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Unhappy Birthdays, Part 3: Why "birth rape" continues to happen

Photo of post-op procedure by Paul Lovine on Flickr. Photos in body of article from Mothers of Change.

Jesusa Ricoy-Olariaga has learned much from the mothers who send their pain down the telephone wire to her position at a birth trauma helpline. She’s learned not only the “whats” of birth rape, but some of the “whys”.

“Women live in a birth system that is industrial, a conveyer belt, and the baby is some kind of product,” she said on the phone. “You have a scar, you may not be able to sit for six months, but hey—you're alive, after an experience that is almost near death.”

A pause. “Or at least, that’s the way the media portrays it.”

Conveyer-belt babies

Few relationships can survive without a support system. This is no different for the power relations within the birth rape issue, which are supported by a hospital culture that often prioritizes efficiency ahead of mothers' well-being.

“Birth is a business,” said Kalina Christoff. “In Vancouver, we have the biggest hospital in Canada—at BC Women's Hospital, every hour a baby is delivered.”

When she gave birth to her son there in November 2010, the staff kept telling her they “had to do certain things”, regardless of her will, simply because their schedules were so full.

“We're trying to overcontrol birth [with a] completely disproportionate behaviour,” Ricoy-Olariaga said. “We think technology will save us, but when it comes to giving birth, it can be damaging. We have such an awe of technology, we can't accept that it's actually hurting women.”

Are the time-saving advantages of technology worth the industrialization of birth?

According to a 2010 World Health Organization report, there is “no justification for any region” to have Caesarean-section (commonly known as "C-section") rates higher than 10 to 15 per cent. But in the same document it says that, in 2008, Canada had a C-section rate of 26.3 per cent.

The almighty doctor

“Obstetricians operate according to what they believe will produce the ‘good’ outcomes of a live mother and healthy baby,” said Jessica Austin of her experiences as a doula. “I think this makes many people hesitant to call actions by health care providers ‘violence’.”

But without mentally and emotionally healthy mothers, healthy babies can’t exist.

Christoff believes it should be possible to charge doctors with obstetric violence in Canada, like it is in Venezuela.

“Doctors are in a position of authority, of expertise. They do not testify against each other,” she said. Christoff talked to many lawyers about the assault she suffered during her birthing experience, but to no avail.

“I’ve been in touch with the patient care quality office, where you’re supposed to complain, but the people I’ve requested meetings with have refused.”

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