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17 important phrases to say if you're being mistreated while giving birth

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[Editor's note: This article contains phrases to use in difficult situations, which may be triggering for women who have experienced mistreatment in labor or birth-related or sexual trauma.]

We recently shared the findings of a study published in the Reproductive Health journal that found that one out of six women report being mistreated in labor. The study authors wrote that mistreatment comes in the forms of "loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; and being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help."

This study broke our hearts. Your responses to it enraged us. So many women commented that they had experienced mistreatment during their births. In an effort to start to make things better, I have created this list of phrases to use if mistreatment becomes a part of your story.


But before I do, a disclaimer: I fear that by providing you with phrases to say, there is an implication that the onus of respectful care is on you. It is not. It is the moral and professional obligation of those caring for you to treat you well, and failure to do so is their deficiency, not yours.

With that in mind, here are 17 phrases to say if you are being mistreated in labor:

1. "It is really important to me that…"

Whether or not you have written a birth plan, your desires for your birth are incredibly important—don't hesitate to communicate them to your team. So often providers get caught up in the routine of how things usually happen, that we don't think to ask what specific requests you might have.

A few examples might be:

  • "It is really important to me that you help me do immediate skin-to-skin with my baby if it is safe."
  • "It is really important to me that you remember that my mother developed preeclampsia during her labor, and I am worried that I will too.
  • "It is really important to me that you use ze as my pronoun."
  • "It is really important to me that you keep the room as quiet as possible."

2. "We haven't met yet. Who are you?"

Hospitals are busy places, with many people working in them, and it is very possible that you will feel this during your birth. Every person that enters your room should 1. knock and 2. introduce themselves. If they don't, ask who they are and what their role is.

And, if you do not feel comfortable with their level of skill (i.e., having a student nurse place an IV in your arm), you can decline their care.

3. "Is this evidence-based?"

Brace yourself for an upsetting statistic: It takes an average of 17 years for new medical findings to make their way into clinical practice.

Now, this isn't all bad—certainly we want to verify new findings before implementing them, especially when they are big changes. But there does tend to be a "this is how we do things" approach in medicine, which means people receive care based more on "what we've always done," and less on what the research says we need to change.

If your provider tells you they think a certain intervention is necessary, it is okay to ask why. Try this:

4. "Please explain before proceeding."

You may not love receiving tons of medical details, and that is, of course, completely fine. I had a client recently who tends to faint when blood is discussed. But do know that you can ask for explanations for all tests and procedures if you want them.

In addition to the questions above, try asking: "Please give me an overview of the steps you will take during this procedure."

5. "I need some time to think about this."

Labor is intense, and often in the heat of the moment, we say yes to something that we later wish we hadn't. It is perfectly fine to ask for a few minutes to process what you've just heard and decide how to feel about it.

If things are emergent and require immediate action, your provider will let you know.

6. "Please call the translator."

Translator services are almost always available for people that speak languages other than the one being used by your provider. Unfortunately, so often providers will think, "Oh, this is just a quick thing. I don't need to call the translator service for this."

They do.

According to LEP.gov, "All recipients of federal funds and all federal agencies are required by law to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to limited English proficient persons." And yet, a 2015 study found that over 65 percent of hospital patients who had limited English language proficiency had no documented usage of translator services during their stay.

If a language difference is preventing you from fully understanding what your provider or nurse is saying, you have the right to insist that translator services be used, every single time they speak with you.

7. "This makes me uncomfortable."

It is okay to send a loud-and-clear message about the behavior that you don't like.

Some examples might be:

  • "It makes me uncomfortable when you tell me that I am not doing a good job just pushing."
  • "It makes me uncomfortable when you ignore my partner, who is sitting next to me."
  • "It makes me uncomfortable when you laugh at my birth plan."

8. "I'd like to discuss this in private."

You are entitled to confidentiality throughout your birth. If someone starts asking you personal questions or disclosing personal information in front of other people, you can remind them of your right to privacy, even if it results in an inconvenience such as finding a private room to speak in.

9. "Please lower your voice."

You should not be yelled at during your birth. Not ever.

10. "Please ask for permission."

I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard providers say, "I am going to check your cervix now." In other words, "I am going to put my fingers in your vagina now."

This is not acceptable in any circumstance, birth-related or not. Your cervix, your vagina, your body.

Instead, the conversation—not demand—should start like this:

"I'd like to do a vaginal exam to assess whether your cervix has dilated since we started Pitocin. Is that okay with you?"

11. "You do not have my permission."

If someone bypasses the request for permission, you have the right to state outright that they do not have your permission to proceed.

12. "I'd like a chaperone in the room."

One of the primary people who taught me to be a midwife was a man (male midwives are also called midwives). Every time he did a pelvic exam, he requested that a female staff member come into the room to serve as a witness, to help the patient feel more at ease.

You can request this—and not only if the provider or nurse is a male. If you feel that one person on your team is particularly problematic (for any reason, including the tone in which they speak to you), you do not have to be alone with them.

13. "I would like another provider/nurse to care for me."

If your provider or nurse is not treating you respectfully, ask for someone else. It may feel awkward, but remember that you are the customer here. You do not have to "deal with" someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

14. "I am calling 9-1-1."

This one is reserved for situations where you feel that the care you are receiving is putting your health or life (of that of your baby) in danger. If you are reporting dangerous symptoms (difficulty breathing, severe headache, severe abdominal pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, the urge to harm yourself or the baby, or something else that is very concerning to you) and being ignored, call 9-1-1.

15. "I'd like to speak to the patient advocacy department."

Most hospitals have a patient advocacy department to support patients in understanding their rights. Ask to speak with them if things start to feel off.

16. "I am making an appointment with a therapist."

If you were mistreated during your birth, you may experience emotional distress afterward. Mama, you do not have to go through this alone. A therapist can help you process your experience so that it does not continue to cause you pain.

17. "I'm calling my lawyer."

In addition to emotional support, you may find that you would like to take legal action.

It is my sincere hope that you will not need a single one of the phrases. But mama, if you do, I cannot emphasize enough that it is not your fault and that you are not alone.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.

Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"

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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)


Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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