'I was suffocating': Mother speaks out to highlight obstetric violence

'I was suffocating': Mother speaks out to highlight obstetric violence

German mother Susanne Reif* cried continuously the day after the birth of her son. Even now it’s still difficult to talk about.

She is among a rising number of women reporting traumatic childbirth and obstetric examination experiences, experts say.

Campaigner the Roses Revolution usedthe International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women this week to highlight the issue. It sees women lay a rose in front of the delivery room where they experienced the violence. Some write their experience on a small piece of paper as part of an initiative to break the silence and create awareness among professionals.

Reif said when she arrived at the hospital to give birth, her cervix did not dilate, and she was forced into a bathtub.

A midwife rolled her eyes and told the woman her pain was “ridiculous”.

“After that I was delirious. I was fainting and I was throwing up all the time. Only in those moments did I come to consciousness,” Reif told Euronews.

The epidural anaesthesia, which an anaesthetist injected into her back five times after several hours of waiting, did not feel right.

Midwives called the anaesthetist three times without success.

The next morning it was decided to deliver the baby by caesarean section. The anaesthetic was injected in the same area of her back and as she struggled to breathe, a nurse yelled at her and slapped her, saying: “if you can still talk so much, then you can also breathe”.

She later learned that the epidural was wrongly placed from the start, a so-called high spinal anaesthetic, which gradually paralysed her organs, including her heart and lungs.

“I was suffocating then and there on that table,” she told Euronews, still in disbelief and shock over the event.

When the professional staff realised the seriousness of the situation, they put her under general anaesthesia and delivered the baby by emergency caesarean section.

The dramatic birth of her son, who was under anaesthesia even for the first 20 minutes of his life, is part of her trauma. But she finds the behaviour of the professional staff particularly shocking.

“Where has their humanity gone?” she asks. Her therapist classifies what she experienced as severe violence.

The taboo of obstetric violence

An international study in the British journal BMC Pregnancy Childbirth found that 66.7 per cent of the women who described a traumatic birth found the “care provider actions and interactions as the traumatic element” in their childbirth experience.

“The topic has been known for a long time and yet it is still an absolute taboo,” says Munich head physician and gynaecologist Prof. Dr Gerlinde Debus.

“Even a routine procedure such as an ultrasound can represent a violent intervention in the perception of mother and child,” says Debus.

Many pregnant women do not know that they do not have to go to the hospital for routine tests, explains midwife Julia Huegel, and most vaginal examinations are also unnecessary.

Although there are more and more demands for better care for women by having more midwives, childbirth is becoming more medicalised in Germany, she says.

Huegel explains that doctors perform interventions because they cannot be completely sure how the child is doing in the womb.

“We don’t know how the child is doing until it is born,” says Huegel.

Debus says a possible explanation for the increasing number of interventions in obstetrics is a so-called professional fear.

In order to safeguard themselves, the gynaecologist explains, the professional staff take all measures known to them to monitor the child and mother intensively during birth.

Midwife Huegel also finds many doctors anxious: on the one hand, there is the fear of being sued if the child “comes out badly”. On the other hand, some are concerned about their reputation among colleagues or in their careers, which puts them under pressure.

Psychologist Nergiz Eschenbacher explains the violence as a combination of fear of harming the newborn, the general image of women in Germany and the working conditions of midwives and gynaecologists.

She says women compare their experiences to being “tortured like in the Middle Ages” or “slaughtered” when they eventually seek help.

A rose lies in front of the entrance to a delivery room: midwives and gynaecologists usually know that women are making a statement with it.

‘We were all afraid of being assigned to the delivery room’

A survey published in the German Midwifery Magazine in July this year shows that many midwifery students become witnesses, (co-)perpetrators or victims of violence during their training.

“It was terrible,” Huegel says of her training 13 years ago. “We were all afraid of being assigned to the delivery room,” says the Munich-based midwife.

Veronika Selters* from the Frankfurt area also remembers her midwifery training well, during which the romantic idea of birth quickly turned out to be an illusion.

She has often witnessed violence in her field. A few months ago, she advised a young mother to take legal action against a senior doctor.

“The woman had explicitly said during the birth that she wanted neither a suction cup nor an episiotomy. Then she was threatened with a caesarean section. Immediately afterwards there was a contraction, during which the obstetrician simply cut and used the suction cup.”

Women seek help after traumatising births

Catrin Domke, a former surgeon who founded an association for traumatised women after experiencing violence during the birth of her son, says afterwards comes a new form of violence.

She was turned down by numerous therapists and in self-help groups, she was told she was not in the right place. Often, people played down the violence, she said.

“You should be happy to have a healthy child”, people told her.

Her association, Traum(a)Geburt e.V., counsels pregnant women, helps traumatised women and provides legal advice. Just six months after its founding in 2018, the association had around 200 members.

“Violence during childbirth can affect anyone,” says Domke, explaining that there are parallels to how rape victims are treated.

Many relationships break up within a year after such an experience, she says. Some women — like Domke herself — cannot return to their jobs, which means that the violence often triggers a financial crisis as well.

Ten out of 15 women who turn to her association seeking help are considering suicide, Domke told Euronews.

Awareness of violence growing

Psychologist Eschenbacher has noticed that more and more women are consciously seeking help after a traumatising birth.

She herself has networked well in her region around Freising, with the health department even referring women to her. But “there is still a lot of resistance in society,” she says.

More and more women are coming forward at Traum(a)Geburt, looking for legal help or to participate in the support groups that are taking place online because of the COVID crisis.

“We advise women to take legal action against the hospital or the obstetricians,” says Domke. “But the judicial system has to follow up”.

She finds that experts appointed by health insurance are biased and that many lawyers either do not want to accept cases of obstetric violence or represent doctors and hospitals at the same time.

Melanie Woche also decided to file a criminal complaint for bodily harm because a caesarean section was performed against her will and without clear indication during the birth of her second child.

She had previously asked the attending doctor for more time – for a natural birth, which he denied her.

Without her consent, the child was then born by caesarean section.

“It was like forced treatment,” says Woche, who realised a few days after the birth that she had developed a trauma disorder.

Her case, which is similar to what many women have experienced, is now before the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. They will decide whether the right to bodily integrity has been violated.

Midwife Huegel says that women do not need to be better prepared for birth, but that they need to be helped to learn to listen to themselves and their feelings.

In her experience, women who have a good connection to their child and body are less likely to give up their self-determination.

Catrin Domke expects midwives and doctors to reflect more on their own work and behaviour and to take up offers of supervision.

At the same time, her association, together with a family therapist and doula, has developed a living will for pregnant women, which expectant parents can discuss with the hospital staff before the birth in order to prevent unwanted interventions.

She would like to see more awareness in dealing with traumatised women in general.

Acknowledging that this is what they experienced and they “are right that something was wrong” is a good start, she said.

*These names have been changed to protect the two women’s privacy.

News Related


Almost 900 people evacuated amid floods in Peru's Machu Picchu area

Nearly 900 people were evacuated from the town near Machu Picchu amid rains and floods that left one person missing and several homes destroyed in Peru, according to the tourism ... Read more »

Lighter robots and hi-tech routing - Ocado innovates to deliver growth

By James Davey LONDON – From lightweight robots to hi-tech van routing systems, British online supermarket Ocado unveiled a suite of innovations on Wednesday it predicted would raise its returns ... Read more »

Theory of Russian aggression against Ukraine has neither grounds nor logic — expert

Apparently, the public opinion is being prepared for Russia to be presented as an aggressor, Serbian political researcher Stefan Svrkota noted Read more »

US has assured it will make Kiev implement Minsk accords, Lavrov says

The package of measures was signed in 2015 Read more »

Russian Health Ministry approves AstraZeneca's COVID prophylaxis drug

The pharmaceutical is produced in the form of an injectable solution and 3,500 packs will be delivered to Russia Read more »

West inciting hysteria by evacuating diplomats from Ukraine, says Russian foreign minister

The Western countries are looking forward to some real provocation, Sergey Lavrov noted Read more »

Lavrov states deep, non-positive changes happening in international arena

The Western states are still not ready to accept the reality of the emerging multipolar world, the Russian Foreign Minister noted Read more »

UK's Johnson did authorise animal evacuations from Kabul, emails suggest

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did authorise the evacuation of animals from Kabul during the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, a claim he has previously dismissed as ... Read more »

UK's Sunak vows to go after COVID loan fraudsters

LONDON -British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday the government would “do everything we can” to recover COVID-19 emergency business loans stolen by fraudsters that critics have said could ... Read more »

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

UK police have arrested two more men as part of their investigation into a hostage-taking incident at a Texas synagogue earlier this month. The counter-terrorism force Policing North West said ... Read more »

Lavrov says militaristic frenzy pushes West to threaten sanctions over Ukraine

While saying that the West uses "hysterical statements" to set forth its position, the Russian Foreign Minister stressed that Moscow is ready to take in stride whatever comes next Read more »

UK inflation expectations hit record high - Citi

LONDON – The British public’s expectations for inflation in 12 months’ time rose to a record high of 4.8% in January, according to a survey from YouGov and Citi. Long-term ... Read more »

Analysis-Lebanon slips further into Iran's orbit as Hariri bows out

By Tom Perry and Laila Bassam BEIRUT – A decision by Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri to step away from Lebanese politics opens the way for Shi’ite Hezbollah to extend ... Read more »

'Insane', UK's Johnson criticises EU over N.Ireland post-Brexit trade

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused the European Union on Wednesday of implementing part of the Brexit agreement covering trade with Northern Ireland in an “insane and pettifogging ... Read more »

UK PM Johnson says he will not resign over alleged parties

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he would not resign after a series of alleged lockdown-breaking parties at his Downing Street office and residence, but agreed ... Read more »

Bolsonaro says constitutional amendment will lower fuel, energy prices

BRASILIA – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that a proposed amendment to the Constitution being drafted by the government along with Congress will allow the reduction of federal ... Read more »

Suspected Islamists kill at least 12 in eastern Congo attacks on villages

By Erikas Mwisi Kambale KINSHASA – Suspected Islamist militants have killed at least 12 civilians and burned houses and motorbikes during raids on two villages in eastern Democratic Republic of ... Read more »

N.Korean internet downed by suspected cyber attacks -researchers

By Josh Smith SEOUL, Jan 26 (Reuters) – North Korea's internet appears to have been hit by a second wave of outages in as many weeks, possibly caused by a ... Read more »

Dutch restaurants stock up as government set to ease COVID curbs

THEHAGUE -Dutch bars and restaurants hurried to stock up on supplies on Tuesday as the government was expected to announce they could reopen the next day as part of a ... Read more »

Exclusive-U.S. funding to WHO fell by 25% during pandemic -document

By Francesco Guarascio and Emma Farge BRUSSELS/GENEVA – U.S. financial contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) has fallen by 25% during the coronavirus pandemic, provisional data show, with Washington’s ... Read more »

U.S. in talks with energy producers to supply Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

By Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland WASHINGTON -The United States is in talks with major energy-producing countries and companies around the world over a potential diversion of supplies to Europe ... Read more »

Demonstrators march for Indigenous rights on 'Australia Day'

Thousands of people took to the streets across Australia on Wednesday to rally for indigenous rights on the country’s national day. Celebrated on January 26, Australia Day marks the landing ... Read more »

Russia to decisively thwart attempts to paint Russia as Ukrainian conflict side — Lavrov

According to the Russian Foreign Minister, Moscow’s position on the situation in southeastern Ukraine remains unchanged, and the intra-Ukrainian crisis can only be resolved through gradual and full implementations of the Minsk Agreements Read more »

Kremlin hopes for maximum effectiveness of Normandy Four political advisors' meeting

The Russian delegation to the meeting is led by Presidential Administration deputy head Dmitry Kozak Read more »

French tourist shocked by 8 years sentence in Iran - lawyer

DUBAI – Jailed French tourist Benjamin Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for spying on Tuesday, is in state of shock, his Iranian lawyer told Reuters, adding ... Read more »

Conviction of Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' upheld by U.S. appeals court

NEWYORK -A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday upheld the drug trafficking conviction of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, rejecting his argument that jurors improperly followed the case in ... Read more »

West seeks to punish Russia, China by sanctions and provocations — top diplomat

Washington and its allies are persistently imposing their own vision of international life on the global community, Sergey Lavrov said Read more »

Beijing's local COVID cases rise before Olympics; more areas find Omicron

BEIJING -Beijing reported 14 local confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest daily count in its current outbreak, less than two weeks before the Winter Olympics are set to start ... Read more »

France says committed to Sahel security ops, despite coups

PARIS – An attempted coup in Burkina Faso and an earlier coup in Mali are no reason for France and its allies to end their security operation in the Sahel ... Read more »

UK tech tycoon Mike Lynch fails in bid to delay extradition ruling

LONDON – Britain cannot delay its decision on whether to allow the extradition of tech entrepreneur Mike Lynch to the United States until the impending judgement in a civil claim ... Read more »

Canada orders families of diplomats in Kyiv to leave temporarily

OTTAWA – Canada has ordered the families of diplomats in Kyiv to leave temporarily because of the Russian military build-up on the borders of Ukraine, the foreign ministry said on ... Read more »

Global military-political situation reached dangerous brink, warns senior Russian diplomat

Russia's proposals on security guarantees open a direct and clear path for moving in the right direction both in terms of ensuring Russia’s national interests and in terms of building European and global security, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko noted Read more »

Iran's cost-of-living squeeze belies push for economic self-reliance

By Parisa Hafezi DUBAI – Every day Mohammad Hosseini feels squeezed by Iran’s soaring prices, his experience of hardship at odds with a rosy official target of 8% economic growth ... Read more »

Biden warns Putin with sanctions as West steps up Ukraine defenses

By Jeff Mason, Humeyra Pamuk and Dmitry Antonov WASHINGTON/MOSCOW – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, ... Read more »

Iran jails French national for spying - TV

PARIS -An Iranian court on Tuesday convicted French national Benjamin Briere of espionage, sentencing him to eight years in prison, French news network BFM TV reported. Briere, 36, has been ... Read more »

Relief efforts ramp up in Tonga, more aid arrives

-Humanitarian aid to Tonga is ramping up after the airport was cleared of ash, making it safe for planes to land, the Red Cross said on Wednesday, days after a ... Read more »

UAE-backed forces press on in Yemen's Marib despite Houthi warnings

By Mohammed Ghobari ADEN – Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates are continuing a push in Yemen’s energy-producing Marib region against the Houthis, they said on Tuesday, despite ... Read more »

Goats, sheep and livelihoods lost to floods and cold in northern Kenya

By Baz Ratner NORTHHORR, Kenya – The carcasses of goats and sheep strewn across the scrubland of northern Kenya are testament to the devastation wrought by the once-in-a-generation floods that ... Read more »

Snow storms, cold and fire threaten displaced Syrians in northern camps

AFRIN, Syria – Five-year-old Intissar and her younger sister Lin were sheltering from northern Syria’s bitter winter cold when fuel from a heater ignited their tent, killing them and seriously ... Read more »

Bolsonaro's far-right guru dead at 74 in United States

BRASILIA – Brazilian Conservative ideologue Olavo de Carvalho, who was President Jair Bolsonaro’s political guru, died on Monday night at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, his ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic