Earlier this year, US consumer activists ImprovingBirth.org connected us with Kelly*, a 27 year old woman who experienced a non-consented episiotomy during the birth of her first child. Kelly had posted a home video of the birth scene on YouTube, and was also trying to investigate her options for accountability and redress. She wrote a letter to the hospital describing her experience, but her letter was ignored. She has contacted numerous attorneys in her state, but hasn’t yet found anybody to take her case. HRiC has heard from many women with similar stories. Even though most of her friends and family have urged her to “get over” her experience and move on, she is not over it. She wants her story shared far and wide, and she repeats what we have heard many women say: “I need to do whatever I can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”Kelly’s video is here. For those who may be triggered by watching it, a description of the scene is written below. We honor her strength in sharing her story, in her pursuit of justice, in her determination to take this experience and use it to stand up for every woman’s human right to respectful, non-violent maternity care.] *Name has been changed to protect privacy.
The scene opens with a woman on her back in a hospital room. Her feet and legs are up above her in gynecological stirrups. You can’t see her face; camera is angled from below, so you see her exposed haunches, her vagina and anus. The camera is held by the woman’s mother, let’s call her Grandmother. You don’t see Grandmother’s face during the video either; you only hear her voice from behind the camera.
The birthing woman, Kelly, has a tube running to her pubis, a urethral catheter that was part of the epidural process. She received the epidural after telling the nurses, as she told her prenatal providers, that she had been raped and sodomized twice in her life, that she was feeling scared, that she needed them to be gentle and to ask her, step by step, every detail of what was going to be done. The hospital staff gave her a drug “to calm her,” and an epidural. Kelly is a healthy young woman having her first baby. Her pregnancy and labor have been normal. She has a partner holding her left hand, and the nurse on her right. The nurse says, “Cinco de Mayo baby. It’s going to come out with a sombrero. Just kidding.” The nurse watches the monitor until she sees a contraction coming on. Then she loudly directs Kelly to push push push, talking nonstop for the length of the contraction. Kelly pushes hard; you can hear her exertion, working against gravity because this position makes her have to push her baby up into the air. Slowly the baby starts to crown. The baby’s head is just opening the labia; not yet out far enough to stretch the perineum.
A man in a white coat has been sitting on a stool between Kelly’s legs. During her contraction, while she’s pushing, he stands and holds up a long, sharp pair of scissors. He mumbles toward the nurse, “I’m going to do the episiotomy now.” Kelly cranes her head up and says, “What’s up, doctor?” He says, “I said I’m going to do the episiotomy now.” Kelly objects: “What? Why? We haven’t even tried.” The doctor explains: “Listen, dear. You are pushing, baby’s head comes down and doesn’t come out because there is no space here to come out.” He stands now between her legs, gesturing with his hands, one of which holds the scissors. “OK? Baby’s head about that big and your vagina is only that much. Ok?” Kelly says, “But why can’t we just try?” The doctor says, “Try? You’re trying all the time and it doesn’t come out. And if it comes out its going to rip the butt hole down clean.” He makes a slashing motion with the scissors toward her anus as he says this. The nurse reassures Kelly: “We’re not going to feel it, remember? And you have the epidural.” …