The ‘birth rape’ debate

There’s a controversial issue being debated lately on sites frequented my birth advocates, midwives, etc: birth rape. (Click here for a link to one such post on Jezebel. OR click here for a link to a post on the UK feminist site the f-word.) Birth rape is being used to describe some women’s experience of being roughed up in the delivery room. That is, having forceps used or other procedures that they interpret as being forced upon them in the name of delivering their babies. When I read about the issue, I frankly felt conflicted. I didn’t necessarily like the the term “rape” used in this sense. I had a dear friend who was raped many years ago and I even discussed it with her. She was deeply offended, saying that nobody should throw around the term and that there was a big difference. Rape rape, she felt, is purely malicious. A doctor or midwife, unless he or she is psycho, would be unlikely to have such deeply malicious intent. I totally agree with that. However, the writer in me also wants to defend anyone’s desire to name and talk about their experience how they feel necessary. Nobody should be censored. Of course, I was eager to hear Dr. Fischbein and Joyce Weckl’s thoughts. Below, you can read what they think. We’d also love to hear your comments. –VC

From Fearless Doc Stuart Fischbein:

I think the word “rape” in this context is inappropriate in almost every case. It does belittle real rape in my opinion. But then, there is some worth for those who want the shock value of the term. I believe, however, there is little reason to ever do anything to a rationale woman without consent. Even if the baby is in trouble. ACOG even has an informal policy on autonomy of women. The current trends in medicine spawn a sort of coldness and distance, though. With a good relationship between patient and practitioner, these scenarios would likely never occur. Such is the midwifery model.

From Fearless Midwife Joyce Weckl:

During my career, there are times when I’ve heard wonderful things about male OB-GYNs and terrible things about some female OB-GYNs and midwives. So I don’t agree that the midwifery model is superior ALWAYS. Generally, yes, any care that is not too paternalistic and condescending is better. Sometimes there are emergencies and chaos and the woman’s body takes second place to the outcome of the baby. I myself have been in some gnarly situations with stuck babies, hemorrhaging moms, etc. and have felt that I would do whatever it took to save lives. It is not always warm and fuzzy to give birth. On the other hand, I’ve seen some doctors, nurses, etc. do terrible things to patients that were unnecessary and demeaning, and I’ve also seen seemingly loony patients blow things way out of proportion. I’ve also witnessed women who suffered sexual abuse or rape (consciously or not) that totally flip out at delivery because it  triggers memories of their abuse. Regardless, there will always be women who find birth traumatic for whatever reason no matter what happens and who is involved. Sometimes there is a much bigger story that is not known and often not known by the very woman who feels cheated or violated. I believe, however, these woman are entitled to their feelings and I’m sorry they experienced birth in this way. It’s a tragedy!

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