Rendering visible the invisible: Naming violence and abuse during childbirth in healthcare settings
Dr Camilla PicklesZoom
Naming shapes our reality by creating the means to bring into existence previously unseen events or feelings; and it impacts how society responds to these. There is growing recognition that healthcare professionals abuse some women during childbirth through unauthorised medical interventions, physical assault or verbal abuse. Naming this phenomenon has proved challenging and conflicting. This paper interrogates the problem of naming violence and abuse during childbirth with a focus on three principal concepts: ‘mistreatment’, ‘disrespect and abuse’, and ‘obstetric violence’. The paper exposes hidden power struggles that inform the naming process in this context and reveals that the three concepts do not adequately communicate women’s experiences when used in isolation from each other. Despite this communicative gap, ‘mistreatment’ has emerged as a dominant discourse and I challenge its rise to this status. Further, drawing from women’s lived experiences, I argue that we are in the early stages of understanding the phenomenon of violence and abuse during childbirth and our communicative framework should be broad enough to include multiple communicative tools including ‘obstetric violence’. Finally, I contend that should a dominant discourse emerge, it should not be one formulated by healthcare professionals (as is the case with ‘mistreatment’) given their leading role in abuse and violence during childbirth in healthcare facilities.