Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why "Birth Rape" is rape

Samantha Thurlby-Brooks' controversial piece, Socially Accepted Violence Against Pregnant and Labouring Women was written for women just like me.

To add to her excellent discussion, I will address a comment she received, stating "The very real and troubling trend of violence and rape against women and the attempts to highlight it are not served well by calling everything rape and violence." Rape and justice in our society has been a hot topic recently. I salute all those who have shared their highly personal stories.

This commenter questioned the very idea of elevating some birth experiences to compare them with rape. This idea of "birth rape" is already very controversial.

This is my answer.

What happened to me?

This was sort of Part 2 of our horrific birth experience. Part 1 is too long to tell in full, but went from a planned home birth, to learning about our baby's abnormal status by hearing it shouted by the sonographer down the hall to the receptionist, to being told impatiently that catheterisation would be much easier if I would just relax, and going under the general anaesthetic for my caesarean in tears.

Part 2 is also too long to tell in full. My husband visited me in recovery to share that we had a boy, and he was doing all right, so I thought at least the worst was over. It seemed I could feel myself continue to bleed, but the nurses assured me everything was OK. Eventually, a sudden blood pressure drop confirmed I was hemorrhaging.

Someone (doctor, nurse, I don't know) tried to stop the bleeding using pressure. That means she stuck most of her hand up my vagina as far as my cervix while pushing very hard on my abdomen with the other hand to squeeze my uterus in between. Many times, removing and reinserting her hand. As my husband watched in horror, until he was hustled away. (Note: this was my stitched-up abdomen, and a vagina that had not experienced any labour stretching.)

When I finally screamed, a male doctor decided to put gauze in some forceps and push that up my vagina to my cervix instead. He thought this might be more comfortable, and seemed honestly taken aback when I screamed again.

This did not stop the bleeding. I truly believed I could die before seeing my first child, because they seemed to be doing their worst and yet I was still bleeding.

The rest of the story is more typically medical, with lots of needles desperately hunting veins, transfusions, and drugs, leading eventually to "a healthy mother and a healthy baby."

10 reasons this is rape

This is a horrifying story, and it was a horrifying experience, but how can I justify calling it rape? All I know about rape is what I've heard from others. So here's a little list.

1 This was intimate trauma involving sexual parts of my body, which is embarrassing to discuss While sharing trauma in a safe environment can be key to healing, there are few such safe environments
2 A story so personal and shocking that it makes most people uncomfortable and uncertain how to react and connect with me. As above. People often ask "how was the birth?" But I am discouraged from being "that woman" who tells her awful story around pregnant women, spreading bad energy.
3 Seeking understanding or justice requires reliving the trauma When I shared my perspective with the medical team, they were defensive against possible official action, not understanding. The harder I try to provide the details to make my point, the more painful it is each time.
4 The destruction of trust and birth of fear This experience colours all my medical experiences, and I have no way to fully trust a medical professional again.
5 Damage to future sexual relationships I could not have penetrative sex for more than a year
6 Damage to physical and emotional wellbeing, and the need to carry on with life regardless I needed extensive therapy for my PTSD, both after the birth and before my next birth. 8 years later, I still suffer physical symptoms of the trauma, like hyperreaction to being touched. And there was a very small baby that needed my care.
7 The desperate drive to know "Why did this happen to me?" It's natural to seek some measure of control by asking why, seeking answers, and placing (or accepting) blame. I did it, and so did many other people involved.
8 ... and the rest of the neverending post-mortem There is no end to it.
Why didn't I call for help if it was so bad? (I was in total shock and hoped it would all go away if I was still. Also, I didn't believe anybody could help.)
But it was done to save me and I signed a medical release form... (Complicity in my own rape.)
9 It happened a long time ago, so why should it still be an issue? "You are clinging to this." "It's time to move on." "It wasn't that bad." "At least you survived." "All that matters is that you have a healthy baby." "You should own your birth experience."
10 It happens more than we want to believe or accept Usually, what happens at the hospital stays at the hospital. But just ask Samantha Thurlby-Brooks, who has listened to women's experiences without the apologist filter on.

Any of that sound familiar?

Worse? Better? Different?

Clearly there are aspects of sexual-predator-rape which can't apply to my experience. There are also unique aspects to birth rape. Of course there are worse stories than mine - rape stories, birth stories - but let's not make it a competition.

In no way do I seek to distract attention from women who have suffered rape. I seek, like them, not to be trivialised or dismissed due to ignorance, discomfort, and silence.


  1. This is not rape. It's offensive that you classify it as such. What happened was traumatic, but NOT rape and you DO in fact trivialize rape because you equate any trauma to the sex organs as rape. It isn't.

    1. Despite all my care, my story seems to you too trivial to qualify as acceptable. There was certainly more to it than "equating any trauma to the sex organs" as rape, or it wouldn't have taken me so long to write. Thanks for your input.

    2. Laura, you are wrong. Jessica did experience rape ... " World Health Organization defined it in 2002 as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object" "

    3. Anonymous, how about the mouth? A gastroscopy - if done in a brutal way - can be very traumatising, too!! :-(

  2. As a midwife I can say this scenario happens all too often as birth was moved to hospitals before knowledge of the labour hormones interplay but it is still not acknowledged - otherwise the medical fraternity and 'health' bureacrats would stop the rising interventions! Hospitals are not physiologically or emotionally approriate for healhty labour thus there are so many difficulties for women getting into or progressing easily then the responses accelerate the cascade of interventions to too many surgical deliveries. Birth is actually an evolved process which needs enhancement not intervention, then the result is a family set to thrive not just survive!

  3. There is so little comfort. Did anger help in any phase of getting over the traumatic experience?
    I guess this is you on the last photo. Your face tells it all. :(

    Have comforting holidays with your family! Brave miniMum!

  4. what about the fact these procedures were done to save your life. im a medical professional and there are many invasive traumatic events that happen to people who are patients. It is not rape. it is an emergency medical procedure to save a life and is traumatic. no body goes to work to think " im going to invade and hurt as many people I can today and we may not have time to ask permission in a life saving situation"

    1. As a medical professional, it is your first reaction to think defensively of your own point of view about the trauma that occurs to patients during the hopefully necessary interventions that are regularly performed. This is perfectly natural, but simply serves to illustrate my point.

      Saying "it was done to save your life" doesn't address the trauma. As a medical professional concerned with the wellbeing and life of your patients, it might be worth considering what I have carefully written instead of giving the quick and simple excuse.

  5. Samantha Thurlby-BrooksOctober 12, 2015 at 2:39 AM

    Hi Jessica,
    I've just stumbled across this article you've written in response to my article. I'm so please that what I've written and the comments that others made on it have helped you.

    For all of those people commenting on here about this not being rape, you need to look up the legal definition of rape in USA legislation, UK legislation, New Zealand legislation, Australian legislation etc. Rape is the insertion of anything into the vagina or anus without consent. Consent can also be withdrawn and if not respected is also considered rape. So, in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of the victim this story very clearly shows a case of rape.

    Had someone helped you to understand and soothe you by explaining what was going on and why things needed to be done it might not have felt like rape. Had you have been respected in what you had said about bleeding in the first place you might have felt differently about giving consent and the whole situation. In emergency situations we think there isn't time to do these things, but there is. It can be done quickly. Fear would have increased the bleeding as oxytocin needs to be high for the uterus to contract. For safety, this level of kindness should have been given.

    I hope one day you find peace with all of this

  6. Your parents my MUST be related. There's no way a person can be this stupid.

    1. When you attack someone's intelligence, it's usually better to make yourself look more intelligent than your target.