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One in Six Women Mistreated During Child Birth

Tanefer Camara had every intention of giving birth in the hospital. When she went into labor at 38 weeks, she called her midwife, who told Camara to wait a while longer at home even though Camara thought it was time to go to the hospital, Vox reports. Camara’s labor progressed quickly. Sprawled out on her bed at home, she gave birth to her daughter 30 minutes later.

“I was not prepared for a home birth,” Camara, who’s a lactation consultant in Oakland, California, said. Her husband had to scramble to find something to tie the umbilical cord. He used a shoelace. On the way to the hospital, Camara developed blood clots. When she arrived, she was hemorrhaging and had to take medication to stop the bleeding.

Luckily, both Camara and her daughter were healthy. Still, she was unnerved by her treatment and the threat to her and her daughter’s health.

“[E]very step of the way, I had to advocate for myself,” she said. “If I didn’t have the knowledge that I had around pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, it could have been a lot worse.”

New research, published in the journal Reproductive Health, is the first to quantitatively examine the mistreatment of women during childbirth. Researchers found that 17 percent, or one in six women surveyed, reported experiencing at least one kind of mistreatment. Mistreatment included “verbal abuse, stigma, and discrimination, and having requests for help ignored.”

The incident rates were higher for women of color. 33 percent of indigenous women, 25 percent of Hispanic women, and 23 percent of Black women reported being mistreated.

“This is a widespread phenomenon,” said the study’s lead author, Saraswathi Vedam, a midwife and professor at the University of British Columbia. “Mistreatment, when you look at it in all of its aspects, certainly includes people being shouted at, scolded, or experiencing physical and verbal abuse. But there’s also ... not being listened to, not being engaged in the decision, not having the ability to self-determine what care happens for you and your body.”

Respondents reported that the most common type of mistreatment was being shouted at or scolded by their care providers, with 8.5 percent of women reporting the behavior. Nearly eight percent of women reported being ignored or having their requests refused or ignored. Five percent of women said their providers threatened to withhold treatment or forced them to get care they did not want to receive.

Vedam says that researchers are understanding more how mistreatment, like that studied in the survey, can negatively impact women’s health outcomes. Monica McLemore, the study’s co-author and a nurse and professor at University of California San Francisco, says that the study “repeatedly found missed opportunities for care providers to listen, to recognize signs and symptoms of deterioration and to be able to act differently[.]”

Another recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most maternal deaths are preventable. Consumers for Quality Care has previously highlighted complications in childbirth and negative outcomes.

Vedam hopes the results of their study can improve womens’ care during childbirth.

“We have the capacity right now to really address these issues,” she said. “These initiatives include diversifying the health care workforce, mandating anti-racism and implicit bias training for everyone who interacts with childbearing families, increasing access to doulas and midwives, and raising public awareness of their human rights. The road may be long and hard, but it is the only right path.”


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