Viola: My midwife said that she had the right to do whatever she wanted to my body if she thought it was best for baby

Over a decade after first being sexually assaulted as a teenager, I was ecstatic to learn that I was pregnant with my first child. I thought about my previous history with sexual violence and ignored its possible significance to childbirth. I wouldn’t let it get in the way, I thought to myself. But then my friend convinced me to at least tell my midwife that I had been raped and, after giving it some thought, I decided that it might be best, “just in case”, and I told my midwife. Telling my midwife was not easy because like many women who are raped I learned to keep that part of my history very private.

I planned on having a home birth, but after labouring at home for 26 hours I decided to go the hospital. Almost immediately after arriving I was pressured into a list of medical interventions. First I agreed to induction, then to the epidural. Next, they wanted me to have a cesarean section. But, I could see from the fetal monitors that there was nothing wrong, so I decided against the C-section.

After being in labour for about 36 hours I was fully dilated. As soon as I learned that I was fully dilated I felt incredibly excited because everyone around me had spent hours trying to convince me that it wouldn’t happen and that I’d need a C-section. I was so happy that I wouldn’t need the C-section after all. But, right after telling me that I was fully dilated, my midwife informed me that she didn’t want to deliver my baby. I felt very betrayed and frustrated at this because it seemed like all she wanted was for me to have a C-section. I told her that I wanted her to deliver my baby and she said, “I don’t know”, which made me feel very insecure about pushing and giving birth.

Eventually, after pushing for over an hour, there was a blip in the fetal monitor that showed a brief heart rate acceleration. At that point my midwife started to get noticeably angry with me for not having the cesarean. But, by that point I didn’t feel that I could trust her anymore, as she had wanted me to get a cesarean section before for no other reason than that it was taking too long. I wasn’t convinced that a single brief acceleration was the emergency that she wanted me to believe it was, and have since learned that I was right as brief accelerations are somewhat common and can happen for a variety of reasons including maternal fever and as a side effect of the drugs that are used in labour.

Shortly after the brief acceleration a new nurse came on shift.

Whereas the previous nurse had only pressured me a little to have a C-Section, this nurse had clearly decided that I was going to have the baby within the hour. She immediately demanded that I get on my back and try to push with my knees pinned to my chest, but I couldn’t do it. She kept asking “Why”, and I wanted to scream “because I was raped”, but I couldn’t. I offered to labour in any other position, but I couldn’t labour while pinned down. During my research on hospital birth I had seen that position and just viewing it made me feel nauseous. But, I was completely incapable of announcing to a room full of strangers that I had been raped.

They were still trying to get me on my back with my knees pinned to my chest, and at some point I heard the nurse ask my midwife, “Why won’t she labour in that position?” and I heard my midwife reply, in a very sarcastic tone and loud enough so I would hear, “It’s because of some video she saw on the internet”. I was so angry when I heard my midwife say that. In my mind I was thinking, “you know, you know”, but I couldn’t say the words out loud. It was so difficult to tell her in the first place that I had been raped.

At this point the nurse started to abuse me very badly psychologically. The nurse would ask why I wouldn’t get a cesarean or why I wouldn’t be pinned down, and I would try to answer, and she would say “but it’s best for baby”, then ask why I didn’t want what’s best for baby. Her and my midwife would look at each other and I could tell that they thought I was being a very selfish person and that I was a bad mother for refusing to follow their orders. At that point I started to become very concerned that they would take the baby away when he was born, since they were openly judging me a bad mother.

I felt that they wanted me to do things not because they were best for the baby or me, but because they wanted to prove a point, namely that a good mother does anything for her baby. During those moments I felt totally dehumanized. It’s not that I didn’t want to get over my past history with sexual violence, or that I didn’t try hard enough. I’m a human being, and like all human beings I have limits. Needless to say I would have loved very much to not have my son’s birth evoke the same feelings that I had when I was raped years before.

I felt terrified because I knew I couldn’t control what happened to me or my baby, and I felt that the people around me were behaving in a self interested manner and didn’t have my best interest, or that of my baby, as their primary concern. I knew that it wasn’t medically necessary for me to be pinned down with my knees to my chest, that this was more about what was most convenient for them.

Eventually the nurse just refused to help me unless I got on my back, and I was worried for my baby’s safety, so I did get on my back. I naively thought that she would accept me being on my back, and that she wouldn’t make me be pinned down. But, as soon as I got on my back she demanded that I be pinned down with my knees pinned to my chest. With one arm full of tubes, and my knees against my chest, I was totally restrained, and I started to black out.

The rest of the night is pretty hazy; my memory is in and out. I remember being so happy when the doctor offered forceps, as it meant that I could escape the nurse’s and my midwife’s abuse. I remember the feeling of the placenta being removed from my body, but I didn’t feel anything from my baby being born, nothing at all. I don’t remember the first time I held my son, something that has left a huge scar on my heart. I remember, sometime later in the night, seeing a sandwich in front of me. I don’t remember a lot of that first night at all though.

The next day I smiled and did my best to be what I thought hospital staff wanted me to be so that they would let me go. I was still afraid that they’d take my baby away because they had obviously decided I was an awful mother. I kept thinking that I should be the blank slate, who takes everything in, has no opinions of her own, and if I was that way they would let me go and we would be okay. I pretended I didn’t know how to do anything and smiled and nodded at all their suggestions. I didn’t have any opinions. They let me leave that day. I don’t remember getting home or that first night home with my son.

The next day at home I ate a few small meals, and my mom came to take care of me. After eating dinner I threw up. For the next ten days I threw up everything I ate. I thought a lot about death and I wanted to die. I thought about driving off a bridge every day, or walking into the ocean, peacefully, and fading away into the water. A part of me felt that I was trying to kill myself by not eating. I remember vividly lying awake, another restless hour in the middle of the night, barely able to lift my arm, and wanting to die so badly.

About five days after giving birth I passed a large clot and went to the ER where I was treated for dehydration and given antibiotics. The doctor said he thought I likely had an infection from the catheter that was causing me nausea, but infection was later ruled out. They never did find out what caused my extreme and prolonged nausea. But, I believe it was a result of the trauma I experienced.

The day after my mother left to go home there was no one left to take care of us and I decided I had to start eating again. All in all I went 13 days with very little food.

For the six weeks that I had to stay in touch with the midwife I did my best to smile and be as compliant as I could, and to not alert her to my true feelings. At our final postpartum visit I felt safe enough and confronted her, and told her that she should never force a woman to labour on her back with her knees pinned to her chest. She told me that “all that matters is baby is healthy”. I told her I disagreed, that I matter too. This clearly did not impress her and I could tell that she was again judging me a bad mother. She said that she had the right to do whatever she wanted to my body if she thought it was best for baby. Hearing her say that made me feel nauseous and I started to cry uncontrollably. It wasn’t the first time that someone had looked me straight in the eye and told me that they were entitled to do things to my body without my consent. In that moment I truly felt like my midwife was a rapist.

Psychologically I was unwell for a long time. I would wake up in the night with vivid flashbacks of the nurse forcing me into that position and I would cry and feel so much rage. I would imagine screaming at the nurse “No! No!” and chastise myself for not kicking her off, and not fighting more. In my darkest moments I would lament that even as an adult I am incapable of protecting my body against rape.

After about five months of mental anguish I felt like I was loosing my mind because all I could think about was the event. The disturbing invasive memories were constant. So, I decided to do something and I wrote letters expressing my feelings to those who had wronged me and I sent them.

I’m doing a lot better now and my baby is doing fantastically well. He is so cute and amazing. But, even though he’s totally awesome I’ll never pretend that his awesomeness justifies their abusive treatment of me. It doesn’t, what they did was not okay, it was very wrong.

Viola P.

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20 Responses to “Viola: My midwife said that she had the right to do whatever she wanted to my body if she thought it was best for baby”

  1. Samantha Waddell June 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    OMG my heart just breaks for you. What a terrible thing to go through. ((((((hugs)))))) Please know that PTSD from traumatic births is a very real possibility. There is a lot of support out there for this… you just need to find it. Here is a good website, please start there. Also please have your husband read this link, as he can also suffer as well.

    I’m sending you lots of love, and holding space for you, so that in time you may heal from this birth.

    The Waddling Doula

  2. Kathi June 22, 2013 at 5:32 am #

    Viola, you are brave beyond words for telling your story. Thank you, thank you for putting it out there for the world to see and hear. More and more women will feel less isolated because you came out to share; maybe some women will question the maternity care system for the first time. As a birth worker, I know first-hand (and from my own hospital birth experience) that these things happen with alarming frequency. It’s time to end undignified and abusive care. It’s time to say ENOUGH. Hugs to you on your healing journey. My friend has a blog, that you may find helpful.

  3. Rebecca Wright June 22, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Honouring your courage in speaking out and sharing your story.

    Support is out there and I very much hope you will find healing in time. I’d like to share that there are free healing sessions happening quarterly for all women affected by birth trauma – the next is Sunday, details here.

    Thank you once more for sharing your story.

  4. Rachel Moses June 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    oh how terrible! You dont need to have been raped to know that all of that was a total violation! I’ve read almost every book i can find on birth and i can tell you for sure that laying on your back is absolutely the worst possible position for effective pushing, and was made popular only because it was convenient for the OB . We attempted home births (successfully 2nd time around- the first time wound up transferring when I was ready to push with my first, where one of my vivid memories is how the nurse “midwife” there was very rough with me) and I was always allowed to eat throughout labor, had no time limits imposed, and was allowed to move about freely and chose to birth in an upright sort of squat. I think the not eating thing must be because: if they are planning to surgery you, they’ll give anesthesia, so then they want your belly empty. Thank you for sharing this . Things wont change until women stand up and demand better quality, evidence based care.

  5. Sue C Wolcott June 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    I’m sorry that happened to you. This is exactly why I quit working in the hospital setting. I would have rape dreams because of the routine procedures I was required to carry out. Of course we don’t want the babies in danger! How manipulative it is, to tell a laboring mom “it’s best for the baby” just to get her to do something that will make it easier for the staff. It’s a shameful thing. I honor you for speaking out.

  6. Michela Madison-Towne June 23, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    As others have said, my heart hurts for you to have had these horrific experiences–both kinds. I wish I could take your pain away. If you have a second child, thoroughly investigate your caregiver— read reviews, talk to women who used them, hire a doula early on in your pregnancy so you can build a trusting bond with her, and, if possible, birth at a birth center or at home, rather than a hospital. Again, I’m so sorry, Viola. Sending you gentle hugs. <3 Michela (birth doula)

  7. Carol Marino June 23, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    I had midwives for four births. One in the hospital with a mid-wife who told me that she would be there as soon I arrived, but she didn’t come until the baby was ready to be born. That’s when I decided that I would not have another baby in the hospital. I went to a free standing child birth center. The experience was really a good one. They just let you do what felt comfortable. No pressure. It’s not suppose to be that way with a midwife. My daughter in pregnant with her first child and I am encouraging her to have a midwife present for the birth. I am truly so sorry that you had to experience this. I would suggest a home birth with a midwife that you can trust and feel comfortable with next time.

  8. Jodi Elisei Gregory June 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    You are an amazing women who is making her voice heard. I was never raped but came through the experience of my first son feeling the same feelings you write about, as if I wrote them myself. I had so many feelings of rage and waking up in the middle of the night. Feelings of finding them in a dark alley one day and making them understand how scared and judged and corralled they made me feel. All the feelings of conforming, the fake smiles so they wouldn’t try to take him from me, and would just let me out of their prison. The are violators, thank you, Sue C Wolcott, for admitting what goes on inside hospitals everyday and for having a conscience. This has got to stop, it’s not okay!!!! I had the rest of my four children at home unassisted because I would not subject my children or myself to their absurd acts. Thank you for sharing so that the dialog continues. God bless us for having healthy beautiful children. They are a true blessing, but they are not someone’s excuse to violate their mothers who are trying to get them into this world.

  9. Gary Harryman June 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Reading your story has left me depressed. I think it must be repressed rage at how inhimanely you were treated by so many caregivers. I am honored that you spent so much to educate me about things I didn’t even know existed. Thank you.

  10. sophie July 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I am in complete shock as to how you were treating during what should have been a beautiful journey into motherhood. I have just started my new career as a Doula, after reading your story it makes me more certain and confident in my decision to take this path. You needed a voice, someone to have your back and the confidence to stand up to your midwife and your nurse and let people know how you wanted things done and give the reasons why you didn’t. I’m glad you and your baby are doing ok and I hope if you decide to have another baby you can find that kind support. :)

  11. Carolina May 27, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

    Viola- thank you so much for sharing…not for us but for your own healing journey. The violations that you experienced ate one of the biggest reasons why I chose to become a midwife four years ago. I do home births and have worked at birth centers and very actively and consciously practice Informed Consent! I’ve known midwives who say they do but in the end force women to do what they ‘allow’ or not. I do want to note that there is a big difference between nurse midwives and “lay midwives” some of whom are Cerified professional midwives (CPM’s) because we were not trained nor do we adhere to hospital standards of care when it comes to women’s choices for their bodies. The rage I feel hearing your story gives me drive to continue my work with women as well as train more midwives so less women will experience this form of obstetric rape. It is real and you can heal! Sending much love to you courageous woman!!

  12. Tina June 18, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    I myself are a victim of sexual abuse and after the birth of my second baby I had a retained placenta and had it removed by hand with only gas and air. I did struggle for a week or 2 with flash backs from my abuse. But listening to your story made me angry. Birth is all about delivering your baby safely and doing everything a trained professional tells you to do. Your deluded to think they are trying to make it easier for themselves. They choose to study and train to safely deliver babies for Goddness sake! Your body and mind will heal from a traumatic birth trust me but you would never forgive yourself if your actions cost your baby it’s life. I’m sorry but in the UK we trust our midwives and we do exactly as they say as they know what’s best.

    • Michelle September 30, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

      Wow….this is what you come up with! I wish I can meet you in person. I also was rape…and I think you’re the deluded one to come at another women like this. Half of these med wives abuse us however they want FOR THEIR CONVENIENCE! Don’t believe it and conform to every dam thing these people say for the better good for the baby….like the mother doesn’t matter…how dare you! Sick! This women was abused and push to take half the unnecessary interventions which distressed her and her baby. Apparently you can’t read! Your angry….nah, you pisses me off with your blatant arrogance…are you really a women? Or a med wife?
      Also this is not the UK…and to tell someone they will heal from trauma and abuse….should be slapped! I feel sorry for people that always say they trust someone when they hardly know that person….I wonder how many people trusted a serial killers whom come off charitable and loving..then to only abuse them and cause serious trauma and torture in their lives.

      Yes, babies are important but so are mother’s. Together we are one! Connected! If mother is distressed, so is baby….I pray all women speak out and women will come together and wake up and TRUST THEMSELVES AND WHAT THEY CAN DO. It’s our bodies, babies, birth, AND CHOICE! Things do happen…you can’t save every life….and we need to learn that…….

      This women story was sad and dark and all you could do is come at her like this. Now that’s a bitch move!

  13. Sonia August 9, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    I am so so sorry you had this happen to you.
    It is indeed a grave violation of your human rights.
    Your story literally insites me to activism against this kind of abuse towards woman in their most precious, sacred and vulnerable hours. The time when a mother needs to be mothered and loved.

    As Tina says, you will heal and go on perhaps to be of service to others who may fall victim to this if they do not know their rights.

    Bless you, my prayers are for your healing and how perhaps helping others might be your precious path.

    Sonia Doubell

    • Michelle September 30, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      Being rape…some people don’t heal from it. Believe me! And babies die under the care of these trusting med wives, hospitals, and on gyns….(they’re not saviours…they can’t save every one or every baby)! What we say then to women when its the others fault? All and all these so called care givers treated her like crap and mocked her.

      Now she has more trauma to deal with! Also…at the end of the day…it is OUR CHOICE AND BODIES…..BABIES AND BIRTH!

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