One of the worst moments in court for me was when Ester Werbach was called to the stand.
The defense announced that her father had died that week so she may have “emotional problems” because of that. But she didn’t, at all. I would describe her demeanor as emotionless, cold.
I tried really hard not to look at her. I caught glimpses because I had to sit in a way that was facing directly towards her. I almost vomited when I heard her lie about what had happened, that she had never continued an exam against my will and certainly never molested anyone. She said she had never had a complaint about a vaginal exam before me. That she always kept her nails short. I had an email in my inbox (that I had not read yet) from another victim of Ester Werbach, telling me that my experience with her was typical (she doesn’t cut her nails, she digs them into your cervix, and ignores it when you ask for her to stop).
Ester sat on the stand and lied about it, chuckling from time to time. The judge banned us from seeing employment records about Ester and yet allowed testimony about her supposed lack of complaints. Almost all her experience was in Argentina before she worked at Better Birth so there was no way to verify what she was saying. I have to wonder why she moved to begin with. Perhaps there were victims like me, that refused to shut up, in Argentina? I’ll never really know. I have no idea where to start looking into such things.
Ester refused to cooperate with the police previously, after consulting her lawyer. The first judge said that helped my case. After all, if nothing had happened, why not tell the police? What do you have to lose? She knows exactly what she did. Since the criminal case was closed she didn’t have a lot to risk by testifying now.
When my lawyer cross examined her it became obvious that Better Birth’s attorneys must have given Ester a lot of help in coaching her responses, because her english is terrible. When she was asked plain questions she struggled to understand them and respond meaningfully. She had a handful of canned answers she kept inappropriately repeating. It was exactly what I experienced in my labor- she can’t competently communicate in english, so she just does whatever she wants and hopes you stop bothering her. The birth center knows that, that is why their email to me referenced her “limited english skills”. They spent the most recent trial trying to say that Ester had done a lot of complex communication with me during exams and over the phone with my husband. Its laughable.
I don’t know if I provided needed information to my attorney because I was shaken up by her presence. This is a variable not controlled for in cases like mine, though I have no way of predicting if it would have made a meaningful difference.
Ester admitted that I complained to her about the 1st exam. The one she claims to have stopped. In Suzanne’s testimony she claimed that its the policy of the birth center for another midwife to volunteer herself if she even *senses* that a client was uncomfortable with the other midwife, much less an outright declaration of animosity like I had made. Suzanne claims to have been there during the last exam, mostly so she can claim no molestation happened (how she would be looking that closely at anyone’s vulva during an exam makes this a poorly thought out lie to have made). She has never had to explain why she never volunteered to do the exam after my complaint about the first exam going so poorly, or why Ester ended up doing it at all. Its pretty plain from where I am sitting- ester did the exam because suzanne wasn’t there, and as a result I got molested during the exam. Ester wanted me out of her hair and she did everything in her power to get me to leave. Their “no refunds” policy made it easy enough.
Ester’s time on the stand was done and I assumed she would leave, but she stayed the whole rest of the afternoon and it was terrible. If she was falsely accused of sexual assault, like Better Birth claimed, why would she spend one extra moment in a room with me? I would never want to spend time around someone that had told everyone that I molested them, I assume most people aren’t volunteering themselves to sit next to their accusers, but she seemed completely unbothered. I asked my lawyer if there was a way to make her leave, and there wasn’t. Everything about her makes my skin crawl, puts me back in that moment when I was sexually assaulted.
Suzanne Smith smirked the entire time I was testifying. Her ugly, disbelieving smirk is how I remember her now. I assume she thinks I just accuse people of molestation for no apparent reason, that there is nothing wrong with home birth in our state and that I am making a big deal out of nothing. Having to share my story over and over (to better birth, to judges, lawyers, police, therapists, here, etc) is a pain that is hard to understand unless you have been there. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, even Ester or Suzanne.
In the end I know that this unaccountable midwife thing won’t last forever, and its because home birth is inherently unsafe. If you read this blog from a former birth center owner (like smith), you’ll see that she realized that each client inched them closer to the statistical inevitability of a preventable death happening on the premises. She tried to make other midwives practice differently but that is frowned upon in the midwifery community. She gave up her part in the birth center, and subsequently the birth center had 3 perinatal fatalities before hitting 700 births. Some people luck out in their out of hospital birth practice, and some don’t. The more clients you take the bigger the risk that something will go wrong. Home birth will eventually be a victim of its own popularity. I’ll keep up the fight until then, and perhaps hasten the outcome enough that someone’s child will be spared.