Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

#MeToo shows we need trauma-informed maternity care

The outpouring of posts from survivors of sexual violence, assault and abuse as part of the grassroots #MeToo campaign underlines what many of us working in maternity care believe strongly. A significant number of women accessing important services in pregnancy and birth will have experienced trauma in their lives. And sadly, many of these individuals will have been traumatised by sexual violence which may impact on how safe they feel within services which might be triggering of their trauma.

Last week Birthrights was honoured to hold a seminar as part of the Sheila Kitzinger Programme, hosted by Green Templeton College Oxford. You can read more about it in our soon-to-be emailed newsletter. We met to consider how to make truly informed, lawful consent a reality in maternity care in the light of the landmark judgment in the Montgomery v Lanarkshire case. During the day it was clear to all that respectful maternity care, care that protects human dignity and autonomy, is of fundamental import to the physical and emotional wellbeing of women and their families. Moreover the group felt that an individual should not need to disclose previous trauma in order to access care that is sensitive to their needs. As part of our follow-up report we’ll be suggesting that a trauma-informed approach to maternity care, that ensures all services are sensitive to the needs of those who may contend with trauma in their lives, is essential.

Ahead of this report we are grateful to two anonymous survivors of sexual abuse for sharing their personal experiences and perspectives on maternity care with us and with those policy makers charged with the important work of transforming our maternity services. You can find their letters below.

Increasing continuity of carer, ensuring all birth place choices (including homebirth and maternal request caesarean) remain viable options and insisting that our midwives and doctors are given the time and skills within an appropriate organisational culture to be enabled to practice rights respecting care must remain a focus in the Maternity Transformation Programme.

We hope you will help us share their message and add your own below.

Trigger warning: please note that these letters discuss sexual abuse and birth trauma and some readers may find them triggering.

A letter from an anonymous survivor of sexual abuse for the attention of Birth Policy Makers

Another letter from an anonymous survivor of childhood sexual abuse for the attention of Birth Policy Makers

2 thoughts on “#MeToo shows we need trauma-informed maternity care”

  1. This is so important; I had experienced multiple instances of sexual violence, I had also experienced domestic violence during pregnancy. Sadly, despite the fact that this was indicated in my notes; during the time I was in labour and postnatally, I was treated in a way that I would describe as ‘dehumanised’ ‘degrading’ and lacking consent.

    For me personally, my experience of trauma following my son’s birth; was far more damaging, than the previous traumas I had experienced.

    The lack of understanding both from professionals and at a social level, made healing more difficult; attitudes were invariably patronising.

    Blaming attitudes were very common; over time I tried to tell my story, I was repeatedly told I should have done x, y or z. I found myself endlessly trying to explain that, for me personally, my experience of trauma entirely related to how I was treated; rather than the symptoms of labour etc.

    Changing attitudes, and increasing understanding are long overdue.

  2. These letters are so important, they are monumental in that they are not simply 2 individual stories, but a small and precious glimpse into how the sexual abuse, trauma and violence experienced by so many women is threaded through their birth stories. Policy Makers have a crucial role to implement compassionate, respectful care.
    Thank you to both letter writers for sharing their stories and allowing them to be public, we owe you a great deal for opening these conversations.


Leave a comment