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Birth Violence Detrimental To Mothers and Babies

1 May 2014

Birth Violence Detrimental To Mothers and Babies

The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health say, “Any violence which greets a baby in the womb or around the time of birth will serve as a silent and unconscious form of conditioning which acts like a template for future relationships. This conditioning, depending upon its frequency and severity, can affect a person's physical and mental health for decades to come.” Home Birth Aotearoa spokesperson Nadia Kersel adds that “this goes for the birthing woman too – the residual trauma from a violent birth can affect her, and her parenting for many years”. She goes on to say that “unfortunately, with the normalisation of medicalised birth comes the acceptance of the medical violence inflicted on mother and baby, threatening all levels of their wellbeing.”

Home Birth Aotearoa (HBA) is a nationwide collective of home birth support groups and associations who value midwifery care in New Zealand. Every year on May 5, the world celebrates International Day of the Midwife. This year’s theme is “Midwives changing the world one family at a time”. Some groups in NZ, including Home Birth Aotearoa are extending this theme to include that “every woman and every baby has a right to birth in the absence of all forms of violence”.

A recent case in Brazil highlights the reality of what obstetric violence in birth can become. 29 year-old woman Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés was set upon by police in the middle of the night as she laboured. She was verbally abused by police before being taken to a hospital where she was forced, against her will, into a caesarean section. This was done by court order, under the guidance of her obstetrician who based the decision for this coercive measure on the results of an ultrasound scan that Lemos de Goés was neither permitted to see nor discuss.

Mrs Kersel says that “In New Zealand, because informed consent is a cornerstone of our healthcare system, and because we have a midwifery-based maternity system we could say that a case like Adelir’s would never happen here, but we must take note. This level of coercion is a reality for many women globally” and is the outcome of “a system which views the rights of women to determine the type of care they need for their bodies and babies as negotiable”.

According to Mrs Kersel, “Medical, or obstetric violence is not only this extreme. What violence looks like in birth is the same as what generally would be considered as a threat to overall wellbeing”. This includes, but is not limited to: intimidation, coercion, misinformation, disempowering language and having one’s senses and physical wellbeing undermined and threatened. In their work to support home birth at a community level, HBA have spoken to many women about their births and have heard hundreds of birth stories. What becomes evident is that coercion, intimidation and physical injury is extremely rare in home birth “home birth is, in essence, non-violent” they say.

HBA assert that at the core of the home birth experience is self-determination - that of the parents and their wider whanau. “When self-determination is present, violence is absent” they say . “As parents and their whanau become clear about their accountability, they are empowered to minimise or avoid circumstances that may be damaging to their baby’s, or their own wellbeing”. For example, a mother who is self-determining in her birth at home, can choose who enters her birth space, calling only on the people who are committed to her baby’s welfare and happiness, as well as that of their wider whanau.

Midwifery support can also be key - Midwives trained in normal, natural birth and who are open to the myriad of experiences and possibilities within it are well equipped to support and help create a non-violent birth for expectant mothers, their babies and their families.

In honour of International Day of the Midwife, HBA are releasing a postcard through which home birthing women and their whanau are encouraged to express their sentiments of gratitude toward their midwives and the New Zealand College of Midwives. The postcard, available in print and online, positively reinforces the gentle and respectful care that can be made available by choosing a midwife as an LMC, and by choosing home birth.

International Day of the Midwife is on May 5
Postcard downloadable HBA on Facebook
Find your local home birth support group at


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