My Ordeal Part 4- the aftermath

It was clear that Suzanne Smith was unwilling to do anything to help me after I had been abused at Better Birth of Salt Lake. I went to my care contract copy to see what to do next and found the department of professional licensing information. I attempted to report Ester Werbach for sexually assaulting me during my labor at Better Birth of Salt Lake. I got a phone call from a supervisor at utah’s DOPL telling me that Ester Werbach wasn’t licensed, nor did she need to be to practise midwifery in Utah. My stomach turned. I had been lied to. It was clear now why suzanne smith wouldn’t tell me how to report suspicious behavior. The supervisor at DOPL told me I needed to call the police, and I did.

I was assigned Detective Bruce Huntington from the Special Victims Unit. He talked to me briefly on the phone about what had happened. It was extremely difficult for me to talk about. I told Detective Bruce Huntington I had been touched inappropriately and that Ester Werbach would not stop touching me when I begged her to stop. He then went and interviewed Suzanne Smith (the owner, who is legally liable for Ester’s behavior) about what is normal or not. Yep, you read that right. She was the ONLY person he interviewed about the appropriateness of Ester’s behavior, despite the fact that she owns the business that this happened at and that I had already complained to her about the behavior so she knew what to say.  Detective Bruce Huntington interviewed them first and took her word as gospel. When he interviewed me he didn’t even ask how I was touched, but insisted that it was “incidental” and that ester was “just being thorough”. I told him that it was not incidental, what she did with her hands could not have been incidental. He just sighed and made excuses for what had happened instead of asking me what had happened. I complained to his sergeant but he never followed up with me after that. Detective Huntington was bored with me and didn’t care enough to actually investigate any of it. I felt so hurt and betrayed. They didn’t talk to my husband either, even though he saw everything.

I tried getting a hold of the Utah Midwives Association, but they don’t seem to exist anymore. They have an old webpage and a broken email address.

Next I thought about how a student was there when she wouldn’t stop the vaginal examination. I thought the midwives college of utah (MCU) would be interested in knowing the kind of misconduct their students are learning from ‘expert’ midwives at Better Birth. I was wrong again. I talked to the dean of clinical education and they said “I am sure that Suzanne is reviewing the culture there”. I had forwarded the emails I posted in part 3 of my ordeal to the dean, she has no reason to think that suzanne is doing ANYTHING about the problem, because according to Suzanne Smith there was no problem. The dean ignores my emails now. The president of the midwives college of utah responded to me and said she wants to talk in person. I don’t think I can bear being hurt again by having someone minimize or ignore the problem anymore, I can’t risk it. Should I have to risk it when she could just take some action and DO something about the problem I reported? I later found out suzanne smith used to teach at Midwives College of Utah and has many connections within the natural birthing community so no one cares enough to do anything at Midwives College of Utah. The culture and misconduct at Better Birth is going to spread throughout the community like a virus because Midwives College of Utah has done nothing to stop it. I informed the dean of clinicals in my last email that I was not the only person to complain about Better Birth of Utah, that websites like Yelp have plenty of people who have complained. I got no response.

I have no doubt that Ester will molest or hurt someone in the future (if she hasn’t already). The lack of accountability is astonishing to me, there is no where to turn when a midwife abuses you. I have thought about the consequences if they had hurt my child or myself with negligence, how it would be similarly impossible to find any recourse in such an event. The natural birth community is quick to criticize hospitals and doctors for their culture of self protection and dishonesty, but I’ve found the exact same thing in the natural birth community in Utah. It breaks my heart to think that I believed people when they said they think that birth should be about autonomy and choice and respect for women. When you have been disrespected the community isn’t there to help you, they are there to excuse what happened and refuse to take action against abuse. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to believe all the lies. I was really into it- I even took a doula course and considered maybe being a doula someday. Now I can’t consider it anymore. I have to deal with birth related things triggering PTSD flashbacks. I can’t help anyone with their birth because of what Ester decided to do to me. They took away a happy mother from my baby too, the pain and betrayal I feel in addition to PTSD symptoms made it difficult to find joy in anything, including my newborn baby.

For now the great search for an attorney is on, but it exhausts me. My PTSD gets a lot worse when I have to talk about this all the time so it goes pretty slowly. If anyone has any suggestions or resources  to help me prevent this from happening to someone else please post comments or email me at skeptifemblog at gmail dot com.

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12 comments

  1. A sympathizer · ·

    I am so sorry for the way you were treated. There was nothing accidental about the sexual abuse you suffered from your midwife. No doubt she is a follower of Ina May Gaskin, who in her book Spiritual Midwifery, says “Sometimes touching her very gently on or around her button (clitoris) will enable her to relax even more. I keep both hands there and busy all the time while crowning . . . doing whatever seems most necessary.” I think it could be argued that your midwife was following Ina May’s example; there was nothing accidental about her actions. They’re probably teaching this very “method” at MCU. Maybe this will help in your quest for justice. Good luck.

    1. I read spiritual midwifery and don’t remember that part (I am pretty sure I would have). If true, that is very creepy. My therapist wondered why Ester left argentina after 10 years of practice there, like maybe this was a pattern? There is no real way to check unfortunately.

      1. In the first 3-4 editions of “Spiritual MWery” there are some extremely graphic descriptions of sexual touching, using the most vulgar language. It’s shocking, and triggering, but unsurprising if you know more about Ina and Michael. It is so gross, I prefer not to link to it, or CnP It here. NO rape or abuse survivor should be exposed to it. I promise, it’s there.

      2. I believe it. Someone on skeptical OB pointed out that even if a client and midwife had agreed to it, the midwife has more power in the relationship so its unethical to propose it in the first place. I take back what I said earlier about this being acceptable with previous consent.

    2. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention-I think it would be okay to do that if both people agreed, but I was never asked nor would I give my permission. It was done to me out of anger, not ignorance or a misguided attempt to “help”.

  2. Have you ever heard of Karen Brody? She wrote the play “Birth on Labor Day.” Her web address is http://www.boldaction.org. She is coming to Utah in July for a 2nd annual birth activist retreat. They discuss how to get rallies organized to get the word out about changing the culture of birth. She may be a great help/lead for you as she is very experienced with women who have experienced birth rape.

    1. No I haven’t heard of her. Thank you so much for the information.

  3. You’re welcome! It’s very disheartening to hear your story. I too experienced birth rape with my first labor & birth, but in a different yet cruel way. It has been my experience that every time I talk about it, I am able to process the trauma a little more each time. As a birth doula, I have my clients initial a form stating whether they want me there during there during a cervical exam or not, but that it may be the birth attendant’s policy that I am not in the room. I then have her ask her doctor or midwife what their policy is regarding this well before labor, so she can know what to expect. Just telling you for “food for thought”…I teach informed consent. Sending you healing wishes!

  4. Lindsay Kinman · ·

    First of all I cannot express in words how sorry I am that this was your experience. You should not have been treated this way and I (woman to woman, mother to mother, not in a condescending way) am very proud of you for the steps you have taken to overcome your pain and to become an advocate for the other woman. You have incredible strength in the face of your PTSD. I have worked with sexual abuse survivors before and it is critical to respect what may trigger an uncomfortable feeling. Why wait until it triggers a full blown memory or flashback?

    I wish you all the justice and closure that you can get in this scenario. I pray that this is solved and in the least you get a proper apology, one for the event itself and one for the completely inappropriate responses to your event.

    I do want to comment on the statement made above about Ina May and about MCU. I am a student there and Ina May is a wonderful part of our curriculum. However, “this method” is not taught to students. Our clinical experiences are very individual (as I am in Washington and this was in Utah). But with everything that I have read there is NOTHING that says perform something without the consent of the mother. Even if clitoral stimulation helps a mother relax, it should preferably be done by the partner first in a private, safe, intimate environment. If it were to be done by someone like myself there would be much conversation and clear consent. Because you were honest about your abuse, not all women are and not all women know about their abuse. I would hate to think that I would unknowingly do something to a client.

    There is no excuse for what happened to you. I am sorry for the apathetic response from the clinical director at MCU but I sincerely want you to know that this is not the culture of all students at MCU or the preceptors who train them. We are very individual in our clinical experiences.

    Again I am praying for justice for you. I am so sorry that this happened.

    1. Thank you so much. it is hard to know if the world is still a safe place sometimes because of the mixed responses I’ve gotten from people in power. it is nice to have the support of someone who is planning to work as a midwife.

  5. This is awful. It’s madness. I’m so sorry that those people made you go through all this. I know it’s nowhere on the same level, but I once had a pelvic exam with a doctor who was trying to grab the threads of my IUD (for no reason that she could explain) and was hurting me a lot in the process, and would not stop. I didn’t explicitly tell her to stop (I was not self-confident enough) but I was loudly saying ‘ow, that hurts, ow, what are you doing’, etc. Afterwards she had the cheek to say ‘You seem quite sensitive – does it hurt when your boyfriend touches you like that?’. The bloody cheek! NO – because my boyfriend would never touch me like that. I am thankful I am not an abuse survivor, and that it was not massively traumatising for me (just a little bit traumatising…), but I can completely understand your completely sane, human reaction to what happened to you. I really hope you can bring these people to justice.

    1. wow that is really really awful. stuff like this happens all the time apparently! thank you for sharing your story.

      sometimes I think doctors get desensitized to patient autonomy by having to ask “does THIS hurt” when they poke/press somewhere.

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