Opinion: There Is No Such Thing As Birth Rape

Filed under: Opinions, Delivery


birth plan

Birth plan not going as you hoped? Don't call it rape. Credit: Getty


Being sexually assaulted -- violated against your will by a stranger, lover or relative -- is rape, pure and simple. It is a violent act, driven by rage and perversion, and it is intended to terrify, inflict pain and damage a person's mind, body and emotions.


Getting a vaginal exam during the birth process? Not rape. Getting a dose of Pitocin to spur the labor process? Not rape. Getting a Cesarean section, even thought it wasn't part of your birth plan?

Definitely not rape.

And the people who say women who experience trauma during their birthing process are comparable to rape victims? Not only are they wrong, they are diminishing the real and life-long struggle that actual rape victims endure in order to come to terms with the violence they experienced.

It's hard to believe, but the language of sexual violation has long been used by those who feel that birthing women are often subject to the uncaring -- or even incompetent -- whims of medical professionals. It's just in the last several years that this ideology is seeing more daylight, thanks to the rapid growth of blogging and social media, both of which give so many otherwise marginalized groups the opportunity to broadcast their agendas to a wider audience.
As someone who experienced a C-section, I can testify that it was medically best for my child. While not everyone agrees, and not everyone had the same experience, I am hard-pressed to compare the surgical birth I experienced as a violation of any kind.

A post titled "A Discussion About Birth Rape and Its Results" on the "BINSI Blog" reads: "Some believe people use the term 'birth rape' to sensationalize their trauma and feel it is disrespectful to actual rape victims. The pain these women feel is just as real, and they are just as much victims as anyone else. One dictionary definition of the word rape is 'to violate or abuse.' State laws about rape usually consider any forceful penetration of the vagina or rectum to be rape. Ladies suffering from birth trauma display some of the classic symptoms of rape victims, including silence and shame about their ordeal."

I'm sorry, but babies come out of your vagina. Sometimes, the doctor has to take a peek.

Recently, an essay by Irin Carmon posted on Jezebel rightly points out that those who use this inflammatory language are well aware of its effect on debates about childbirth.

Yes, it's controversial, and yes, maybe it draws attention to a certain subset of women whose birthing experiences were, indeed, traumatic. There's no question that losing control of your body is scary, and there's also no question that it happens frequently when women give birth. Preparing to do the mental and physical work of birth is daunting, to say the least, and when things go awry in the birthing room -- even just a little bit -- it can feel like a complete loss of autonomy.

There are instances when doctors are in flagrant violation of a mother's rights and needs, as was the case with Catherine Skol, a Chicago woman whose obstetrician was on vacation when she went into labor. She -- rightly -- sued the doctor who managed her birth, alleging that he refused her an epidural and then told her that pain was a great teacher, among other inappropriate and abusive behaviors. That doctor, Jezebel reports, was fined $500 and put on probation for one year.

However, when a baby is suddenly in danger unless an emergency C-section is performed, and that wasn't part of the mother's ideal birth plan, well, that is about as far from rape as you can get.

Using the language of a sexually depraved act to describe a birth that wasn't exactly what a mother had in mind is not only callous, it demeans both rape victims and women mourning the loss of their idealized birth experiences.

It is right to grieve when what we hope for at such a crucial juncture in a mother's journey doesn't come to pass, but it is wrong to diminish the plight of survivors of sexual assault by calling it rape. Co-opting the lexicon of one class of victims only serves to diminish any real trauma suffered by another.

Related: Scientists Expect C-Sectio@abn Rate to Keep Rising

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.