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Obstetric violence: Victim blaming, victim shaming

by lizzi (follow)
Helping plant the seeds of positive birth. www.sproutbirthing.com.au
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Whenever I share my personal story of obstetric violence I inevitably get the question: What did you do about it? As if I hold the responsibility for the unethical and illegal actions of my care providers. Just like other female victims of violence I am told, sometimes quite overtly, that my abuse was my fault. Personally, I think that it's time to stop telling women to prevent abuse and start telling perpetrators to stop abusing women!

Pregnant woman
Women shouldn't need to worry about how they will /can prevent their care provider from abusing them. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The culture around obstetric violence in Australia is such that making a complaint is HARD. And it’s important to remember that the woman has been abused by “the system” – by an obstetrician, a midwife, a hospital policy. Now they are being asked to front up to “the system” to make a complaint.

There are many roadblocks to making a complaint – let alone seeing actual consequences for a perpetrator.

The woman first needs to know HOW to make a complaint. Many women have no idea that their hospital has a complaints officer or what that person’s job is. A huge number of women don’t know that they can lodge a complaint with AHPRA if their OB or midwife acted unethically or illegally (hands up if you don’t know who or what AHPRA even is!!). A huge number of women don’t know that they can talk to their local Maternity Choices Australia representative or that they could get in touch with Human Rights in Childbirth to share their story and get advice.

And even if women do know this it takes a LOT of emotional strength to write out and lodge a complaint.

It took me a year before I felt emotionally able to write out a complaint to the hospital I had my son at. He is nearly 2 years old and I still have not felt strong enough to lodge a complaint with AHPRA.

Writing out a complaint means reliving the experience of abuse that you were subject to. In a society that tells us constantly that as long as we’re alive that’s all that matters, this can be a hard enough task as it is. You may then need to re-tell your story over and over and over. You will be cross examined and the damage done to you will be minimised.

Pregnant woman
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And, like a victim of domestic violence or rape there is a huge culture of victim blaming in obstetric violence. Why didn’t you ask questions? Why did you consent? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you change care providers? Why didn’t you get someone to advocate for you?

And like victims of domestic violence many of the answers will be the same. Because I was scared. Because I was worried about the repercussions. Because I was scared the next care provider would be worse. Because I wondered if maybe I deserved this. Because maybe I should just consider myself lucky to be alive. Maybe he really does care and this is just his way of showing it.

I had an obstetrician, with the support of 2 midwives who were supposed to be caring for me, comment that I must want a vaginal birth more than a live baby. My baby was perfectly healthy and this comment was aimed at getting me to consent to an unnecessary induction. The midwives nodded and laughed along with his inappropriate jokes in between this bullying. Why didn’t I make a fuss? Why didn’t I tell him that his words were not appropriate and that I wouldn’t stand to be treated that way? Because I was scared that sometime in the next day or two he would hold my life or that of my baby in his hands. That’s not someone you want to piss off!

Several times during pregnancy and labour I felt that I really didn’t have the right midwife for me. So why didn’t I change? My midwife was a midwifery group program midwife – supposedly the most supportive type of midwife in the hospital system. Did I really want to risk swapping my semi-supportive midwife for a, potentially, much worse one?

Pregnancy, labour and birth is hard work. It’s physically hard – growing a whole person from scratch and then birthing them. And it is emotionally hard. So many fears, concerns and major life changes going on. Women shouldn’t need to be on the look out for signs that their care provider is planning to abuse them. They shouldn’t be spending their time wondering if they are doing the “right things” to prevent abuse.

Let’s stop blaming the victims. Instead of asking a woman why she didn’t scream, complain, run away – Offer to help her to make a complaint. Offer to hold her hand while she tells her story. Find out how to make a complaint to AHPRA and offer to stand by her through the (extremely lengthy!!) process. Help spread the word about obstetric violence – that it happens, that it’s wrong and that we won’t stand by and allow it to continue.

Pregnant woman
Supporting your friends is important! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Instead of asking women why they didn’t do more to prevent their abuse, let’s start asking perpetrators why they think that physical, mental and emotional abuse of pregnant and birthing women is okay.

Instead of blaming and shaming the victims of obstetric violence, encourage us and stand by us while we blame and shame the perpetrators.

My next article in the Obstetric Violence series will be looking further at the complaints and legal system. How it works and how it is failing to protect the women of Australia. If you have experienced obstetric violence and / or the maternity care complaints system I would value hearing your story. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail: Sproutbirthing@hotmail.com or by leaving a comment on this article. Please note that comments are public.

Further reading:

Obstetric violence: Stop burying your head in the sand!

Obstetric violence: Assigning responsibility

Choosing a maternity care provider who works for you

Informed consent - we've been fighting for the wrong thing!

The illusion of choice in Australian maternity care

Why Australia NEEDS a maternity care revolution

What being bullied says about you

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