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So, About This Birth Rape Thing  

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By Emjaybee

You’ve probably seen it.  The story that showed up on Jezebel, (and mentioned our little blog) and was mentioned on Salon. It may blow up into a Media Thing, it may get buried behind other Media Things in a day or so.

I started to email and ask Jill, “Should one of us writers do a post on this particularly?”

Meaning,  I wanted her to do it, or one of the other writers. Or maybe we could just link this awesome, very thorough piece by Navelgazing Midwife also mentioned on Jezebel and be done with it.

Because here’s what  I thought:  I can’t do this piece, I can’t write about it from my personal experience anymore. I just can’t, right now. I can point you to the story I don’t often go re-read, written days after my son’s birth, though it’s a confused story, as I was a confused and hurting person. I’ve linked it before; it seems redundant to keep doing so, but I’m superstitious about editing that story, about retelling it a different way.

It is what it is.

And hell, lots of women have worse stories than mine when it comes to their experiences. Should they qualify as stories of rape or assault? Does mine? Am I being whiny, as this author thinks?

I don’t know. Does it matter?

I’m a tough person in many ways; I’ve lost both parents, always struggled for what I wanted, made hard choices, lived alone, moved to new cities without a job or friends and succeeded there.  Taken risks.  Worked hard. Don’t really think of myself as a complainer.

But it’s been five years, and I still grieve. Not every day, not all the time. Not because I desired perfection or painlessness or prettiness during my son’s birth. But because when I went in to the hospital, I was full of joy and confidence. When I came out, I was broken and hurt, mentally and physically.  I was scared of doctors and flinched when touched by them. I did not want to touch my own body. I sometimes did not want to be alive.

What does that make me?

Would anyone but an assault victim make this image?

I don’t know that either. But when I found that image (at a now-defunct Web site, done by an illustrator who has asked not to have her real name linked with the pieces due to the harassment she got about them), I identified with it immediately.

So..I guess I did write a piece. It’s not very polished, because this is not a topic which I can talk about from a distance, with good prose and interesting anecdotes.  

My story is what it is.

Whatever we call it.


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  • Response
    When someone is touching you and you don't want them to be, when you're lying on your back, held down by straps and closing your eyes and waiting for it to end, clenching your fists from the pain of having something in your vagina that you don't want to be there, ...

Reader Comments (27)

I had an e-mail started to you guys but closed it. What do I really have to say that we haven’t covered? Trauma, in many cases, is in the eye of the beholder. When you hear enough stories first hand from women who’ve been pinned down in labor and had procedures performed on them without consent, you don’t really give a shit what people call it.

And really, do I need to break confidences and exploit personal stories just to explain to a bunch of people, many of whom have never given birth and seem oddly hostile to pregnant women and mothers in general, exactly what some women are put through? I don’t care if people grumble about it; it doesn’t change that there are a lot of women looking for a safe space to talk about what happened to them in labor.

Referring to medical procedures performed without consent or under false pretenses has been referred to as rape by bioethicist Jacob M. Appel, such as in this excerpt from the Huffington Post article, Medical Kidnapping: Rogue Obstetricians vs. Pregnant Women:

By holding Samantha Burton a de facto prisoner, as alleged, Dr. Bures-Forsthoefel and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital effectively imposed their own moral values upon a relatively helpless patient at the moment when she was most vulnerable. The prospect of fifteen weeks' confinement -- and its consequences, such as the possible loss of one's job -- should not be viewed as anything less than horrific. When imposed by the same caregivers whom one has called upon for medical assistance, this trauma must surely be magnified. Preventing a competent pregnant woman from leaving the hospital under these circumstances is no less egregious than compelling her to have an abortion. Forcing additional intrusive care upon her, such as unwanted vaginal exams or cervical assessments, is legally-sanctioned digital rape. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jacob-m-appel/medical-kidnapping-rogue_b_434497.html

I agree that this is the hot issue du jour and everyone will have moved on in a few days. I watched these same conversations last year after Joy Szabo’s picture of her standing next to her van was swiped and posted around the world. A lot of “suck it up, bitches!” and “it’s just Medicine™ or Science™ and your feelings are irrelevant” and other hateful goodies, like how women are just upset because someone looked at them cross-eyed and are getting revenge. Whatever.

Thanks for writing something up, Emjaybee.

September 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterJill

If someone would have had a camera on me from the moment I walked into the hospital and secretly filmed every detail, anyone who would have watched the video afterward would have called it torture and rape.
It's easy to say it isn't when you weren't there.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZweedledee

I saw that opinion piece yesterday and was struck by it's callousness and lack of empathy for the experiences of others. Just because a person has experienced both rape and birth doesn't mean that that person can understand the experiences that every other woman has gone through. If a woman seriously feels that she was violated by others in the process of giving birth, who is anyone else to tell her that she can't feel that way, because it's 'whiny' of her? just....wow.

I read your story and I'm so sorry for what you endured. How could someone read that and still not be convinced that the term 'birth rape' can be used to describe what some women go through in childbirth?

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I have been reading all of these pieces, and have to say that, at first, I wasn't really all that certain about applying "rape" to what some women experience. However, piecing together the statements by women bold enough to come forward, and the statistics showing at least 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assault of one kind or another, it only makes sense that there are going to be some women who feel they have been raped while birthing their babies.

It doesn't take a far stretch of logic, when you consider that all the same hormones/body parts/functions used for sex are also used for birth, to see how a woman could feel this way. Even when staff seem very kind and matter-of-fact, I am appalled by the common practice I've seen where a nurse/ob comes in, begins to glove up, and says "I'd like to see how that cervix is doing," and all the staff "help" mom assume the position, and just go for it. Even if they are gentle, and smiling, it makes me shudder to see the lack of respect for the personhood of that mother, flat on her back, in pain, trying to be "good."

I think it's an adequate term, but shouldn't be used lightly. I have yet to see anyone who has used it flippantly, or in a "whiny" way. Ever.

Birth rape is real. I praise God I have never experienced it.

And I hope my words are seen as one more woman standing with those who have experienced this kind of trauma. My prayers and sympathy are with you.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTiff ~ Birth In Joy

The term "birth rape" does not apply to my birth experience, but I believe that it does exist and occurs more frequently than anyone cares to think about. But in some ways, trauma is trauma, and what you have written here and in your linked post really resonates with me ... especially the paragraph above that starts "But it's been five years ...". I would only need to change the "five years" to 17 months and it would perfectly describe my experience.

Thank you for sharing. It's making me think about finally writing down my son's story. And, maybe more importantly, submitting a complaint to JHCO about the hospital where I delivered.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDana

I am so sorry. I was just ranting today about people dismissing and victim blaming sexual assault. People do the same thing with reproductive assault.

So sorry.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMomTFH

I find it particularly compelling when rape survivors who have also experienced birth rape say, "This is rape." It's as if to say that, just because it's not sexual in nature, that your experiences mean nothing. And the naivety that a doctor who is aggressive in treatment is only doing so "to save your baby's life." Absolute bull$hit, in so many cases. You cannot use that as a blanket statement or blank check to justify what goes on in maternity wards across this country.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Deranged Housewife

It's been nearly a year since my sons birth. When I said I thought I was experiencing PTSD- I was laughed at. I fit all of the criteria, but I'm not talking about a war so no one wanted to hear it (but do they really want to hear about war? All everyone seems to ask damaged soldiers is 'did you kill anyone?' and if it's no they don't care - no interest,and you should leave the trauma disorders for someone who experienced real combat).

I had never heard the term birth rape. I kept thinking to myself how I felt I'd been raped. I knew better than to say it. I knew I would receive ridicule.

11 months after my experience I still cannot have sex or even affection with my sons father. I don't need Antibes approval- when I use the word rape, I mean to express to them the vulnerability, vilolation and shame of my experience. Again and again I was told by counsellors that rape is not about sex- yet if it doesn't involve sex we are demons for using the word?

I have never been raped- I have been sexually assaulted. I don't use the word rape for my experience of sexual assault. Just for my birth.

The experience would speak for itself, but it's nobody's business unless I want to tell them.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

I am a victim of repeated sexual assault, and rape. I am a victim of childhood molestation. I am a victim of birthrape.
And I would never use any other term to describe it.

For someone to say that birthrape survivors are dismissing the trauma of "real" assault survivors, and then in the same breath say that counting women's experiences is important... is astounding. I can only say, "fuck you" and walk away. Just astounding.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Some of the comments on the Jezebel post really helped illuminate for me how our culture's view of women in labor has shaped the dismissal of stories of assault. Like the person who talked about women complaining about being held down because they were probably thrashing around in pain and had to be prevented from hurting themselves or their babies. There's a lot to be deconstructed there but what most sprang out at me was the perception that women in labor are literally aggressively unstable psychiatric patients who might need to be restrained for their own good. Then there's the perception that labor is always intensely dangerous and pathological, and any aggressive medical care you receive is just an expected part of what the staff needs to do to Save Your Life.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
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