44 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 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!

  15. 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

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