This story was originally published June 25, 2019
In a recent survey shared in the Reproductive Health journal, one out of six women in the United States reported being mistreated while in labor, where mistreatment included, "loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; and being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help."
One out of six.
To make these numbers even more sickening, mistreatment was more common among women of color, women with partners of color, women with lower socioeconomic status, and women under the age of 30.
(And yet people still question the validity of stating that black mothers are at a higher risk of pregnancy and birth-related complications.)
Rarely at a loss for words, I find myself almost unable to speak.
I am a midwife, and I am disgusted.
To be entrusted with the responsibility of caring for a woman giving birth is one of the single greatest honors available in the human experience.
I am not going to lie—it is not easy work. It is stressful and exhausting and sometimes even jading, and there are times when we will question the wisdom of the decision to spend our days doing this.
Yes, we worked incredibly hard to get to where we are today.
But where we are is beside a woman who is giving birth. It is a gift to nurture and safeguard a woman as she does the profound work of bringing life into this world, and it is a duty to be held with reverence.
Providers. If the day has come that you are too stressed, too tired, too jaded to treat women with respect, then the day has come for you to leave this profession.
You swore an oath. Every time you ignore, or raise your voice to, or disrespect a woman in labor you are breaking that oath because in doing so you are inflicting harm. Birth trauma—and make no mistake, mistreatment in labor is trauma inducing—has very real consequences.
As I have shared previously, "When we give birth, we do so from our core—not just the core of our bodies, but the core of ourselves. We are open and vulnerable during and after birth, and the energy that is around us is the energy that we absorb. It becomes a part of the inner voice that guides us in motherhood."
The eye roll you thought she didn't see when she handed you her birth plan.
That snide remark about her "crazy behavior" while she was in labor.
When you ignored her call-bell because she was "just asking for more drugs."
That time you didn't call the translator service because "she should understand by now."
It mattered to her then and it matters to her now.
I want you to think back to the you who just got accepted to nursing, medical, or midwifery school. Would they be proud of the provider you've become?
I believe that a great many providers out there can answer yes. I believe that most people are trying to do right and be good.
But every single one of us needs to take a very hard look at ourselves and our practice and ensure that we are still deserving of the honor.
To women, I want to tell you three things.
you are worthy of respect. You know what? Scratch that. Because the word "worthy" implies that a special quality or effort on your part makes you good enough to deserve respect.
Your very existence calls for respect.
Our culture does a bang-up job of putting medical professionals on a pedestal—and there are some pretty amazing, life-saving ones that quite frankly should be up there. But even the most intelligent, skillful provider is a human, just like you. Yes, they may have a gift. But mama, so do you.
There is no credential, degree or diploma that permits the mistreatment of human beings.
Second, trust yourself.
So often I meet women who say things like, "It felt kind of hostile, but I'm probably just being too sensitive," or, "They kept hurting my feelings, but maybe I'm just hormonal."
If you feel mistreated, it is okay to say so. Yes, misunderstandings happen. But you do NOT have to sweep your feeling under the rug because you think you are "being silly." Your concerns are valid and deserve to be heard.
I also want you to trust that any mistreatment received is not your fault. I don't care if you asked a thousand questions, or cried and yelled the whole time you were in labor or didn't "do what they wanted you to do." Nothing justifies mistreatment, ever.
Lastly, you have rights and choices.
If you feel that you are being or have been mistreated, you have rights and you are not alone. Check with your birthplace and see if they have a patient advocacy department, or contact an attorney or advocate near you that will support you.
For a full list of your rights in childbirth, check out this document from Childbirth Connection.