i have tried at times to tell myself i should read this book.  but frankly it is the description alone that turns me off every time.

When Survivors Give Birth is written for a mixed audience of maternity care professionals and para-professionals, mental health therapists and counselors, and women survivors and their families. The authors expertly and compassionately address the unusual and distressing challenges that arise for abuse survivors during the childbirth experience.

The first section informs the reader of the impact of early sexual abuse on children, adults, and on all aspects of childbearing. The second section teaches skills in communication, self-help skills, counseling and psychotherapy techniques. The third covers clinical challenges and solutions for doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, and others. Case histories throughout the book clarify and apply the content.

ok, quickly, cause i need to take a nap.

1. unusual? sexual abuse survivors do not deal with ‘unusual’ challenges because of their sexual abuse.  sexual abuse in our cultural is the norm.

Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.

so considering how fucking common sexual abuse/assault is in our culture. considering that the figures that we read about the rate of sexual abuse is probably low-balled, why would anyone with an accurate understanding of the reality of sexual abuse in our culture refer to women who are survivors as dealing with ‘unusual’ challenges?

why would anyone feel the need to write a book, in which once again, survivors are treated like they are some ‘other’ population, strange and different from, i guess, the normal (nonsurvivors) women who give birth?

2. distressing?  yes some people, many people, some of whom are survivors, some of whom are not survivors, deal with distressing challenges during pregnancy, birth and post partum.  yes, one’s history of sexual assault can effect the experience of childbearing in many ways that are as varied and different as the people who are bearing the child.  i have definitely had mothers share with me how their history as a survivor influenced their experience in many parts of their life including birth.

but birth is not automatically distressing.  its not automatically empowering.  for any person.

3. and then, because i wanted to be fair, i went and read the comments about the book on amazon.

there were three.  here is the second one:

Helpful in understanding ‘difficult’ behaviour5
As health care professionals, we all encounter clients with a greater need to ‘control’ their experience, especially surrounding childbirth. Many caregivers find this situation difficult and wish that relationships could be more productive and less confrontational. Understanding why some women make more demands than others can help us to ‘read’ their needs in a more compassionate way — as sometimes it is a healthy response to a history of abuse (acknowledged or hidden). We then stand a better chance of working with all women in ways that promote healing. I found this book very helpful.

and it is this sort of patronizing comment that makes me not want to give money to this book.

it is this pathologizing of survivors.  did you catch it?  ‘why some women make more demands than others’?  (because they are survivors, obviously, not because they are more educated about birth, or simply have more assertive personalities, or a myriad of other reasons.) and this ‘demanding’ is ‘sometimes a healthy response to a history of abuse’.  and i guess sometimes it is not a healthy response to a history of abuse?  and i guess the person who is not pregnant is able to decide what is and is not healthy for the pregnant person?

4.  demanding: and this word ‘demanding’ is so so loaded, with connotations that go beyond the simple denotation.

requiring more than usually expected or thought due; especially great patience and effort and skill

what is disappointing is that as i read and listen to birth workers i hear how so many did not realize that being is a birth worker is demanding in and of itself.  it takes great patience, great effort in respecting another person’s body and mind. a type of respect that we are not taught in this culture.  because this culture teaches us that abusing others, verbally, emotionally, psychologically, physically is normal.  and we have to work against this socially approved abuse in order to open the space for people to discover for themselves what they need. and to achieve it.

5. we dont need a book that tells us how to feel compassion for survivors.  we need birth workers and a culture that stops abuse and respects our lives, our bodies, our children.  and while some of us may have experienced the abuse of our culture more directly than others.  acting as if survivors need to be dealt with in a special, unique way simply reifies our rape culture.  reifies the messages that rape/sexual abuse is abnormal in our culture.

i have seen midwives who consider survivors to be ‘high risk’ clients. whether or not i was a survivor, i would not want to be with a birth worker who thought of survivors as high risk, because that tells me that they dont understand what their role is, and dont understand what are the basic skills necessary to accompany another person’s birth.

but the same skills that survivors need from their birth workers, are the skills that all people need from their caregivers.  the ability to respect another person’s life and story, the ability to understand that the pregnant/birthing person is the one who should be in control of the decisions made about their body and their children, the ability to be patient, to trust the process and the person, to listen, to love, to know that birth is not about the birth worker’s image of the ‘ideal’ birth, but about what is happening right now, right here.