"Birth Rape" By Any Other Name Would Hurt As Much
Last week The Age (Melbourne) published an article about birth rape. The article itself was an inoffensive introductory piece to an important issue that desperately needs more social attention (though sadly it lacked a link to one of the best sources of support for birth rape survivors in Australia: the Joyous Birth network). The online comment section featured at the bottom of the article, however, was a hotbed of victim blaming, woman-hatred and survivor silencing.
General consensus among the ignorant readership was that there is no such thing as birth rape and that such a term was offensive in the extreme to "real" rape survivors and the hardworking men and women in the obstetric field. Some of the memorable criticisms went along the lines of: "For f*cks sake!!!" (echoed many times), "I'm a rape survivor and I didn't get a baby at the end," "they get a healthy baby at the end so get over it," and "doctors don't need consent for every little thing they do to someone's body." Sadly my own comment did not get published, but lucky for me I've got a blog:
"No means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go! Just because the perp has a medical degree and the rape takes place in a hospital does not make it any less violating or traumatic to the survivor than rape by a stranger in a dark alley or rape by a loved one in the bedroom!"
There is an attitude within Australian society that women get what they deserve when they embark on the reproductive journey. Our Judeo-Christian culture has historically taught us that we're meant to suffer in birth, we're paying for the sin of mankind, which we foul temptresses brought upon mankind. Birth is meant to be disgusting, undignified and traumatic, so suck it up princesses, you brought it on yourselves! Surely survivors of sexual assault can find common ground on this with birth rape survivors? How many times have we heard: "she asked for it" with what she wore, where she went, who she went with etc. It's all a matter of silencing survivors. Your pain, your experience, your survival is illegitimate because you bitches asked for it.
Likewise there is a belief that getting a healthy baby legitimates any and all suffering a mother endures during birth. "At least you got a healthy baby" is the number one way to silence a birth rape survivor. Because she wanted to have a baby and she got a baby, the mother is expected to be grateful for whatever is done to her in the name of baby-making. Many obstetricians use this belief against patients during labour, forcing them to submit to their will by threatening "the baby will die." "The baby will die" is such a powerful method of controlling birthing women that consent is seen by many as irrelevant to obstetrics. Rather than present birthing women with choices they can consent to or refuse, obstetricians phrase these "choices" as "I'm just going to...", "you need to...", "you have to...", "the baby needs..." And for the majority of mothers who lack the inside scoop on obstetrics and the politics of maternity services they trust these care providers. Some of these mothers will look into it further at a later date and discover that they were manipulated into submitting to unnecessary interventions. But most mothers will accept the party line that "the baby would have DIED if the doctor hadn't..." But I digress.
The reality is that many mothers are left unnecessarily traumatised by childbirth and more specifically the behaviour and treatment they received from care providers. This leads to serious mental health issues including post traumatic stress disorder, postnatal depression, difficulty bonding with their babies, breastfeeding difficulties, negative self-image/body-image, and negative consequences in their intimate and sexual relationships, (not unlike survivors of sexual assault, funnily enough!).
The crux of the issue is this: birth rape is real and it has to stop. I am utterly outraged that readers of The Age have awarded themselves the power to define what is and isn't rape and who is and who isn't a survivor of rape, just as I am outraged when I come across arguments that marital rape and date rape aren't real rape because the woman consented up to a point. It doesn't matter if he's your father, uncle, brother, son, lover, friend, stranger, or your obstetrician, if he enters your body without your consent (whether he does so with a body part, foreign object or piece of medical equipment) then he is a rapist. He can even be a "she" and still rape you during childbirth. Let's not be afraid to call rape: "rape", it's the first step we have to take if we're ever going to create a rape-free society!
You were raped, but let's talk about my sex life
Stepping Outside the System to Birth - embracing women's power and rejecting obstetric control
Put your anger where it belongs - with your surgeon
Horror stories? That's all my life is to you?
The Great VBAC Rort
On Birth – and with due deference to Nancy Wainer
Birthrape. Birthrape. Birthrape. Birthrape. Birthrape.
The Medicalisation of Reproduction
Links & Birth Rape Stories
Birth Trauma Association
When a Bad Birth Haunts You
One Woman's battle with birth trauma
Birth Healing Forum
An Online Community for Supporting People Recovering From Birth Trauma
Birth Trauma Support Group
Birth Servant, Trainee Breastfeeding Counsellor, Writer, Feminist, Homebirther & Unschooling Mother.