Google+ Authentic Parenting: Intimacy And The Lack Thereof In Hospital Birth

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Intimacy And The Lack Thereof In Hospital Birth

I read a wonderful article about the intimacy of homebirth on Midwifery Today. It made reminded me of an anecdote I would like to share with you here.

When I was at university, every student had to get a medical check up during their first year, as a part of a long term survey. Of course so did I.
You were to strip down to your undies (if I remember correctly, women could keep their bra) and be measured, weighed, patted, touched. At the end, I remember having to do a squat and bend forward. All this under the seeing eye of a male doctor and a male medical student. I was 18 at the time, so that male med student could be considered my peer. And have I said I was standing there in only a thong and a bra? And they were fully dressed.
After all this patting and squatting etc, they took my bloodpressure. I should add I normally have a very very low blood pressure. Not this time. It was sky rocketing.
Now, here's the joke. The doctor asked me if I was anxious or unsettled.
I asked him how he would feel in my situation.
Now I was not a very prudish or inhibited person, imagine how it would be like if I were.

This anecdote is rather silly compared to the invasion of her privacy a women birthing in a hospital faces. Yet we wonder why labouring in a hospital setting is infinitely more difficult. We wonder why labour stalls. The birthing woman does not have the right to complain or even to feel invaded. She is but to suck it up and stop whining.

No matter how you turn it, having someone stick arms and hands and utensils up your private parts is an invasion of your privacy. Laying in a room naked where anyone who feels like it can come and go as they please is uncomfortable to say the least. Women should not have to 'get over it' and 'conform to the system'. We should not be shamed and belittled because we are embarrassed. It would take a seriously devoted exhibitionist not to feel embarrased in this situation.
These feeling are real and valid and should be taken into consideration. The system should conform to us, rather than the other way around.  Remember that much of this touching and feeling and prodding that is considered routine is not evidence based or even remotely necesary in most cases. Consider that in any other situation, touching and feeling a vulnerable woman's private parts without her consent is a serious violation of the law.

Until 'modern' obstetrics validate the basic rights of the birthing woman, until the system accepts the effect of a birthing woman's emotions on labour - as what might be the most important, determining factor of labour, there will be no significant change in hospital birth.



  1. I couldn't agree more. I had 2 very traumatic and horrible hospital births. The first a traumatic forced csection. The 2nd one was supposed to be so different, a gentle vbac. I had a doula and a midwife, easily labored at home with the midwife for about 7 hours with no stress, and went in so prepared and had been assured all my wishes would be respected. HA. My midwife betrayed me, immediately, within MINUTES, started talking "hospital policy" and "protocol" and ignoring everything we had discussed and planned. Forced me to have all the usual interventions that we had agreed I would not be having. Had me practically tied to a bed for monitoring.. my doula and I had to covertly rip all the wires off every now and then and sneak off to the bathroom under the guise of having to pee so I could walk (pace like a caged animal!) for a few minutes at a time. It is no surprise, my labor stalled. I had excruciating contractions with only seconds between them for an unbelievable number of hours with no progression. Because I was feeling betrayed and terrified and honestly wanted to turn and run. Giving birth in the parking lot truly went through my mind and seemed a better option. I should have listened to my instincts and RUN. Another bad birth. Yes, I got my vbac, but the price I paid was high. I was tortured, stripped of any diginity, of any autonomy, or all of my rights. Again, told that I should be happy with my birth because my baby was born healthy and "the way I wanted" (sooo far from true!). Developed PTSD and still struggle with it all, several years later. If I ever have another child it will be in my own home, where I am safe and comfortable and where other people cannot betray my trust and force "protocol" on me and tie me down and torture me. Never again. Never again. NEVER.

  2. I actually had a wonderful hospital experience, which is completely not the norm! My local hospital provides a 'birth centre'. I got an assigned midwife who did all my pre and post natal care, I could call her 24/7, she delivered my 11 day overdue baby in a dark, quiet, peaceful room at a hospital. Although I was threatened with induction, she did everything within her power to prolong and prevent it- I felt so comfortable with her- she knew exactly what I wanted (music, shower bath) and what I didnt (drugs, interference, minimal checks). She was amazing and I credit my wondrful birth to her. Even though my son had mec. liquor, she got him back to me asap- she was there just for me and my baby. Best experiece ever! I also got to go home the next day (its usually 6 hrs, but they had to monitor my son)

  3. This is also such an interesting concept - I did give birth in a hospital-based birthing center, with a midwife and nurses, but an OB ultimately delivered my very stuck pie via vacuum.

    I didn't feel very embarrassed, probably because I was raised in and around hospitals and doctors - my father is a pediatrician, and I was treated by the partners in his practice as a child. I guess it seems quite strange that it doesn't bother me too much to be seen naked in a medical setting - although the situation you described did make my skin crawl a bit! I think it was the two people, one being a peer, that did it for me!

    I just mused to my husband that I didn't feel ashamed or shy in the hospital, but it does seem weird now to think of so many people coming and going while I was in such a raw, naked, intense moment. Maybe I was too focused to really notice it? Or maybe it was all those years of being seen by my dad's partners as my doctors, and then having them over for dinner later?

  4. Oh my goodness, I have so much to say on this issue, but I'll give you the summary - I kept telling my nurse to please ask me before whipping the sheet off of my nether regions, and she continued to walk in, whip it off, and say, time to check you! And I would have to remind her that I wasn't going to be checked because there was no reason for it, and that she needed to ask me before removing the sheet in front of a zillion people... well, after hours of this going on, I told her she was rude and that I would feel the same even if I wasn't pregnant. I said, "I was told by everyone that when I was in labor, I just wouldn't care about modesty, but you know what? I do. So please respect that." Well, a minute later, my OB came in and scolded me because the nurse was in the hallway crying, and apparently I was out of line for calling her rude. ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME??!! I'm in the second stage of labor, and in an even tone, I have this conversation with the nurse, and I'M the one getting scolded?

    My OB told me they just weren't used to women who wanted to have a say in when, and if, cervical checks were done during labor, and women who valued modesty during birth.

    I told her maybe the fact that I was wearing a cardigan sweater over my nightie in the 800 degree room should have given her a clue. Ha.

    Anyway, definitely hoping to afford a home birth next time... I TOTALLY know that's why my labor stalled. What a stressful situation to feel so violated. :(

  5. Megan, with my daughter's birth, I didn't really mind that much either, as you say, I think birthing women are really focused and phase out their surroundings, however, I do think that it might be affecting you on a subconscious level, because it's just not a natural situation. Even if you are comfortable being naked around other people.

  6. i'm sure it does, because i'm not generally comfortable being naked (or even in a bathing suit!) around people. i just figure that i was focused elsewhere, and that i had come to terms with medical nakedness early on. thinking back on it now it does seem somewhat embarrassing that the OB walked into the room and said hello while looking up the birth canal - but I figure that I don't have anything he hasn't seen before, so I try not to feel too weird about it!

  7. I agree with you all. Why do we expectg women to give up modesty? We would not do this to men. I would have told that doctor and nurse off if that had been me. I wish we could lobby for and get legislation for respect dignity and privacy for women in the delivery room. Three people on another pregnancy(probably men) site scolded me because I spoke up for women's vaginas being a little discretly displayed in the delivery room. I wonder how many fathers would allow their penises to be displayed in the exam room the way mothers do?


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