The issue of birth rape is a contentious one in our society, and not one that we approach lightly. We do not use the words ‘birth’ and ‘rape’ together lightly, and we find it a highly emotionally-charged topic, one that we are extremely cautious about bringing up in a public forum. However, we found it important to address the misperceptions presented to us in a comment to our blog recently. We debated whether we should publish this woman’s comment, as it has the potential to be very hurtful and harmful to vulnerable women. However, misunderstandings such as these fuel the isolation experienced by women who are impacted by their birth, so we felt it necessary to ‘go there’ and talk about the issues that surround those times when birth becomes a violation.
This article has come about as the result of a comment by a woman named Jacinta. This is not Jacinta’s first reply to a comment on our blog. We have previously taken time to explain some issues about traumatic birth that she did not understand, on another post, where her comments had riled some readers, and to her merit, she wrote back, saying she felt she had learned something from our reply. It is our hope that our post here will offer some similar opportunities to learn and understand the situation, and as a result perhaps offer some empathy to affected women.
Below, a woman named Lindsey is commenting about our inaugural post titled “The Truth About Traumatic Birth Is…”. This article discussed the presence of lies, myths and misperceptions about traumatic birth, that each serve to maintain the deception that women must just ‘get over it’ and ‘be grateful’.
Lindsey’s comment : “This is so true, it reminds me of when people tell a rape victim that they are “lucky” to be alive. it is completely ignorant because emotional well being is just as important as physical! thank you for spreading the message.”
We then received a reply to Lindsey’s comment from a woman named Jacinta.
Jacinta replied to Lindsey’s comment, saying : It is NOTHING like a rape victim being told they are lucky to be alive! Your baby did nothing wrong.. when someone is raped it is a crime, it involves malice and perverted behaviour. Your baby needed to get out, and you needed it out. That doesn’t even compare!! I am saddened by the fact that some women actually feel this way. As i have never, and never will. i DIDNT put my hand up for a cesarean, but it definitely isn’t the worst thing that could of happened to me or baby.
We felt it important to address the misunderstandings, and clear up the issues, so we have replied to Jacinta’s comment below. We have not delved into the wider issues surrounding birth as a violation, but rather introduce the topic here to provide the opportunity for those who are new to the concept a chance to develop an initial understanding, which will hopefully lead to greater empathy for all women after birth.
Birthtalk’s reply : Jacinta – unfortunately, Lindsey is right. Lindsey is saying nothing about the baby, but about the treatment some women receive whilst birthing their babies, whether caesarean birth or not. Telling a rape victim she is lucky to be alive can be invalidating of the horror she has been through, and raises feelings of guilt for feeling bad when ‘it could have been worse’. This is very similar to telling a woman after a traumatic birth that she should be grateful that her baby is ok. It is invalidating of the experience she has been through, and raises feelings of guilt in the mother for feeling bad when ‘it could have been worse’. If a woman expresses distress as a response to either of these situations it would be entirely reasonable, and does not need to be played down or sweetened by telling her she should be grateful to be so ‘lucky’.
Sometimes, how a woman feels and what happens to her in childbirth is similar to how women feel and what happens in a sexual rape. Many refer to this as birth rape, and this issue is not limited to women having caesareans.
How does birth rape compare to sexual rape? For most sexual rape victims the emotional injuries often are more significant and longer lasting than the physical. (This is certainly not downplaying those women who sustain horrific physical trauma and long term damage in these situations. ) However, what all sexual rape victims share is being in a situation of being ultimately powerless, incredibly vulnerable, fearful and having someone cross decent boundaries with them. They have all had someone invading them without any respect or decency or even basic acknowledgment of their rights over their own body.
This is incredibly damaging and obviously a crime, whether the perpetrator did so with malice or not. (Yes, usually there is malice and negative intent, but let’s, for argument’s sake, take the example of a mentally unstable perpetrator, with grandiose ideas of how this will somehow be of benefit to her in the long run ‘if only she would be accepting of it’. Despite the lack of malice or ill intent, this still would not change the fact that she has been assaulted, emotionally and perhaps physically injured and that this was a very real crime of sexual rape.)
Now lets look at birth assault/rape. A vulnerable woman, who is powerless to leave the situation, is at times held down against her will, has strangers looking & touching at private parts of her body, perhaps without appropriate measures being taken to acknowledge her ownership of her body or to preserve her comfort levels. Perhaps she has fingers or instruments inserted without her consent, and sometimes against her consent, invading and crossing decent boundaries. She is fearful of what is happening to her and perhaps for the wellbeing of her baby, and receives no reassurance that either she or her child are ok. That is a violation, no matter how you look at it. Even IF this treatment is given with no malice and the intent of attempting to assist her with birthing her child, there is NEVER a reason to forgo common decencies that will enable her to maintain a role in the birth, some autonomy over her body, to be involved in the decision-making, to be informed about what they want to do BEFORE they do it. Abandoning a woman’s right to feelings of emotional safety is never ok. Even in an emergency, there is usually the possibility of communicating effectively to reduce the chance of a woman feeling violated in an extremely vulnerable situation.
You are right – it is incredibly sad that some women feel that way. But they feel that way with reason. You appear to never have felt that way during your birth experience, because you were likely not treated that way. You are right – a caesarean is in no way the worst thing that could happen to you or your baby. It sounds like you would not have chosen a caesarean if you’d had the option, but that you were well-treated throughout the experience. Which is fantastic. There is no reason all women should not be able to be treated and feel the same.
Yes, you had a caesarean. But when another woman has a caesarean, and is so maltreated that she experiences the horror of having things done to her against her will or in a way so that she feels violated & cannot remove herself from the situation, you cannot say that your experiences were the same and you just coped better. (and we should add that Lindsey, to whose comment you have replied, made no mention of her birth being a caesarean…that is an assumption you have made. Birth trauma, and indeed birth rape, is just as possible in a vaginal birth). As Lindsey says in her comment, ‘Emotional wellbeing is just as important’. And has a lasting impact long after the birth. We hope this response helps you to better understand why women make these comparisons.
©Debby Gould, Melissa Bruijn, Birthtalk.org 2010
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