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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!

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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 Tritten)
  • 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. (Karen Law)
  • 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 McClennen Schneider)
  • 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)
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Other Resources:-

Survivor Moms book front cover
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.
Also see:-

Birth Obstacles

Natural Birth

Suffering & Birth

Pain & Birth

Violence & Birth

Culture of Touch

Preparing for Conception


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