The term “birth rape” has been around for years, however more recently it has become an increasingly popular term, especially when it comes to the women who feel they have experienced it. “Birth rape” sounds like something intense, but what exactly is it?
What is birth rape?
Birth rape revolves around a lack of control throughout the birth process. This lack of control can come in many forms. Sometimes, women feel they were forced or coerced into decisions they didn’t want to make. Other times women find that their caregivers don’t give them a choice, and simply start doing things to them, such as vaginal exams, administering pitocin, or cutting an episiotomy. Other women have procedures done blatantly against their will, screaming “no”, or refusing consent, yet the procedure is done anyways.
The woman behind “Navel Gazing Birth Stories” have come up with a definition of birth rape that is concise and clear:
“Birthrape: The experience of having fingers, scissors, and/or tools put/pushed/shoved inside a woman’s vagina or rectum without her direct (or indirect) permission . . . Being coerced, manipulated, or lied to regarding the health and safety of the baby or themselves so the midwife is able to do something to the mother’s vagina, rectum, cervix, or perineum, usually with excuses; rarely with apologies. “
Given this definition of birth rape it is easy to see how the birth experiences that many women are subjected to in American hospitals, and even in birth centers, can be classified as birth rape.
The parallels between sexual rape and birth rape
Many people are upset and even offended to hear the term “rape” applied to a birth situation. Many people feel that using that specific term (“rape”) negates and trivializes the experiences of a “real” rape victim. These same people are often the ones who tell these women who feel they were birth raped:
“You have a healthy baby. Be happy.”
“The baby needed out and that’s how it needed to happen.”
“Rape is sexual. Birth isn’t. Your doctor didn’t rape you in labor.”
“You gave consent. It’s not rape.”
These comments can be hard for a woman who feels, quite strongly, that she was violated in her labor and delivery, or that her rights, thoughts and decisions were given little regard as she was pressured and forced into procedures she did not want.
The parallels between a sexual rape and birth rape are strikingly similar, almost identical. In both cases, the woman is often left feeling powerless to control her situation or feels that complying, whether or not she wants to, is the only option she has. For example, a woman who is accosted by a man who tells her he will shoot her newborn baby if she doesn’t have sex with him, is quite similar to a physician telling her that her baby could die if she doesn’t consent to a cesarean. The woman is not given other options, and is left feeling forced into a decision that she did not want to make. Yes, she gave consent, however, it doesn’t mean that consent was obtained properly, with regards to the woman’s beliefs, feelings and emotions.
Sexual rape and birth rape often leave the woman feeling devastated and ravaged afterwards. She may feel distanced from herself, and her loved ones. She may have difficulty dealing with the emotions and psychological issues that stem from the rape. She may feel as though, somehow, the rape was her fault and that she could have done something to prevent it. The woman may become severely depressed and unable to cope with normal everyday tasks. She may cry a lot. A woman who experiences a sexual rape or a birth birth rape experience very similar, almost identical reactions after.
Women who have been both sexually raped and birth raped
With the high sexual assault and rape rates in America, it’s no surprise that many of the same women who have experienced birth rape, have also experienced sexual rape. For these women, the emotional and mental turmoil between both situations can be strikingly similar. These feelings may be incredibly triggering for the woman, especially if the feelings that result from her birth rape, are near the same as the feelings after her sexual rape. Many of these women may have issues dealing with both situations, now that the feelings have been dug up again.
Birth rape may intensify postpartum depression
Women who feel they were violated in their birth, may have a difficult time coping with that violation after the birth. She may feel incredibly conflicted and guilty. This guilt seems to be universal among women who feel they were birth raped. They want to look back at their birth and remember it happily, after all, the day a baby is born is supposed to be one of the happiest days of the woman’s life, however, the joyous event of her baby’s birth is shadowed by the violation she endured during the birth. Feeling these two overwhelming emotions (happiness and violation) can be difficult for the mother to handle.
In addition, the mother may not have a good support system in place. When she describes her feelings of violation during her birth, she may be told she’s being ridiculous, to be thankful she had a healthy baby, to get over it, or other condescending or insulting remarks. These comments can be incredibly hard for the mother to cope with, in addition to her own feelings.
Preventing birth rape
Women can help prevent birth rape by taking an active role in their birthing experience. By preparing ahead of time, preferably with the help of a doula, or other experienced person trained to help the mother advocate for her own needs and desires, the mother is better equipped to handle situations where the woman may feel she is being violated. The woman should be sure to understand her patient rights, as well as how to stand up for herself in situations where a caregiver may be pressuring her into making decisions she isn’t comfortable with. Role-playing various scenarios that may play out during labor and delivery may help the woman practice advocating for herself. Having a doula in labor may be incredibly beneficial in this regard.
Cassie the Doula: Birth Rape
The Push to Recognize Birth Rape
What is Birth Rape?
A Different Kind of Pain in Childbirth