When I went into labor with my daughter, I didn’t know what to expect. After all, I was a first-time mom; everything was new. But while I planned to have a “natural,” drug-free birth, life (and numerous medical professionals) had other ideas. A nurse pressured me to get an epidural, even though I felt comfortable without one. A doctor broke my water, preventing me from staying active — as I had hoped — and I was given pitocin because the labor and delivery ward was busy that evening. They wanted to speed things up. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique. According to a new study, 1 in 6 moms believe they were mistreated during childbirth, and one of the most common complaints was the loss of autonomy.
Many moms reported feeling they were not in control.
The study, published in the journal Reproductive Health, surveyed more than 2,100 women. 17 percent reported being yelled at, scolded, threatened, ignored, violated and/or denied help during labor and delivery. Researchers found low-income women and women of color were particularly vulnerable. 18.7 percent of white women reported mistreatment compared to 27.2 percent of women of color. And while the latter is (unfortunately) unsurprising — African-American celebrities such as Serena Williams have spoken about their traumatic birth experiences before, and a 2017 CDC study highlighted the aforementioned racial disparities — the survey revealed another startling statistic: Those who had unplanned C-sections or “instrumental vaginal births” were more likely to be mistreated than their “naturally” birthing peers.
Having a vaginal birth, community birth or midwife lowered the risk of mistreatment.
🙋🏾♀️ I was yelled at and chastised w my 1st child. I was left alone naked facing an open door for hours while staff had a party during my 2nd. “A shocking number of women are harassed, ignored, or mistreated during childbirth.” https://t.co/cZkrwUQYKH via @voxdotcom
— BlackParentingMagazine 👶🏾 (@BlackParenting1) June 15, 2019
— Sharon GE Washington (@SharonGEWashin1) June 19, 2019
Of course, these results are disconcerting. No one should be intimidated, threatened or mistreated by a medical professional. But the data also brings to light long-standing problems with maternal care, in America and beyond. “[Feeling mistreated during childbirth] is a widespread phenomenon,” study author, Dr. Saraswathi Vedam, told Vox. And while this “certainly includes people being shouted at, scolded, or experiencing physical and verbal abuse… there’s also … not being listened to, not being engaged in the decision, not having the ability to self-determine what care happens for you and your body.”
Unfortunately, change cannot happen overnight. Issues of coverage, accessibility and bias need to be addressed, and hospitals need to confront overcrowding — and understaffing — problems. But the bottom line is: We can do better. We need to do better. Because all women deserve to give birth in a healthy, safe and respectful manner.