A womyn I am serving is on day 3 of her labor. I know her well and know her story. She is close in age to me and this being her first child, is of course naturally nervous and a bit scared of the whole thing, which is why she asked me to be there for her. And because of my great love for womyn, I smiled and said yes.
Today was the second time we went to the hospital. They kept her in triage for a while, so only one person could be with her at a time. We were at a hospital with a bad reputation for being inattentive so I was both apprehensive and unsurprised about this. The one nurse I connected with there was kind though, so I felt a little better.
My friend’s husband and I traded places because he needed to get something to eat. I asked her what was going on. She looked me in the eyes.
“They only have a male doctor who can check me for dialation. He looks just like the man who…”
I held her hand and looked right back at her.
Shortly after, the nurse and doctor came in. They told us that the only other female doctor was in the middle of a C-Section and would be a while. I looked back at her and then looked at the nurse.
“She really can’t be checked by a male doctor.”
The nurse looked at me like she knew, and told us she’d give us a minute. My friend looked up at me.
“I can’t get checked by him.”
“I know. It will trigger you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Later, I told the nurse of her decision and she gave me a knowing nod.
I’ve been thinking about this moment all day, since my friend was sent home again to wait out her labor. I remember learning in my doula training about being careful with language when talking to birthing mothers. A mother in labor is at her most sensitive; all of her traumas and fears are at the forefront as she goes into her unconscious mind. We touched on being with womyn who might have a history of sexual violence and how certain language, i.e “Spread your legs” or “Relax”, could trigger them into a place of terror. Today that became so clear to me, having the sensitivity of personal experience to guide me but also knowing her story.
I wonder how many labor and delivery floors are trained or briefed on this very real matter, given the fact that 1 in 3 womyn experience some type of sexual violence in their life. I wonder how many women are scoffed at when they ask for a female doctor and unable to bring themselves to say why they cannot have a vaginal exam with a male doctor. Today this became clear to me: we must be sensitive to this. We must not only hold a safe space for womyn to birth as they wish, but also support their desire to be examined in a way they feel comfortable. Even if you have not experienced this type of violence, many of our sisters have and we must be vigilant that we make the space as safe as possible for them. Let us doulas remember that it is not just a baby coming into the world, it is a womyn with a life that came before this moment and will continue to be a part of her.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.