Posted by Katy Bones
Midwives deal with violence on a regular basis. Whether its violence experienced by the women we serve, violence within systems of health care, violence against women by providers, or violence within the community of midwives, violence should be looked at continuously in an attempt to understand it, cope with it, and curb it.
“Obstetric violence” is a legal term defined by the Venezuelan government that has been talked about a lot in the birth community since Dr. Perez D’Gregorio published an editorial describing the Venezuelan laws on obstetric violence in the Dec. 2010 issue of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. There are several links to some wonderful blogs and articles at the end of this entry that describe the particulars of the legislation in Venezuela. These laws emphasize the role of individual providers in perpetuating and engaging in violence by holding individuals responsible for their actions. D’Gregorio also recognizes the importance of health care systems in contributing to or preventing violence. He notes the importance of training, specifically in regards to upright deliveries, in supporting the autonomy of women and in respecting the natural process of childbirth. Additionally, he recognizes the limitations of individual providers in resource-poor settings where “environmental” reasons necessitate separating the mother and baby shortly postpartum. In itself, the idea that laws can change violent practices points to the importance of system changes as well as individual changes in eliminating practices that undermine the ability of women to get both the best care and the care of their choosing.
As I begin the intrapartum clinicals in January, I feel grateful to have this opportunity to examine obstetric violence with clarity and intentionality before starting to guide women through labor and birth. The very specific acts delineated by the Venezuelan laws offer explicit components of care that must be handled with knowledge and deep respect for the woman. Specifically, I recognize the importance of learning to help women give birth vertically, a skill that I haven’t yet learned or been well familiarized with. I also intend to maintain consciousness of the ways that I am learning to be a midwife, to avoid violence and to gain trust in the process of childbirth that allows me to serve women in the best ways possible.