Startling Number of Women Report Being Abused While Giving Birth

woman giving birthWe've all heard childbirth horror stories -- your neighbor with the 22-hour labor, your friend with the epidural that never kicked in, or maybe your own mortifying tale of how you pooped on the table (hey, it happens to the best of us!). But a startling number of women in childbirth experience the true horror of being abused and mistreated during childbirth by the same nurses and doctors they are supposed to trust with their lives. 


A recently released report, commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development and published in PLOS Medicine, compared 65 studies about treatment during labor and delivery from from 34 different countries -- 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, five in Asia, two in Oceania, four in Europe, five in the Middle East and North Africa, two in North America, and five in Latin America. The report contains some shocking statistics. Women said they experienced verbal and physical abuse while in labor. Some were sexually assaulted, while others were denied pain medication or forced to share beds with other new mothers. One study from Nigeria found that out of 446 women, 98 percent reported abuse during delivery! That's almost all of them!

When women experience abuse at the hands of a medical caregiver during childbirth, they often decide to have any other children at home to avoid being treated like that again. Opting for a home birth without any assistance in many of these countries places these women at risk for complications during delivery.

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This study highlights that fact that although women in the United States have their fair share of grievances, women are treated far worse in other parts of the world. Many women in countries with fewer resources don't have any way to stand up for themselves if they are abused during childbirth. They choose to take their own safety and that of their unborn child into their own hands rather than subject themselves to abuse again. It makes you appreciate the many options we have for labor and delivery in the United States. Incidents of abuse like these are rare in the U.S., and we have legal redress to turn to in the event that we do have an issue. For women who opt to have a home-birth experience, we have qualified, trained doulas and midwives who can help make the experience as safe as possible. 

We place a lot of focus in this country on the birth experiences. Mothers pass judgments about one another based on whether they had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. For some, having a drug-free delivery is seen as a badge of honor. We create detailed birth plans,  from ordering custom-made delivery gowns to requesting a specific song be played during crowning. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

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Labor is intense and contains a lot of unknown variables, even if it's not your first time experiencing it. There's nothing wrong with calming yourself by trying to control as much of the experience as possible. But it's important to try to keep things in perspective. If our birthing experience goes off course -- if we need an epidural when we wanted an drug-free labor, if we end up getting an emergency cesarean when we wanted a vaginal delivery -- it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. We are extremely fortunate that being abused or mistreated by our medical caregivers is a remote possibility, so much so that we can get upset over the details and take for granted the fact that we safely delivered a child.

Hopefully this study will bring attention to this important issue and lead to better training and support for women who are suffering around the globe. And perhaps it can help women in more fortunate countries put their own birth experiences into perspective.

Was your birth experience a was a positive one?

Image via Shutterstock

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