55 Comments

  1. Louise

    The term birth rape is a shocking one but I think it is also an accurate one for some women’s birth experience. As someone who has experienced both and also attended many births, I have no issue with its use. I disagree that by consenting to a hospital birth you have agreed to certain interventions and procedures – you have not. Your caregiver should seek consent for each procedure. The issue is whether that consent has been freely given or if a woman who is scared and in pain has been coerced into agreeing to something she doesn’t want to agree with. It is not unheard of for labouring women to be effectively bullied into making a choice because of the threat that her unborn child may die if she does not. It is not unheard of for that risk to be exaggerated. There are too many women who feel that they have been utterly violated and traumatised by their birth experience and part of that is due to choices that have been ripped away from them, and not always with strong reasons for doing so other than “following hospital policy.” There are also many women who have what could have been very traumatic births who are not traumatised by them too – because their caregivers were skilled at listening, empathising and making sure small choices were respected even while bigger ones may have necessarily had to change. Many women do feel powerless during birth and for women that have also been sexually assaulted in the past, that can also have an impact on how they perceive their birth experience.

    • Thanks for your comment. I can see how a traumatic birth can affect women this way, it really is just the term I don’t like. I’ve never actually seen the term used by anyone who has experienced a traumatic birth – I’ve only seen it used by extreme feminists who want to make some kind of a point by using other women’s experiences.
      I agree that a big part of how a woman would feel after her experience is down to the attitude displayed by the caregivers at the time.

  2. As per our Twitter chat 🙂 it’s not a term I’d use to describe any of my (3) births, thankfully, and yes, it is a shocking term, but it describes a shocking behaviour too. And one that needs addressing, so if using the term ‘birth rape’ allows the behaviour to get the attention it deserves, then so be it.

    A woman doesn’t consent to procedures just because she’s in hospital or her birth is being attended by a medical professional. All procedures must be explained, and the woman (or someone representing her) must consent to them. Yes, there are emergency situations, but that’s also why women are strongly recommended to write down ‘birth plans’ or ‘birth preferences’. If a woman in there says: “No internal examinations” for example, that is it. Yes, she can be asked again, and her answer might change, but no consent means no consent! Regardless of whether it’s birth or rape by a stranger or your own partner.

    IF it only refers to internal examinations, these can be easily avoided, as midwives and doctors can check dilation by how a woman is behaving or by looking at a line that often appears on a woman’s lower back called ‘purple line’ (although not all women have it). If it’s to check position, again, external examination of the bump can achieve that. So I’m not sure an internal examination is ever life-saving?

    I do understand the argument that if a procedure is life-saving and the woman is unconscious, the medical professionals have a duty of care to save her life and that of their baby, and the intention is not to rape. So it could be described, as you say, as negligence, abuse of power or gross misconduct, but if it’s perceived as a violation by the woman, then why shouldn’t it be rape? We accept that a woman can be raped by her own partner. So what if they (the partner) said that that’s not how they saw it or what their intention was? Plus in a life-saving, emergency situation where the woman is unconscious, she may not even go near that term anyway, as that’s not what she perceived or experienced. To be fair, even an emergency, life-saving c-section would need to be consented to, if not by the woman, by someone representing her, if present.

    I think it’s not a term to be used for any birth scenario or any traumatic birth, of course. But it’s a legitimate term to describe a situation where a woman either withdrew her consent or wasn’t asked to give consent. If the woman is conscious and has said NO, then to me that doesn’t sound any different to rape. It’d be interesting to see in what contest a woman has used it in relation to her own experience, as I don’t think anyone who has experienced a traumatic term would use it.

    Interesting post and points! Thanks for the chat 🙂

    • That’s the thing – I’ve yet to come across anyone who has actually experienced a traumatic birth use the term and that’s where my main objects stem from. In my experience the women who have experienced a traumatic birth are usually grateful that everything worked out for the best (or in the awful case that it didn’t, they appreciate that medical staff did their best).
      The term mostly seems to be used as a shock value term by extremist groups who are using other women’s experiences to make a point which I don’t think is inclusionary or helpful. We, as women, shouldn’t be exploiting each other’s experiences in the name of making a point.
      As I said in our chat earlier, I was under the impression that you signed a consent form on admission – obviously if this isn’t the case, then I don’t believe that you have consented just by being there.
      Thanks for the comment and the chat – it’s great to get people’s thoughts on this!

  3. Interesting post. I’ve not heard the term before. While agree that maternity services are lacking at times and there’s often a miscommunication (intentional or otherwise – who knows?) which results in a lack of consent for procedures, etc, I agree that there’s perhaps a better term to use. It packs quite the punch so if it’s shock value people are after I guess terminology like this will always exist.#AnythingGoes

  4. I don’t think the term should be used loosely by any means… but my younger sister had such a horrific birth experience with her first that she almost chose not to have more children. It took years of counceling, much trauma, and left her first child unnecessarily scarred on her face. As a woman who has survived rape herself, it was nothing compared to the torture she experienced.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your sister and her baby’s experience. I really hope they are both doing well now and that this post wasn’t too upsetting to read. The fact you consider her experience worse than yours is very opening and definitely gives me a new perspective of this. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  5. Personally, I would want a doctor to do whatever it took to save me or my baby. I completely understand woman who feel this is a violation too. This is a situation where I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, but the terminolgy definitely needs to change.
    #AnythingGoes

  6. This is certainly an interesting topic, I have literally only heard this term for the first time now so I dont feel I have enough experience of it to make any judgement on how correct or valid the term is. But it is certainly a shocking one. #AnythingGoes

  7. As I said on twitter when I first read this last week, I don’t think the terminology is right, and think this is more suited to the #BirthTrauma name. As anything that happens without your consent is traumatic and should never occur. We have the right to refuse any medical treatment offered/advised by doctors (nurses midwives etc) and for them to do something when you’ve said no is a violation, but the term Birth rape is abhorrent. #Anythinggoes

  8. Hi Debbie, I had never heard this term before reading this post. It does sound very shocking and having read your post I agree with you that it is designed for shock value. Whilst there are no doubt some women who are violated during labour I like to believe that our medical professionals are delivering a baby with the best of intentions and will do everything they can to facilitate the delivery of a healthy baby with as little damage as possible to the mother. I can understand that this may require the use of an instrument and that it may not be possible to get the mother’s express permission.
    I fail to see how rape can ever be with the best of intentions.
    Pen x

    • I totally agree – at worst it’s a bad decision i.e. negligence or gross misconduct rather than actual rape. I too would like to think that the doctors etc. involved in the birthing process are genuinely trying to help!

  9. I’ve never heard this term either.
    I had a pretty bad birth, in fact two consultants have since called it traumatic and horrific in the same sentence!
    I was examined every which way possible, sometimes by multiple doctors at once. They would say something along the lines of we are going to take a look and there would be lots of looking often by a team. Trainees always talk you through it as do Midwives but I think consultants/doctors perhaps do it so frequently and have so many to see that they lack the connect that you have with a midwife.
    It may have not been made clear to me 100% of the time what was happening but it was clear that it was done for the health and safety of both myself and my baby, who was in distress.
    I don’t think I would consider my experience to be a birth rape but I will read up on it more!
    Such a good article.
    #anythinggoes

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. So far, I’ve only seen the term used by people wanting to make a point rather than by people who have actually experienced a traumatic birth. I hope both you and baby made a good, fast recovery!

  10. I have never heard of ‘birth rape’ before, it sounds like a term created for shock value. I am sure there are many women out there who have felt violated after a traumatic birth which involved intervention. I have had 2 babies and never felt violated during an examination or delivery but my births were both very low risk and pretty much pain relief free. I can see why some women may feel they were not given the freedom to make the choices they wanted in an emergency situation but, personally, if my baby was in danger I would want the doctors to whatever they had to to my body to get the baby out safely. Unfortunately, I’m sure there provably are doctors out there who abuse there power and take advantage of women when they are at their most vulnerable. Very interesting read xx #bloggerclubuk

    • I whole heartedly agree that if a doctor is actually abusing someone, then they should be all means be labelled as such. It’s the ones who were genuinely trying to help that I can’t quite my head around being described in this way x

  11. I think the problem is that the word rape has such bad associations that to put it with something else just seems a bit unwarrented and extreme in my eyes. I dont agree iwth the term at all!
    Such an interesting and thought provoking post though! #anythinggoes

  12. I’ve not heard this term before, but I can totally imagine it being used and I agree that the use of the word rape is purely for shock value. I also agree that it trivialises in some way the true meaning of the word. Neither of my births have been even slightly traumatic, but I’m fully aware of the horrors that can happen. Personally, I would want doctors and midwives to do anything and everything they could to save my baby (with the baby’s life as the first priority) if the situation were to arise. I cannot imagine a scenario when I would refuse medical intervention if it meant saving the life of my child. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure that asking my permission would have even had a point, as I’m pretty sure I would have said yes to anything in that moment, if as I said, it meant saving my baby.
    I think that we live in a bit of a blame culture, and when things go wrong or don’t go to plan we like to have someone to blame, a scapegoat. Unfortunately, the nature of childbirth dictates that things will not always go to plan. We are human, and we are fallible, and this means that sometimes our bodies do not perform as we expect them to, and in that situation I would expect a trained professional to step in and use their knowledge in the way that they were trained to.
    Childbirth is not a dignified process, and anyone who is expecting it to be so is mistaken. Like you, my concern is what the outcome would be if doctors and midwives stopped intervening for fear of being labelled in this way. #BloggerClubUK

    • That’s a really good point you make about always looking for someone to lay blame on if something goes wrong – maybe that’s a bit of the logic behind the term! I have to say though, that from what I’ve seen, generally women who’ve actually given birth aren’t using the term. It’s being used by certain groups to make a point!

  13. I’ve never heard of this term and I’m not sure what to think about it. I think like you that it is designed for shock value. I’ve had five kids and I’ve been totally grateful for any treatment given to me during the births. I wouldn’t feel comfortable accusing any of my carers of birth rape.
    #bloggerclubuk

  14. I’ve heard this term before and I have to say it made me uncomfortable – it’s a shocking term, and I can’t imagine any reason to use it. However, having read stories of traumatic births, I can understand why some women use it. To them, their births were horrific, and this term to them accurately describes what happened. I am on a number of gentle birth/parenting groups, and the number 1 goal is to have a drug free, interference free birth and to be “forced” to have internal examinations goes against everything they wanted. I’m not saying they were forced, but this is how the women feel – because it’s not what they wanted yet they felt they had no choice therefore it was forced. It’s a difficult subject because every woman feels differently about these things and you can’t tell someone how they should feel. I had what looks like a particularly traumatic birth from the outside, but I have made peace with it, and a friend had a similar experience and seems ok about it. However another friend had what I would call a “routine” birth, but it has really affected her because it didn’t go as she had planned. An interesting topic, and one where there really is no right or wrong answer. #BloggerClubUK

    • I can fully understand how women can feel like they were forced into something but in my opinion, in this scenario, that’s medical negligence or something similar. At the same time, I believe that if a women who has experienced this wants to use the term because that’s how she feels about it then that’s her right. What I don’t agree with is people using the term just for the sake of protesting something and in all fairness that’s the only place I’ve seen this term used. I haven’t come across anyone who would use the term to describe their own experiences. It is a very subjective thing though. Thanks for sharing your views.

  15. I have to admit I’ve never heard this term. I think birth is a vulnerable situation so I can understand why women want to have control and why people are upset when things don’t go as they’d planned. I was lucky to have a pretty straightforward birth, but I definitely did feel consulted about everything that happened – and when it comes down to it, I would have wanted the medical professionals to do whatever was necessary to ensure me and my baby were safe and healthy. #bloggerclubuk

    • I agree – it is a time when women are feeling vulnerable already. Perhaps that’s another reason to change the term – as if first time mothers don’t have enough to worry about in the run up to their delivery than hearing this term!

  16. I have never heard of this term but I find it shocking!! I think it is very offensive to those of us who have been victims of rape and to the medical professionals who are delivering our babies. #BloggerClubUK

  17. I’d never heard this term, but I agree with you entirely. People can have bad experiences, and that can include being mistreated by medical professionals, but it is still not the same as rape. If a doctor actually intentionally rapes you, that is rape. But a doctor performing a medical procedure with no intention but to perform the procedure, even if they have done so without proper information or compassion, is not rape. It might be malpractice in extreme cases, but it’s not a sexual offence. And, yes, I think it undermines the experiences of those who have actually been raped. I also think that people referring to things that are far from rape as rape is detrimental to the task of getting people to take those who make rape allegations seriously.

    Having not known anyone was referring to this as a thing, I’m now quite annoyed to discover people are! #AnythingGoes

    • I felt quite annoyed about it too. Its already way too easy to blame the victim and things like this which dilute the seriousness of actual rape make it so much harder for people who have been abused to be taken seriously as you mentioned.

  18. What an utterly brilliant post Debs. As someone who had 3 scheduled c-sections, I can’t comment from an experience point of view but I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve written and have read the comments with interest. There is so much of this post that had me nodding along but you hit the nail on the head in my opinion with the ‘protesting for protesting’s sake’ bit. #bloggerclubuk

  19. Im with you on this one. Monkeys birth was not easy and it was a little touch and go. They did not stop to ask me if it was okay. They had to get him out for both our sakes. I owe them the last five glorious years I have had with my first born. Without their intervention we wouldn’t be the family we are now. These words are unnecessarily emotive and wrong.

  20. A S,Edinburgh

    I would say it’s alright for someone to use the term to themselves and to the people close to them, to help them understand their own experiences, but not to use it to describe what a particular member of staff did (unless appropriate, obviously), if that makes sense? So it would be ok in the grammatically passive form, but not the grammatically active one, to put it another way. Also, when making sense of something traumatic, sometimes people need to shock themselves with strong terms to figure out where their feelings really lie, and it might not be the case that that’s how they end up feeling, more that it’s an angry phase they need to go through. Anyway, this was an interesting read, thank you :).

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