The Violence I Faced During Childbirth Is So Common That It’s Accepted As ‘Normal’

And finally when the doctor showed up, she did not try to comfort me or reassure me. She told me that my pain was nothing, and that the pain that was to come would make me shit.

Trigger Warning: This speaks of violence against women by the healthcare establishment and gaslighting, and may be triggering to survivors.

It was my first child. I was at my parents’ house. Mild pains had started early in the morning. I was taken to the hospital by 8.00 am. I was accompanied by my mother and her sister. My mother informed my husband that I was taken to the hospital.

In a few minutes my husband arrived with his mother who started ‘guessing’ if it would be ‘normal’ or ‘cesarean’. She kept asking my aunt if she travelled while she was pregnant, for I had chosen not to commute to work during pregnancy. She told her travelling ensured a normal delivery. She gave an elaborate account of how difficult it was in her times and how young women of these days have better facilities.

The anxiety of the first birthing experience that was to come and the hurtful words of my mother in law caused me immense mental agony.

Was I human being, or just a body?

Thankfully then I was shifted into the labour ward. It was a bare room, with a metal cot in the centre. A rubber sheet was spread over it. I was asked to change clothes and made to lay down there, with my feet lifted a little, wide apart. I lay down there, alone, experiencing the pain that came in and went.

I still remember the stout nurse with lots of lipstick on who came to me after a long time. For she started shaving my pubic hair and asked me why I hadn’t asked the man who made me pregnant to shave the vaginal hair. Another nurse joined her, only to laugh, while I writhed on the table in pain. I was shocked, it was more of the mental agony than physical pain that made me suffer.

The gynaecologist did not turn up either. She kept making phone calls to the nurses and asked them if ‘it’ had dilated, which the nurses promptly checked, putting their fingers in, giggling and whispering now and then. This went on till evening.

The doctor’s behaviour was plain abuse!

And finally when the doctor showed up, she did not try to comfort me or reassure me. She told me that my pain was nothing, and that the pain that was to come would make me shit. She laughed. I felt so helpless, wriggling on that hard table like a cockroach turned upside down. She further rebuked me, telling me all women give birth the same way and there was nothing different in my case. Which was true, but the manner and the situation in which she told me that broke me.

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She put her fingers in and pushed something aside. I felt a searing pain and my waters broke. She looked at it and told me that the child had pooped inside and had swallowed the meconium, its first poop.

The pain now came in spasms. She told me that it was for me to decide if I would have a caesarean or lose the child. My husband was called in and we decided to go for a caesarean. Hearing that she laughed again and told me it was what all the women chose, an easy choice. During the c-section she kept speaking to the anaesthesiologist about other cases, while I lay on the table numbed, devoid of any feelings. Soon my son was taken away to be shown to the people waiting outside without even letting him breastfeed. I was not even allowed to hold him for a while.

Did I no longer remain a person with agency?

Later I had difficulty feeding my newborn and received no help or guidance from the hospital staff for breastfeeding the infant. My mother in law was a constant presence in the recovery ward and told all the visitors that I was not feeding the child. She made several strangers squeeze my breasts and check if I had enough milk supply. None of us understood that the baby had problems with latching.

After a few days I was chided by my family for shedding tears during my confinement, without asking me why I was crying. When I confessed to my mother’s family that it was wrong to treat me that way in the hospital, I heard several accounts of her experiences of childbirth by one of my aunts.

She recalled how a nurse had slapped her thigh when she was in the throes of labour pain. She lectured me about how all the women she knew had delivered babies in hospitals where they had been treated ‘worse’ than me. She even shamed me for not ‘daring’ to give birth the normal way and for choosing to have a c-section, which was ‘easier’. I also heard elaborate accounts of my mother in law who claimed she had given birth to her son vaginally who weighed more than my son, who was 3.9 kilos. I was shamed constantly for choosing c-section and for complaining about how I was treated during childbirth.

The term obstetric violence is still unheard of in my family circle, and they refuse to acknowledge it. Women in India have suffered obstetric violence from such a long time that it has been accepted as normal, and so many of us turn a deaf ear to the agonies of new mothers.

Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.

Image source: RyanJLane from Getty Images Signature Free for Canva Pro

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Charitha

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