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As maternal death rates among Black women skyrocket and more and more new mothers come forward with horror stories surrounding their labor and delivery, patients, activists and medical professionals have come to define the medical abuse women encounter as obstetric violence.

The International Journal On Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights defines obstetric violence as “bullying and coercion of pregnant women during birth by health care personnel.” Even with the textbook definition of the term being publicized information, many women struggle postpartum to define their experience. Here’s what you should know:

  1. Obstetric violence includes a spectrum of mistreatment including: denial of treatment during childbirth, disregard of a woman’s need’s and pain, verbal humiliations, forced and coerced medical interventions, invasive practices, detention in facilities for failure to pay, dehumanizing or rude treatment, unnecessary use of medication, and invasive practices.
  2. Obstetric violence falls under the umbrella of general violence against women, but incidents of medical violence are often overlooked and normalized because it’s difficult for some patients to identify. This oversight can lead to health complications, psychological distress, or even death to mother and/or child.
  3. There is legal precedent for a woman who has been the victim of obstetric violence. An Alabama mother, Caroline Malatesta won her legal battle against Brookwood Women’s Health, where she gave birth in 2012. Malatesta had asked for an unmedicated birth where she could move freely, but when it came time to push, the nurse forced Malatesta to get on her back and remain immobile in bed. Malatesta described the nurse wrestling her onto the bed and forcing the baby’s crowning head back in her body for six minutes. While the baby was born healthy, Malatesta was diagnosed with PTSD and pudendal neuralgia, which is a permanent condition that prevents her from giving birth or having sex again. She was rewarded $16,000,000
  4. Many women are turning to doulas and midwives to assist them through the pregnancy and labor process to avoid mistreatment from traditional medical professionals. Doulas are not health care providers, but they do focus on the comfort of the mother including pain management. Midwives are trained to keep the patient and baby healthy. Some labor professionals are trained in both.

Sources: Obstetric Violence, Broadly, World Health Organization



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