I was sexually assaulted at Better Birth during my labor. Later on another woman sent me a report of being sexually assaulted during her labor at Better Birth of Utah, indicating that she experienced the exact same thing that I had. I also got reports from my wordpress statistics website that indicated that midwives and doulas have touched clients inappropriately, and women searching for answers about their own birth experiences landed here as a result. All of us had the same story, all of us had our clitoris rubbed in a sexually purposeful manner by a supposed birth “professional”.
It would be easy to believe that this is just an isolated incident, a pocket of perverse behavior on the part of midwives, but it is hard for me to accept that in light of the information I have at my disposal. Midwifery pioneers like Ina May Gaskin have suggested that sexual touching is a means to get women to “relax” during labor. Gaskin had this to say in the first few editions of her natural child birth classic, “Spiritual Midwifery”:
It helps the mother to relax around her puss if you massage her there using a liberal amount of baby oil to lubricate the skin. 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.
Sometimes I see that a husband is afraid to touch his wife’s tits because of the midwife’s presence, so I touch them, get in there and squeeze them, talk about how nice they are, and make him welcome.
These mentions have been removed in more recent editions of the book, but you can find plenty of midwives discussing how to put the sex back into childbirth, or discussing their theory that “the same feelings that got the baby in can get the baby out”. Beware midwives that celebrate this type of rhetoric.
Ina May Gaskin is the reason that home birth midwifery in the united states with a non-nurse midwife is legal at all. She is seen as a guru of natural birth and her books are recommended to pregnant women to try and sell them on an unmedicated vaginal birth at home with a midwife. She isn’t a nobody in the world of homebirth, she is THE expert that people cite when they discuss natural child birth. She is actually seen as a mainstream midwifery expert because she risks people out (instead of believing that anyone can achieve a home birth safely).
Home birth midwifery is a profession that is not highly regulated (in Utah it is barely regulated at all, there are no educational requirements to attend births as a midwife in this state), so underground practices (like “power birth”, using vacuums without permission from the mother, and administering cytotec without permission) are common. Do you think an undertrained midwife who hears the advice to touch clients inappropriatey will automatically discard it? I doubt it, when other forms of illegal behavior are clearly accepted as the norm in home birth midwifery. The only way we can find out about these practices is if a whistleblower or two risks litigation to uncover and speak about them. Leigh Frandsen is one of these people. I am another.
From all outward appearances, sexually molesting women during labor is a common technique taught to homebirth midwives, though it is framed as a “calming” technique. I am sure it calms women down in that being sexually assaulted sends women into shock, the outward appearance of that reaction could be interpreted as calm by people who are not adequately educated on the effects of sexual assault. The scandal that I illuminated with my lawsuit has given Utah midwives valuable practice in avoiding the consequences for sexual assault, I am sure that they (like other groups plagued with many accusations of sexual assault) will make use of my case to prevent further accountability. I only wish I could have done better for other women who are, or will be, in the same position as I am as a survivor of sexual assault during childbirth.
If you are reading this and it happened to you: it isn’t your fault. There is nothing you could do to make it your fault. Ever. You know what happened and no one can take that away unless you give them permission to do so. Just remind yourself that when people doubt your story that you were there experiencing it and they weren’t. No one wants to believe another human being is capable of this but you lived it, you know they are.