Pushback and Truth


Last week I wrote about how I was feeling  past trauma from births I had witnessed. And I stated that the feelings had come churning up as a result of two lawsuits recently brought forward. One is done and the other is winding its way forward in the California legal system. Two things happened over the last week that have caused me to pause:

  1. I have heard from other birth workers who feel similarly. One says that what she saw “broke” her. Many others know exactly of what she is speaking.
  2. There has been a lot of talk about the verdict in the first case. One OB shared her thoughts on how the verdict will not help with the issues in obstetrical care, that it is not a win.

Hearing from the other birth workers was a balm. Knowing that you are not alone in your trauma is important and gives breathing space to a troubled soul. It saddens me, but I knew these others were out there—doulas, nurses, students, etc. I am grateful that they are beginning to see they are not the only ones who see. There is power in numbers.

As to the second point, I understand where this OB is coming from. She sounds like a good, kind, professional careprovider. I am glad she is there for her patients. And I hope she continues to practice this way for many years to come. But there are a couple of things that aren’t sitting well with me.

First, she states that she has never seen or heard of a baby being held in the mother’s vagina, waiting for the physician to arrive. And she decided that the damage suffered was because of the struggle and that none of that matters because the mother asked them to stop and they didn’t. That she, herself, stops when a patient asks her to. Again, my gratitude that she does this. But not every careprovider does.  And my saying that does not take anything away from those who practice with the respect that women deserve.

Because you have not experienced it, does not make it impossible. It makes you lucky. Some of us have seen and heard unbelievable actions. They are unimaginable, but they are real. And because we have witnessed this type of “care”, we did not hesitate to believe what Caroline stated in her testimony. Each of us needs to understand that the way maternity care is practiced in our own backyard is not always how it is done everywhere/anywhere else. This is a hard and important truth.

Secondly, I need to say this with love and compassion: while this verdict alone may not solve the problems, I believe it could be the turning point in the movement to humanize childbirth in the United States. Up until this verdict, the United States legal system said that the way a woman is treated in labor, the way we draw her in to have her baby, does not matter. The only thing that matters is a healthy baby. However, the jury in Alabama said otherwise. The jury made it clear that Caroline was not respected as a human being. They did what the legal system currently allows them to do to make amends.

Childbirth has been on the radar of human rights groups for years. And now there is one verdict and one case still pending, that is speaking to those rights. The legal system is woefully unable to fully correct the problems that exist, but until this verdict many in power did not wish to admit that a problem DOES exist.

Will there be pushback? Of course. Will it be harsh? Likely. Any time the balance of power is challenged there is usually a price to pay. But that beginning shift means that the fulcrum is beginning to move and those of us in the birth world know that beginnings can be hard.  But they are also usually worth it in the end.

I see one other difference right now: this case happened in the age of the internet. It is impossible for anyone to hush this up. Today, whenever a birth worker witnesses something that is devastating, she can reach out to others across the globe. She no longer has to sit in the darkness and think that she is the only one. She can find strength in others.  This also means that institutions and careproviders who are behaving badly (not speaking to the ones who are doing right) will not have the secrecy that they once did.

When we see it, we have to find a way to speak it outside of the birthing room. We can do this respectfully and with compassion. But to say nothing is to condone it and allows perpetuation of the behavior. And we are too smart for that.


2 thoughts on “Pushback and Truth

  1. Hi Ann! Thank you reading and sharing your thoughts on my post. There is one point I’d like to clarify and one point I’m hoping you can help me with.

    “And she decided that the damage suffered was because of the struggle and that none of that matters because the mother asked them to stop and they didn’t.” It seems from your comment and the comments of others that when I say Caroline’s pain is a result of the struggle, that I am placing the blame on Caroline. I am NOT. I see it like this- Consensual sex does not often lead to chronic pain and psychological trauma, but rape does. It is not necessarily the physical act, but the struggle, that something was being done against her wishes that results in the physical and emotional trauma. Many I spoke to about this case were rationalizing the actions of the nurses- they were trying to help, to position her for delivery. But their intentions don’t matter. Just as it doesn’t matter if a victim was on a date with or even married to her rapist. Her bodily autonomy matters. I just want to make that clear.

    I have heard many women, doulas and midwives, say yes, babies are held in. I do not mean to discount the experience of others by sharing my own. When I approached the L&D nurses at my hospital after I first read Caroline’s story (long before the lawsuit), they all had the same reaction- “What? Held the baby in? That’s crazy!” I saw similar reactions online. Therefore, I am at a loss when it comes to this particular point. Who are these nurses holding babies in? Why are they doing this? Are my nurses hiding the fact that they do this? Do they only do it for certain doctors? Because they are yelled at? Because they are afraid, say, of a dystocia? Is there some billing/cost component to this? I feel like there is a piece missing in this discussion, and I can’t figure out how to fix the problem if I can’t figure out who is doing it and why.

    I am also awaiting the results of Kelly’s case. That one is a whole different ballgame.


  2. Hi Georgia,
    Thank you for clarifying your intent. That is most helpful to me—sometimes when I write I know exactly what I’m trying to say but others do not receive it in that way. I truly am grateful that you see her autonomy in this way. And I hope that many, many other careproviders will as well.

    I cannot speak on behalf of those nurses who have held babies in. However, what I can share (being mindful of confidentiality) is that I have witnessed it in my career. And I have had nurses speak with me about being directed to do so by careproviders. This is over the course of my 27 years attending births and working with nurses and physician/midwives who I love and respect (as well as with those whom I do not).

    My understanding is that it used to be a more common practice in some parts of North America. The most common reasons I have been given are::
    From careprovider, “That baby better not be born before I get there”
    Fear of reprimand from MD for not calling them “on time”

    If your nurses are saying that they have never heard of this, I believe them. And I also believe the midwives/nurses/doulas who are saying, “Yes, this is done and I have seen/done it”.

    Thank you for your time and for being so open. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.


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