Obstetric Violence: Traumatic Birth

It is hard to determine how common obstetric violence is because, as we have learned throughout our study of global health, data reporting is not always reliable. Congruent to other forms of violence, victims are not likely to report obstetric violence, and if they do, it is not guaranteed that they will be heard. Additionally, obstetric violence takes many forms, and a patient may not be fully aware that obstetric violence occurred. If she is aware that an act against her autonomy occurred, she may not have the privilege or ability to speak out against it.

Last September, I read an article about traumatic birth titled “In traumatic childbirth, women say healthy baby isn’t the only thing that matters”. The article discussed how women are expected to be joyful about their births when their babies are born healthy and how their feelings about their experiences in birth are downplayed. It also brought a staggering statistic to light; according to the Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth (PATTCh), approximately 30% of births are traumatic, resulting in feelings of helplessness, anxiety, fear, or isolation during labor. Further, one-third of those who describe their birth experience as traumatic will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, an intense, long-lasting psychological syndrome that often consists of anxiety attacks, distressing flashbacks or dreams, and depression. The article discussed the root cause of this staggering statistic to be obstetric violence, specifically in the form of lack of informed consent. The article led me to an organization called Improving Birth’s #breakthesilence campaign, which is a collection of experiences of victims of traumatic birth. As I looked through the submissions to the campaign, it was clear that those who had experienced traumatic birth felt ignored, antagonized, or physically or verbally abused by their caregivers. I’ve included the link the Facebook campaign below, where you can see pictures of people voicing their experiences.

I think the term obstetric violence is appropriate. I like that it includes “obstetric”, indicating that caregivers, likely clinical obstetrics staff, play a role in perpetrating violence against patients. I also like the use of the word “violence”, which carries a lot of weight. I think when analyzing this term it is important to recognize what it stands for beyond the two words. It is important to recognize that obstetric violence is a result of a systematic power structure in obstetric care.  The violence goes beyond physical harm and includes neglect, verbal abuse, refusal of resources, and failure to respect consent. Because many of us in this class are future caretakers or public health workers, we must be aware of the ways systematic violence plays out in a healthcare provider-patient power dynamic.


Editorial: “In traumatic childbirth, women say healthy baby isn’t the only thing that matters” – http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/health/trauma-from-childbirth-women-say-healthy-baby-isn-t-only/article_6efe50eb-89e8-517b-bb51-99e12fb06cc9.html

More information about Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth – http://pattch.org

Improving Birth’s #breakthesilence campaign photos – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.705655609507930.1073741854.255657527841076&type=3


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