| Birth Obstacles - Sexual Abuse
Birth Obstacles made it clear
that the origin of birth difficulties so often derives from
emotional discord, where fear is so often implicated.
Sexual abuse is another type of emotional and bodily discord.
As sexual abuse is now known to be so widespread - all over the world -
it can be concluded that sexual abuse will interfere with the progress
of so many births. See below for some devastating quotes about this.
So, a huge cause of stalled labour - and thus interventionist birth - is sexual abuse.
However, it can often lie buried, unconscious to even the survivor.
So, what can be done?
The obvious and best answer to enable women to birth naturally is to protect women from sexual abuse.
Another is for society to wake up to how damaged is society - and take steps to make society successful.
Another is to recognise the lifelong impact of traumatic events like
sexual abuse, and allow space for them to be talked about, supported
and released as best they can.
Another is to support the mother-to-be with compassion and sensitivity, e.g. see quotes below.
If we can minimise sexual and other abuse on women, their birthing
bodies will not freeze with shame or trauma = less interventions likely
in birth = positive birth for baby and mum!
Quotes showing how deeply connected are birth and sexual abuse etc. (Midwifery Today E-News, "Sexual Abuse and Birthing Women", 30 August 2017, Volume 19 Issue 18).
The question asked to the readership of mainly midwives and doulas was
have they found sexual abuse affects pregnancy, birth or postpartum:-
- When we did a conference
on this subject many years ago, everyone was asked to anonymously write on a
paper “yes” or “no” to whether they had suffered abuse. Out of 50 people only
me and one other person wrote no. (Jan
- Prior sexual abuse, particularly
childhood sexual abuse, can cause women to be triggered during the childbearing
year. Identifying potential triggers can be very useful in providing strategies
to minimise risks of being triggered. Trauma release work, ideally, before
pregnancy, is also very important. As can be imagined, childbirth has a huge
potential to re-traumatise women. Ideally, all care providers should be
sensitive and compassionate to all the women in their care, but we all know
that this is simply not the case, particularly within obstetric settings. It's
even more important that survivors are treated compassionately and sensitively.
- All kinds of sexual abuse
show in labor and delivery. If someone
"sticks" at 6 cm, I often find sexual abuse is the call... Once a
woman was 10 cm for two hours, not pushing, not progressing. Everything was
fine all the other ways and she simply could not bring herself to push the baby
out. Midwives conferred and she was an honest-thinking woman, so we hit it
head-on and said, “We think something happened to hurt you and your vagina that
perhaps you can't even remember. Please trust us and we will work on this with
you." She said, “I remember; I’ve just never told anyone.” Baby moved down and
out but it was very traumatic for them both. (Barbara Covington)
- My mother was having
flashbacks during my birth … she had PTSD from her experiences growing up,
which included emotional, physical and sexual abuse. (Nikki Lee)
- They don't always tell us,
but we can reassure them they are safe. Quietly. (Susan DiNatale)
- I have seen this several
times, including with someone who didn't remember the abuse or even understand
what she was recalling as she recalled moment by moment. (Nicole Franklin Morales)
- When women disclose and
are open to working through it, the births are on the whole positive and
healing. I've also looked after women who've said that they’d never been abused
but clamped their legs shut for the birth. One curled up in a fetal position
and started rocking. Because not every woman will disclose, we need to treat
every woman as if she has been abused, or we risk re-traumatising the woman we
are trying to serve. The rate of abuse survivors is quite high, so we need to
be aware of how it affects births, breastfeeding and relationships with
caregivers. (Joy Horner)
- Now when I speak to
survivors gearing up for birth I try to focus on their ability to see the
control they have and how they can get rid of the dissociation from their body
and reconnect—physically, mentally, emotionally. It's a very powerful time when
handled correctly. (Alicia Chase)
- It can affect the ability
to breastfeed or put baby to breast. (Judy
- The past stories from the
pelvis are a dominant factor in how we birth. I was with a dear woman having a
waterbirth. Suddenly she wanted to get out of the water and was very agitated.
A little forensic conversation recovered a memory when as a child she had pooed
in the bath and was chastised by her parent. With that realization she got back
into the water and pushed her baby out. (Rachana Shivam)
- One of the questions I ask
during the first prenatal, the history-taking, is the development of the
mother's sexuality. It is getting to the point where I am surprised when a
woman tells me she has not been sexually abused. It is pandemic. Some women are
going through therapy while pregnant to work through the trauma before the
birth. Every little bit helps. Compassion and empathy on my part for mama and
baby. (Susanna Napierala)
- For some women it can be a
healing experience that helps them reclaim their body. (Tara Workman-Tulley)
Survivor Moms book by Mickey Sperlich MA & Julia Seng PhD.
The American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) awarded this book the 2009 Best Book Award.
The book is available from Midwifery Today and Amazon.com.
Suffering & Birth
Pain & Birth
Violence & Birth
Culture of Touch
Preparing for Conception