Amity responds on birth rape

// 14 May 2008

Amity Reed has written a response to comments on her birth rape feature for The F-Word, made by an NHS doctor blogging under the name ‘Dr Crippen’. You may want to read this post for background

Having just emerged from yet another luxury shopping trip between school runs and coffee shop natters with my other part-time feminist friends (Ha! I am a full-time feminist and an at-home mother struggling to put food on the table many weeks, thank you), I was not at all surprised to read this scathing dismissal of medical and birth rape victims. The author’s characterisation of these women as fantasists, delusional and hysterical females with ridiculous expectations of bodily autonomy, was resignedly expected. Dr. Crippen exhibits the very lack of empathy that Debs and I dissected by dismissing these stories outright. In a move straight from the misogynist medical handbook – make them feel stupid and reinforce knowledge over personal experience – he follows the checklist to a T:

Refusal to acknowledge the patient’s experience? Check. Outright discounting of her interpretation of events? Check. Use of words such as ‘sophisticated’ and ‘high level of skill’ to reinforce authority? Claims of patient ignorance and ‘exaggeration of facts’ when he was not even present for the event? Yep, it’s all there, in all its ugly and hateful glory. This is exactly the kind of arrogant attitude that creates a chasm between those with a skilful and sympathetic bedside manner and those whose emotional detachment can lead to patient violation. Taking the human aspect out of patient care isn’t the practice of medicine; it is the following of protocol and technical training. Is this what was intended when the Hippocratic Oath, undertaken by all doctors, was written to say:

In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing…If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Respect is a two-way street. When medical professionals start disrespecting their patients’ wishes, how can they be surprised to discover that, in the process, they have lost the trust of those they are meant to help and heal? Doctors of the world, wake up and smell the revolution: being an MD (or a midwife or a surgeon or a nurse) doesn’t mean you get to play God, nor does it entitle you to make decisions on behalf of your patients in the guise of protecting them from themselves. As much esteem and power as you think your title automatically gives you, I and many others still think that you have to earn it. And that means listening, respecting, advising and learning to back off, even if it goes against your instincts and training. We still have the right to say no, even if your answer would be yes.

To specifically address Dr. Crippen’s comments about my article on birth rape, I would suggest he read more carefully my words. I never intimated nor stated that all obstetric intervention or even that all traumatic births are rape. I am fully aware that sometimes intervention is warranted and wanted. I am grateful for those interventions. I am aware that plenty of women experience traumatic births where no assault is involved. An unnecessary or botched c-section, pressure to have or not have pain relief, an early induction…the ethics of these things is questionable, indeed, and anger many people. If a woman reluctantly consents to these procedures under duress and later feels duped, tricked or unfairly intimidated into compliance, she will undoubtedly term her experience as traumatic, rightly so. Maternity care in the UK, and elsewhere in the so-called developed world, is in crisis and the conveyor belt of convenience that women are being hauled down in the ill-fated quest for perfect, controlled outcomes is damaging not only to women’s bodies but their psyches and well-being, not to mention what it’s doing to mortality rates for babies. However, this is not the rape of which I speak.

Let me say it again: birth rape is when a procedure or exam is carried out in which a body part or object (such as a hand, finger, suction cup, foetal monitor, episiotomy scissors, forceps, drug or needle) is inserted into a woman’s vagina without her consent and often after she has specifically declined interference. Holding a woman’s legs open to perform a vaginal exam while she screams “No!” is not and never will be okay. Putting something into her vagina ‘for her own good’ is assault, plain and simple, and no less abhorrent than the man who forces his penis into a woman because he feels it is his right to. Just lay back and let the people in charge do their important work, right? It will all be over in a minute, right? Wrong. The scars these women bear will last much longer than those inflicted on their bodies.

Practicing midwife and blogger Navelgazing Midwife talks candidly and openly about how her training led her to do horrible things to women in the name of convenience or gaining experience. By her own admission, she has been the perpetrator of birth rape. She recognises this and deeply regrets it. If she can acknowledge the harm being done in her profession and work to rectify that, why can’t others? She is a fine example of the saying “Doctors (in this case, midwives) are human, too,” which is to say that they make mistakes and let their personal prejudices, opinions and goals cloud their judgment. Of course they do. No one expects them to be perfect. But refusing to take a long, hard look in the mirror, own up to these errors and look for solutions, even after hearing pleas from those whose care is entrusted to them, is decidedly inhumane.

Dr. Crippen’s attempt to portray birth rape victims only as previously assaulted women who are transferring that abuse onto their birth experiences and unfairly blaming those who attended them is ludicrous and ill-founded. If anything, the anecdote from the woman who says that her birth experience brought back memories of the rape she endured at age 14 is evidence that something is desperately wrong with how childbirth is being managed. Though I do not assert that her story is one of birth rape, the woman quoted says:

I had an epidural (against my wishes) during transition. When being on my back and numb from the waist down it gave me flashbacks to the rape…I had no anger towards the doctor, only myself. Of course I was angry towards the perpetrator who raped me as a teenager but I just didn’t expect it to come flooding back to me when giving birth. I had no control over this. It just happened. Completely out of the blue.

So she had an epidural against her wishes, given under the orders of her doctor, which numbed her into submission. This reminded her of her rape because she was powerless, which led her to become angry with herself. Let me repeat that — angry with herself. She may think that anger was completely out of the blue, but it is very clear to me that by numbing her, her doctor was implicitly silencing her. There is nothing random about that. It may not have been rape but why, then, does it feel like it to her? What does it say about obstetrics and gynaecology that so many women, even in instances where rape was not actually perpetrated by the medical professional, end up feeling shamed, angry and/or violated? That they lack the terminology or are unable to put a finger on what went wrong or made them feel that way does not mean that medical abuse does not exist.

For too long, women have been treated as the sum of their parts. Even where we have made strides socially, when it comes to the physical we are still treated as the property of a patriarchal system that cannot and will not give us the deeds to ourselves. Sexually and reproductively, we are under the thumb and at the mercy of men. Pregnancy and birth in particular continue to be issues that those in power seem determined to hold onto, perhaps because they are exclusively women’s realm. And as we know, people in power often fear the unknown. There is nothing more loathe to some than that which they have little part in and which they will never be able to fully understand.

So when I, as a feminist, see abuses happening, I stop prettying it up and start calling it what it is – Assault. Rape. Injustice. Because I don’t care who it makes uncomfortable or whose delicate sensibilities it offends, only how it challenges their thinking and, hopefully, in turn, their behaviour.

Comments From You

Anne Onne // Posted 14 May 2008 at 4:53 pm

Amen! Please keep calling it what it is (like he could stop you!), and let’s let them know that this is not acceptable, and that expertise does not equal the right to make someone’s decisions for them.

If you disagree with your mechanic, or your electrician, or your lawyer, you’re not expected to do what they tell you, nor are they allowed to do anything for you that you have not agreed to. And if we believe we deserve the rights over our cars, houses and legal actions, we deserve, many times more, the full rights over our own bodies.

There’s no excuse for covering up or playing down these experiences, or seeking to silence the sufferers.

I just hope this gets out into the wider blogosphere. More people need to know what a creep he is, and why this is wrong.

Summer // Posted 14 May 2008 at 5:48 pm

Thank you.

ladyshakespeare // Posted 14 May 2008 at 7:46 pm

Thank you (thank you!!) so much for speaking up on this issue — I was there for the birth of my niece, and my sister has often called the experience traumatic. I whole-heartedly agree: It was a violation.

There was a perfect storm of problems for the birth, but what I remember most clearly was cycle of mother-shaming coming from the medical staff (“you’re not working hard enough” — it was a big baby, people, come on!) and when the doctor arrived finally arrived. He just began cutting on my sister without explaining why or what other options she might have. Then he sewed up the incision even though the epidural was wearing off — and didn’t stop when she told him she could feel everything. I will tell you that solidified my decision to not have children — I cannot get that image out of my mind, nor can I forget how hard she held on to my hand. I was too scared for her life and she was too exhausted for either of us to say or do anything.

I get so frustrated when I read responses like Dr. C — it reminds me there are still people out there unwilling or unable to recognize that they do not have all the answers to everything, that they are not always right. Trying not to sound bitter and frustrated, but is it possible to enlighten someone who thinks it’s OK to call women “hysterical” (particularly insulting when you consider the literal Greek translation “suffering in the womb” and the implication of mental illness) or make the absurd claim that he knows more about a woman’s body than she does? I want so badly for him to apologize and admit he was wrong…

Dr John Crippen // Posted 14 May 2008 at 10:08 pm

Hi Amity

You say:

“Let me say it again: birth rape is when a procedure or exam is carried out in which a body part or object (such as a hand, finger, suction cup, foetal monitor, episiotomy scissors, forceps, drug or needle) is inserted into a woman’s vagina without her consent and often after she has specifically declined interference. Holding a woman’s legs open to perform a vaginal exam while she screams “No!” is not and never will be okay. Putting something into her vagina ‘for her own good’ is assault, plain and simple, and no less abhorrent than the man who forces his penis into a woman because he feels it is his right to. Just lay back and let the people in charge do their important work, right? It will all be over in a minute, right? Wrong. The scars these women bear will last much longer than those inflicted on their bodies.”

I agree that such practices, if as and when they happen, are outrageous, are a battery on women, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted.

I resent your implications that this sort of behaviour is common place. It is not.

I don’t think you do your case any good by arguing in such a militant and intransigent fashion.

Do you accept that, assuming that your allegations are correct, that they have occurred very rarely, or is it your position that they are commonplace?


'wimmin' indeed // Posted 14 May 2008 at 10:56 pm

Can I venture further? I had three babies. I had a good experience with each one. I was coerced into having a hysterectomy, even though I didn’t want one. I was told I had an ovarian tumour. My reproductive and sex organs were removed even though they appeared normal. Pathology confirmed this. Despite being 46 at the time I was reluctant to have such a surgery because my uterus is not only a ‘nursery’ but a major player during sexual intercourse. Post hysterectomy my orgasm is truncated and libido low. I have had to fight hard to get hrt to replenish natural lubrication of the vulva and vaginal area. I feel that somehow the medical profession has put upon itself to have ownership of a woman’s sexual and reproductive organs and uses this as an excuse to gain experience and ultimately success and wealth. I admire your stance.

Amity // Posted 15 May 2008 at 7:31 am


Nowhere and not at any time have I ever said that this is a ‘common occurrence.’ I have gone out of my way to state that I am not branding all obstetricians or midwives as abusers. I have simply said that these things DO happen and they happen with more regularity than one would like to believe. As in, it’s not just happening to one or two women a year in rare, isolated cases. This is not to say that it’s ‘common’ but that incidents such as these are on the rise and that any rise in this kind of behaviour is not acceptable and must be stopped. I obviously don’t have hard numbers on how many women it’s happening to every year because so many don’t come forward, but in my own research and in talking with many, many women who have given birth in NHS hospitals in the last few years, it seems that there has certainly been an increase in incidences of abuse. Though for all we know, it’s been happening all along and it’s only now that women are starting to speak up.

If you had ever spoken to or met one of these women and could see the amount of anguish, shame and pain they go through every day (some suffer from horrible PTSD and/or PND as a result) as they feel that they were failed by those they trusted and, in turn, they failed their bodies and their babies. It truly is a life-altering, soul-shattering event and to treat it as anything less, to say that their birth was merely ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘unpleasant’ really denigrates what they suffered and gives their abusers free reign to carry on with their horrid practices.

If we had doctors such as yourself who could acknowledge that these things DO happen (again, not on a large scale but still happening to perhaps a couple hundred women per year) and advocated for them and lobby for changes within the maternity services, we might be able to get somewhere in protecting them. As it stands, speaking on their behalf has drawn nothing but derision, ridicule and name-calling from the very professionals meant to heal and protect the most vulnerable. That saddens (and angers) me a great deal.

Fal Lazy Male Nurse // Posted 16 May 2008 at 1:01 pm

Wimmin indeed. I find your comment that the medical profession has put upon itself to have ownership of a woman’s sexual and reproductive organs mystifying. Could you explain what you mean by this?

Juliet // Posted 16 May 2008 at 3:23 pm

“Very rarely”. The favourite expression of doctors – what WOULD they do without it?! “Oh, this very rarely happens”. ‘Oh, it’s very rare for someone to get these side-effects”. “Oh, but that’s VERY rare”.

Dr John should be TTFO (told to fuck off). That’s what doctors write in their records about patients they fob off. All in a day’s sitting there patronising people instead of helping them.

noni // Posted 18 May 2008 at 1:28 am

I count over 300 physicians who are on a listserv to which I post. Several of them told me, upon reading this and Crippen’s masturbatory ravings, that it’s well known that those with the lowest marks go into ob/gyn. I’m afraid dumbing down, about which Dr. Crippen writes so knowledgeably, is not always possible. Nowhere to go but up.

rooroo // Posted 18 May 2008 at 11:21 am

I’ve heard the same things about doctors who perform abortions from anti-abortionists. Out of the people who want to do OB/GYN at my medical school, none of us have the lowest marks/rankings, I find it a great shame that it’s considered ‘lower’ than other specialities. Is it to do with the doctors themselves, or more a thinly-veiled insult to the gender they’re dealing with?

I’ve honestly never understood the snobbery and bitching between the specialities, and we’re exposed to it during the new firms we start. It’s so sad that after going through medical school together and training afterwards there isn’t a bit more solidarity and respect – those specialities are still working with the most important thing in medicine – the patients (ya’d think anyway)

United we stand…

wimmin indeed // Posted 18 May 2008 at 12:46 pm

Excluding the vagina (well a man must have his sex life continued), most gyns believe that the uterus and ovaries are there for the purpose of having babies. Most women feel uterine contractions on orgasm – this obviously disappears after a hysterectomy. So a woman on orgasm will be aware of the uterine and cervical amputation. Ovaries continue to excrete hormones for all of a woman’s life.

When a woman has finished her family, if she presents with any gynae problem the usual response is a hysterectomy with the ovaries going as well (usually) to prevent future ovarian cancer (even though this is a rare disease). I couldn’t sign the consent form unless I agreed to having a hysterectomy. What sort of consent is that? And the implication is ‘we know best’ . That’s why I believe that the medical profession seem to want to have control over a woman’s reproductive and health organs. However no information was given regarding loss of sexual sensation following my hysterectomy. Most gynaes don’t bother with this. Often women are told their sex life will improve! I.e. no heavy bleeding so male partner can have access at all times.

Also women are coerced into having hospital births by a medical profession that claim childbirth is dangerous and needs at all time medical interference and intervention. This attitude of ‘ownership’ carries on post reproductive stage.

From teenager to post menopause a woman is made to feel that her body is defective; periods, contraception, sexuality, birth, peri menopause.

The amount of money made of the back of women by making them feel defective is staggering. Most gynaes consults in this country have a private practice and the more hysterectomies they perform the more money they will make.

Perhaps I’m just an hysterical woman/ennuch. Perhaps I don’t make sense but mystify. But my ‘cure’ has made me feel more ill and yes, bitter. I can well understand why some women would rage about the care they receive.

mike numan // Posted 19 May 2008 at 3:53 am


You’re wrong of course, certainly in the UK. In fact, the vast majority of training OB/GYNs are female and/or Asian. Are you saying these have the lowest marks? I think you’ll find the opposite.

Louise Livesey // Posted 19 May 2008 at 9:01 am

Watch dear readers, the worst insults have just entered the fray – beware of standing up for your rights in case you’re branded “militant” and remember, being female, anything you say is “irrational”!

My word Dr Crippen (an inappropriate name if there ever was one – not doubt you think it’s post-modernly ironic) do you really believe that women should abide by an out-dated notion of femininity that demands they are polite when pointing out right to control what happen’s to their bodies is a basic human right? Because really, I’m militant, I’m proud of being so and I don’t believe being “sweet” or “gentile” ever got us anywhere. As for irrationality maybe you could (sweetly and politely) explain why it is having an object rammed into our vagina’s without our consent is an act of rationality? And therefore proving that complaining about it is irrational?

And I speak as someone who got a four page apology from a hospital after seeing a Gyne who thought it perfectly OK to tell me she was going to do a digital examination of cyst and then changed her mind and inserted a speculum without so much as a by “your leave” (let alone an “is this OK?”) and when I challenged her on it (I believe my militant and irrational words were “What the hell do you think you are doing?”) she told me that my partner had seen her pick up the speculum and hadn’t objected and she took that as consent. (Because obviously my (male) partner can consent to what happens to my body!).

Or maybe, just maybe, you need to accept that as a man you really don’t know how often these things happen (I’d agree with Amity I’m not saying they are routine or widespread but they happen a hell of a lot more than you seem to think). There are very few cases where I’d argue you don’t understand unless you “own” a vagina but this really is one of them.

Is militancy a bad thing? Nope, it’s sometimes the only way to get heard. Is pointing out bodily abuses of women “irrational”? Absolutely not. Just remember, as the fridge magnet says “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”.

Cara // Posted 19 May 2008 at 5:14 pm

Anne Onne – I saw your response on the earlier post. I see what you are saying.

Yes, I agree – I don’t think all rapists are actively harming the victim so much as lacking empathy.

Absolutely, many men just can’t listen to and empathise with women, have this attitude that they know best, and it pervades every sphere – reminds me of the DV thread. It is all connected.

Suffice to say – yes, rape is a very complicated subject and I am not sure I have got my head around it.

Louise – well said, and jeez how the cries of “irrational and hysterical” are tiringly familiar. It was only recently I figured that they say more about the person calling others such things, than about what was said. They are the last resort of men who don’t wish to listen.

*Delete this bit if you like, but I think you mean gentle, not gentile – could be misinterpreted! ;-)*

Evie // Posted 20 May 2008 at 10:38 pm

I posted this comment on an earlier thread, and after looking at the dates have decided to re-post here as the discussion has moved. I want to say thank you for providing a safe space for me as this is the first site I have ever contributed to. I hope to eventually recount the full story of my experience of hospital birth, but am currently in discussion w/my legal team about liability issues. Funny to think that women can be successfully sued for libel if business is effected, even if the allegations are proven to be true.

I believe, after my experience, that birthing families are being intentionally targeted for unnecessary intervention for profit. These mercenary actions were reported to state and national governments via several committee reports over 10 years previous to my experience. These committee reports are readily available online for anyone who wishes to read them. ACT Antenatal Shared Care Guidelines for 2007 are also available online, and do indeed state that induction in moderate risk pregnancies is to be restricted until 41 weeks gestation.

I believe that the main problem birthing families face is that the entrenched government and medical leaders, not to mention the community and their own relations, cannot reconcile what is currently happening in maternity care with their own previous experiences. Indeed, this is a generational problem. What is currently being perpetuated is amoral “care” designed to benefit the service providers, not families. Do take a glance at US and British surgical birth statistics, and ask yourself, “Why are the rates so high if the vast majority of women and babies are healthy upon arrival to the hospital?”

Evie Noel said:

I have been raped. When the student OB broke my water after lying to me and saying that my babies were post-dates, (at only 39 weeks) and were going to die from a “failing placenta”(and neglecting to add that the boys were likely to be premature, and that I had a 50% chance of a surgical birth) it was like she was holding a knife to my throat. That is rape.

When a M/W forcefully lays you on your back after only 4 pushes, grabs the PCA and paralyzes you against your will (with no medical reason – I have the chart), and forces you to stay supine for an hour and a quarter, so the Dr. is able to add extra time to the length of the labor so he can perform an “emergency” c/s for “Dystocia” it is rape.

When your GP has trouble giving you a pap because you are experiencing flashbacks – it was rape.

Birth is just as sexual as conception, but during birth we and our babies are exponentially more vulnerable. Over the past 10 years surgical birth rates have skyrocketed, so have birth traumas, low birth weights, preventable injuries, and deaths. When women enter the hospital there are foreseeable risks about specific “interventions” that are not being divulged to birthing families. When these procedures are performed under duress, and without consent, it is rape.

In Australia, where I live as an immigrant, the surgical birth rate is 2/3. That’s 66.6%. If you subtract 15% for necessary c/s, and 1% for true dystocia, you’re still left with 50%. A true coin toss. This also means that IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF WOMEN AND THEIR BODIES, OR THEIR BABIES, IT IS SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE ACTIONS OF THE ATTENDANTS. 

For anybody, anywhere, who has a problem with the term “birthrape”, please feel free to substitute it with “trafficking in women and children” or “fraud”. Because the “professionals” involved are hiding the risks, these instances have evolved out of malice, and at the very least are assaults.
 For those in the medical profession, when women are scheduling c/s to avoid unwanted “attention” from hospital staff members, this further highlights the ever growing ethical catastrophy that is modern maternity care – either jump ship or go down with the boat. It’s time for responsible Dr.s and M/Ws to FULFILL YOUR ETHICAL OBLIGATIONS AND REPORT PATIENT ABUSE, INJURY, AND MALPRACTICE. And for the politicians: Fix it or find yourselves another profession.

Janet // Posted 4 November 2008 at 10:14 am

Hooray! A great blog entry. Birthrape and birth trauma are the common defining features of institutionalised birth. How surprising that “careproviders” cannot see it. *rolls eyes*

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