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:
- 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.
- 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.