It’s hard to avoid the recent media blitz of #metoo posts, copied and pasted all over the internet, some women sharing details and others simply re-posting not because they don’t have the time or drive but for many because the attention Harvey Weinstein’s allegations and the resulting courageous speaking out from his and many others’ victims is triggering and too much to reveal on social media. Some don’t re-post because they don’t want attention on their trauma, they do not want to tell their story- and I don’t blame them. Many women have sat in my office through the years reflecting on how they tried to tell someone of their abuse, maltreatment or harassment, and no one listened- they were silenced, ignored, and at times accused of fabricating their experience.
This public acknowledgment of the prevalence of mistreatment of women elicits many emotions for me- I’m sad but not surprised, and more sad that I am not surprised, I feel angry that so many friends and acquaintances have been victims and can nod my own head and also say, “ #metoo .” I feel troubled raising a daughter whom I never want to be able to say #metoo and I have two sons whom I strive to raise in such a way that no one would ever feel pressured, harassed or victimized in their presence. No pressure!
As a therapist many of us have heard the stories behind these posts on social media- we listen, we comfort and hold space for these stories. Some stories hit closer to home than others, some show running themes, and all of them sadden us.
Working with perinatal women, I often hear of a lesser known form of trauma and harassment- mistreatment of expectant and laboring women. During what is supposed to be a special and memorable life-changing experience, many women are victims of abusive and/or disrespectful behavior and language.
Over one-third of women describe their birth as traumatic.
I can tell you many more describe experiences during their pregnancy and postpartum period to be traumatic as well, we just haven’t surveyed comprehensively enough to offer a statistic.
What goes on in prenatal care or birth that’s traumatic? Unfortunately many women experience care that fits the EEOC definition of sexual harassment,
I have seen this play out in too many ways to offer a comprehensive list however a few examples include,
-a good friend once shared with me that her doctor [a female] reached her entire hand up into her uterus to manually scrape away retained placenta with no anesthesia, despite her bucking her hips off the bed and screaming, “STOP!”- the doctor did not.
-a woman being told, “be a good girl and push harder,” in labor
-a client reflected that a male healthcare provider came into her hospital room while she was in labor, did not introduce himself or say a word and spread her legs and had his hand inside her to examine her cervical dilation- she had no idea who he was and he certainly did not ask permission. She described the exam as painful and embarrassing.
-a woman was told by her midwife “this shouldn’t hurt you’ve had kids.” during a painful pelvic exam.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn I started bleeding around 24 weeks- it was a weekend and my midwife advised me to go to a local hospital to be examined. When I arrived I was told I needed “an exam” and, “it would hurt but was necessary.” A male in scrubs who never bothered to introduce himself and I believe was a resident came in and proceeded to conduct a fetal fibronectin test (a swab test like a pap with a dry-speculum) despite my screaming and raising my hips telling him to stop- the nurse who was assisting him pushed my hips down and told me to calm down for my baby. This experience of being pinned down brought up memories of another #metoo moment, a forceful person I once dated as a teen attempted to force himself on me when I was supposed to be helping him study for a science test. I vividly recalled the color of his walls and the detailed trim on the dresser he pushed me into when I declined his advances.
Back to the hospital, it turned out I was not in labor and at the moment I was relieved that our baby was okay. It wasn’t until years after her birth I reflected on this and thought about how incredibly messed up and inappropriate the situation was.
What on earth gives anyone, particularly one with an oath to do no harm, the right to conduct procedures on women without their consent or with their explicit decline?
Too often healthcare providers treat women as submissive objects with no presumed rights- Is consent implied by presenting for care? In many settings there seems to be an unspoken free for all with women’s bodies and the amount of say you have in your care depends on who is in the room at the moment.
All patients deserve respect. No means no regardless of location or setting. There’s a phrase for this, it’s called OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE. In some countries it’s a punishable crime. In our culture it’s another day in modern obstetrical care.
What do we do to as a society? As women?
We speak up.
File complaints with office managers and hospital administration when appropriate. If you think someone violated the law or their provider license, speak with an attorney and the Department of Public Health.
We take our business elsewhere.
Many women I meet avoid OBGYN care which doesn’t help you in the long run- take your business [literally, take your lady business] elsewhere. Find a respectful provider who will treat your body appropriately.
We share our stories.
I try not to get personal on my blog, but I hope my story elicits a “me too.” from someone and they feel validated that their negative hospital experience was a violation of their body and should not have happened. Could your story empower someone?
We get self-care.
Don’t let your trauma weigh you down or steal your joy. Find a flipping fantastic counselor who gets it and work through your painful experiences- heal and take that joy back. No one has a right to disrespect you, your body, or your birth experience.