital, the cultural aversion to informed consent and bodily autonomy in your childbirth unit makes sense, however, some patients raised this culture as an area of concern in the feedback survey. You shared in your letter that you are “continuing to seek learning opportunities that expand care providers’ understanding of what obstetrical [sic] violence is and ways we can ensure patients don’t experience this under our care” In the meeting it was stated that “ideally we need to embed it into some standardized classes” but you were not able to speak to whether “obstetric violence” or “patient mistreatment” are terms that had come up at all yet, even in less formal conversations and huddles on the unit.
However, you expressed with certainty that there have still been no formalized discussions or training around what constitutes obstetric violence, and how to interrupt the cycle of obstetric violence in your Family Birthing Centre. It was also unclear whether the experiences of abuse and mistreatment some patients shared in their survey responses have been addressed in a comprehensive way.”
“And so, in went the pitocin. I made it clear that I only wanted the minimum amount, just enough to start regular contractions. Every time the nurse came to check on me and the machine, she'd raise the rate of delivery a little. When I caught her doing it and asked if she was increasing it, she outright lied and told me they were just trying to adjust the dosage to align with my contractions.”
"I found a new doctor and she delivered babies as well. I am so thankful...she was SO incredible. I literally laughed through my whole labour and delivery. The experience was so great. I am also so mad though for my past experiences. It never had to be the way it was.
I know my story isn't as bad as others but my first labour and delivery almost kept me from having another child. It was very traumatizing to me! I still have a hard time talking about my midwife experience... I usually cry. It was so awful."
"I re-played the situation several times, wondering if I should have said something differently or not had the epidural. I've never had a situation in which I felt so out of control and it was hard to overcome."
"I don't remember how it happened but next she spoke as if the test was just a formality, as if I already had gestational diabetes and the baby was already suffering.
My husband tried talking to her, explaining there are better ways to list out the risks than saying my baby will die. Her response was she was "just doing her job." He tried talking to her more than once but she always blamed my anxiety and her need to do her job."
"Once my incision was closed the OB screamed at me!!!!!! "Don't you know what could have happened, I don't ever want to see you in this hospital again!"
I am not afraid of confrontation at all and had I not just delivered a baby after 36 hours of labour, I would have yelled back. He made me feel like I left the life of my baby to chance without a care about her well being."
"It's been nearly nine years since the birth of my daughter, and although I've moved on from the birth experience I had, listening to the traumatic birth stories of others has made me want to share my own. I really hope that doctors and hospitals end up reading these stories to improve the care that they give to women giving birth in the future."
"I want people to know I'm sure to the midwives and everyone else this just looked like a run-of-the-mill birth. It wasn't long or complicated and both I and my baby were physical healthy, but it's what's on the inside that matters. I hope women reading this can learn from all these experiences and find the courage to say no to disrespectful care providers."
"The OB said they might as well deliver her by forceps now, and said out loud "let's give this baby a little more room, shall we", and I heard and felt the scissors cut into me as he gave me an episiotomy."
My name is Kate Macdonald and I started The Obstetric Justice Project as a place to talk about mistreatment and abuse in reproductive healthcare.
I have struggled with the effects of my birth trauma since my baby was born in February 2017.
In the days and weeks after returning from the hospital, I began to experience vivid flashbacks of my birth experience. I couldn't even sleep on my back, lounge with my knees apart, or be touched anywhere on my body without having sudden intrusive memories that sent my heart racing with panic. I'd wake up sobbing in the night feeling completely shattered and violated again. The physical sensations were so real that it was like I was right back at the hospital.
Although I have experienced disadvantage in my life, I am also incredibly privileged. I came into the hospital that day along with that privilege; I am a white settler, I am able-bodied and English-speaking. I have a stable, loving home and a caring partner who supports our family. Before this experience, I believed myself to be fairly assertive and strong, but even I felt completely powerless and vulnerable when I was giving birth. The trauma I experienced has left me forever changed.
The response I received from the hospital when I tried to speak up about my experience was disappointing, re-traumatizing, and blatant victim-blaming.
I began posting in online forums and talking to new parents at drop-ins and groups, wondering if others had had similar experiences to mine. The reports given by the people I spoke to ranged from small cruelties, to acts that in any other setting would absolutely be considered sexual violence. Why do so few survivors of sexual violence come forward? The parallels here are too strong to ignore.
I’ve learned that while many report having really positive birth and reproductive healthcare experiences, many others leave these interactions feeling disappointed or hurt by the way they were treated. I am not alone. This is not just a problem at one hospital, it's happening all over and it’s time for a change.
It's time to speak up about abuse and mistreatment at the hands of healthcare professionals. We need to start talking about what respectful, dignified, compassionate care looks like and how to make it a reality for every patient, not just the lucky ones.
I know from experience that it's hard to speak up. It's so, so hard. I'm hoping that The Obstetric Justice Project can help make it a little easier.