When Childbirth Feels like Assault
Family Resemblance

When my mother gave birth for the first time, as a 22-year-old married woman in a rural Tennessee hospital, the nurses tied her legs together and refused to let her push because the doctor wasn’t there yet. She doesn’t know how long she waited, but the nurses were also horrible about her cries of pain and sobs of fear. My birth, in a hospital in Nyack, New York, was much better — the nurses used ether, similar to the way they use laughing gas now, to take the edge off of labor. But after that birth, when she asked for a diaphragm — then a common form of contraception — the doctor said, “I don’t prescribe birth control until you’ve had 5 or 6 babies.” My mother politely told him that wasn’t his decision to make and got her prescription.

As long as a woman signs an informed consent that the approach she chooses for birth may have risks, she should be allowed to have her way. I am, however, uncomfortable about doulas and midwives who may see their role as ensuring a natural childbirth beyond the point when one is possible. I had my husband in the suite to help advocate for me, and we were both clear on what was acceptable and what wasn’t.

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