Stop obstetric violence toward babies

3D Stop Violence Crossword

Homebirth advocates have a terrible propensity for promiscuous use of language. By that I mean the use and abuse of language for the express purpose of drawing attention. Such is the case with the use of the term rape as in the currently fashionable accusation of “birth rape”. It’s not rape, it has nothing to do with rape, and it is a grievous insult to those women who have experience the horror of rape.

Even homebirth advocates recognize that abusing the term “rape” in this way is not winning friends for their cause. Hence, the latest iteration of “the obstetrician didn’t do exactly what I wanted” is “obstetric violence.” Apparently, if you are a homebirth advocate, having your feelings hurt is the equivalent of “violence.” That, of course, is ridiculous.

However, there is such a thing as obstetric violence and it is perpetrated by homebirth advocates on babies.

Babies do not ask to be conceived. If a woman decides to conceive a baby and carry it to term, she has a moral obligation to care for the health and well being of that baby. She has a moral obligation to feed it and change it, and clothe it, and put it in a carseat when she takes the baby with her to the grocery store. She also has a moral obligation not to risk its life.

Obstetric violence toward babies involves real violence, injury and death, not hurt feelings. Over the years I have written about women whose babies have died hideous deaths at homebirth.

These include breech babies whose heads were entrapped while their bodies dangled outside their mother’s vagina, and who died long before they could reach medical help.

They include babies who struggled for hours and suffocated, dropping dead into the hands of unsuspecting homebirth midwives who didn’t appropriately monitor their heart rates.

They include babies who slowly lost brain cells because their heads had delivered, but their shoulders became entrapped.

They include babies who died when they were suddenly extruded into their mother’s abdomen when a uterine incision ruptured and they bled to death long before they could reach a hospital.

They include babies who survived but suffered serious brain injuries leading to lifelong disabilities affecting their ability to move, to reason, to live on their own, to fulfill the potential that they had when labor started.

Who cares about the obstetric violence perpetrated on these babies?

Certainly not homebirth midwives, who never met a risk they couldn’t label as a variation of normal.

Certainly not homebirth advocates, who never heard of a homebirth death that they couldn’t rationalize with the all purpose, and incredibly ugly claim that “some babies are just meant to die.”

Who cares about the obstetric violence perpetrated on these babies? Obstetricians of course. You know, the people who “play the dead baby card” because they are actually worried that your baby could die.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s something very wrong when women claim that hurting their feelings is “violence. There is something very wrong when letting a baby suffocate to death, half the body born, and half still inside the mother is dismissed as inevitable, especially when it was not. And there is something very wrong when the obstetrician cares more about whether your baby lives or dies than you do.

Stop obstetric violence toward babies … have a hospital birth.

  • Martha

    You’re participating in rape culture by claiming that rape survivors are the “true victims” and that women who were penetrated without their consent during birth are not survivors. You’re denying my voice as a rape survivor and the mothers’ voices. I can absolutely see the view of a medical professional, some women will be resistant and stubborn for seemingly no good reason. I expect people who work with people to deal with this gracefully, paitiently, and with empathy as much as possible (everybody has bad days). I’m truly offended to see so many medical professional cite the “actual rape survivors” as a reason to ignore what women are saying about their birth experiences. The powerlessness that women describe is exactly how I feel as a rape survivor. I’m seeing you as complicit in my rapes right now because you’re propping up the culture. I bet you would deny that my rapes were “actual rapes” too because only one of them was stranger rape. I’m sickened.

  • Slovakgirl

    Hi Amy, I am from Slovakia, and when our activists speak about obsteric violoence, they usually mean the Kristeller expression. What is your take on this method ?

    • Young CC Prof

      You mean pressing down on the belly during labor? That is not done in the USA anymore, it is considered malpractice, because while it can speed up labor, it can also cause various bad outcomes like severely tearing the mother.

  • Angie

    Dear Amy Tutuer. When my doctor, in whom I really trusted, “prescribed” a c- section just because it was a friday and he went off for the weekend, without telling me anything, without ANY medical indication to do an operation, I not only felt violated, I WAS violated. I went into hospital (by that time I still trusted in hospitals as being the best place for childbirth) for a rutine monitoring, week 37, and hours later I was lying in some wake-up room recovering and my child somewhere else. I never signed any paper for the operation. I was perfect, my son was healthy and fine and the only reason for this operation was the free weekend my doctor wanted. THIS IS OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE. Can you imagine what it costs to be pregnant again and go searching for a doctor that accepts you for a VBAC, in Spain? Can you imagine what it means for a woman to suffer all type of problems after a cesarean. Included a nice scar on the cheek of her son because “he moved so much during the operation”? (of course it´s my sons fault of getting cut.)? Can you imagine what effort it takes to no repeat c- section? I guess you can´t. I would ask you to be honest, and also talk about all the babies who die during hospital birth, because the oxitocyn dosis was too strong for them, because a midwife or a doctor did a triple- Kristeller, because too many students practiced with forceps and without supervision, or simply because women were left alone IN hospital, in some room somewhere, with their partner waiting outside, and nobody really cared about them,
    Please get serious before you post again. Thank you!

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      No, it’s not obstetric violence. At worst, it is an unnecessary C-section. I don’t condone that (if indeed that’s what happened) but I don’t condone self serving exaggeration of first world problems, either.

  • Lizz

    Many thanks Poogles and Lizzie Dee (above) for your well thought out answers – I actually had not realised that the term “rape survivor” was intended as a far more fitting and mentally beneficial replacement to the phrase “rape victim” – that makes a lot of sense. After I posted the initial comment, I realised that it might be more of a cultural thing – I live in the UK, IMHO it seems you are more likely to hear someone say “I was raped/I have been raped” than either “I am a rape survivor” or “I am a rape victim”. I had actually not heard the term “rape survivor” until this article and was genuinely confused whether it was a term applied to everyone who has been raped and lived, or whether it was only applied to people who have been raped and gained something profound/meaningful from the experience. (The latter, IMHO, did seem a little bit like victim blaming should the person fail to find anything “beneficial” about their experience.)

    • Thankfully, I don’t know – but I wouldn’t imagine it is possible to GAIN anything from being raped – but one could try to refuse to let it take too much away from you – in terms of confidence, trust, etc. and so feel like less of a victim. Very hard, I imagine, and one should not feel bad if it gets too hard sometimes.