TW: sexual abuse/trauma.
Pregnancy is incredibly intense. At the best of times. Even with lots of love and support.
Pregnancy can also be incredibly triggering.
Here are some ways that I have found this pregnancy to be re-triggering, and some ideas about where to go from here.
The Powerlessness of the Medical Industry
The medical industry makes no apologies for the incredible knowledge about the intricate workings of the human body that it stores away. And nor should it. It is mind-blowing. It’s wonderful. It is life sustaining and life saving.
What this can translate into, and does need an apology for, is the (at times) lack of bridge between those with specialist knowledge and those without. I.e. the doctor and me.
Having a trauma background I find myself eager to understand and comprehend options, choices, decisions, likely events and the such. I want to know what you think, why you think it, what it means, and what got you to that point. I want to empower myself to make the safest choices… even if that just means knowing what body part is being cut open and why.
Unfortunately in my experience, the medical industry is often not so accomodating. There is a very distinct “has” as in has the knowledge and “has not” as in has not got the knowledge. And a very strong culture of trusting the “white coats” -> whichever expert that might be at the time; the radiographer, the doctor, the obstetrician, the midwife, the receptionist, etc.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that they don’t deserve to be trusted. They do. They work with life and death and most often do so with the upmost respect and professionalism. And even though they do, sometimes I still need more. I still need someone to talk to me about my own body using words or analogies I can understand so that I can (worst case scenario) understand what they are doing / suggesting and even (best case scenario) actively consent and make informed decisions.
I fought for a long time to be believed about my experiences of abuse. The trust in the white coat phenomena takes me back there, to a place where other people were deciding what was happening for me, rather than listening to me, and empowering me to make decisions and/or changes.
Other People’s Access To My Body
This one seems a bit obvious to spell out, but I want to anyway.
Medical professionals. And this is linked to the above point, but also has its own issues. The idea that just because I am pregnant – I automatically understand or consent to different examinations. I for one, as silly as it now seems, had no idea that the very first ultrasound can often require an internal probe, inserted through my vagina. Sure I could have asked, but I don’t know what I don’t know, and simply didn’t have any idea that that was even possible or probable. On a much less intense scale there is the automatic feeling for the pubic bone whilst measuring belly size. And of course some of the more intense pap-smears and/or internal examinations.
I need to have authority over my body to the most extent possible. Obviously there are medical emergencies, but I am talking about routine care here though.
With non-medical professionals, my number one re-traumatising experience, because due to the frequency, it honestly was that… was people’s self initiated ‘right’ to my baby bump, or my back or any part of my body. Acquaintances suddenly found it perfectly normal to rub my bump, even coming up to me from behind, cornering me – with no permission sought or explanations offered. This is an incredible violation of my personal space and my privacy.
What made that hard, as with many people’s experience of abuse, is that the bystanders accept this behaviour as completely normal and completely okay. “She didn’t mean anything by it”, “They are just so happy for you”, “It’s such a compliment” and other such unhelpful/abusive comments were offered as justification. What I heard is that it is okay for them to ignore my boundaries for their own needs and wants. And that sounds a lot like victim blaming.
Other People’s Questions, Opinions and Judgements
This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has ever thought about growing and/or raising a human… but people feel super entitled to offer you their two-cents about anything and everything!
I am incredibly private. (Anonymous blog anyone?) And all of a sudden I found people not only feeling entitled to ask all manner of personal and private questions, but also certain they are also entitled to the answers. And following the answers, I was accosted their opinions on those, and what is worse, their judgements.
It’s one thing if a nurse asks me about my blood pressure. S/he is trained in providing me with knowledge and information to help me correct it if needed. It is something entirely different if a colleague asks for the sake of a lead-way into their own experiences about blood pressure. Or worse still, their judgements about my behaviour / actions etc. It absolutely reminded me of a time when my ‘story’ was divided into tiny little segments and each section questioned, queried and rebuked “you used the word ‘all’ and that is clearly untrue”.
The Physicality of Everything
Firstly, pregnancy involves my sexual organs. No prizes there. Something I didn’t know until a few weeks ago, is that parts of my sexual organs were actually significantly impacted by the sexual trauma of my past. That really sucks. Conception, pregnancy, and birth have the potential to be harder, more complicated and even potentially threatening – because of someone else’s actions against me. To which people still question me about – did it really happen, was it really rape, but did you … So that alone is very intense.
I have to re-explain it to medical professionals, I need to bring it up again and again, because it impacts my care. This is something I’d very clearly prefer not to have to bring up continually, or preferably – at all.
Secondly is the internal examinations. I know I have mentioned them repeatedly in this – but for me, they were and are, a massive ‘thing’. Having people with an assumed access to those parts of my body using their body parts (fingers) and / or instruments that hurt, to complete a process that also hurts, with words that I don’t understand (or worse still, no words), to look for and see things that don’t make sense to me, deciding the next course of action – is incredibly overwhelming. Absolutely it is for the health of me and my baby. Which is why I did it. Tears, pain, shame, re-triggering and all.
No Sexual Jokes. Ever.
Sex and I have a complicated past, and present. Sex jokes are incredibly inappropriate and very intimidating.
Yes sex (or at least the sexual organs) is/are often involved in procreation, but it is not okay to bring up sexual jokes or innuendo at all. And definitely not when the patient is in any form of being remotely compromised such as lying on an examination bed or various clothing items removed. No sex jokes. No innuendo.
But where to from here?
I can imagine that there are a huge proportion of phenomenally trained, loving medical professionals that are very aware of these issues, and cater for them naturally. I am just saying that I haven’t encountered many in my numerous specialist visits or antenatal care.
- Trauma informed practitioners that assume sensitive care is required for all patients. That would include
- Some system of record keeping to highlight to a practitioner that there is sexual / any trauma history, not so that it is explored each time (argh!) but so that I can not-have-to explain the impacts on my body. So a sticker or a tick box of some form saying “has this (symptom etc) because of this (trauma past)”.
- Respect of privacy and dignity – using patients and partners names (I know it can be hard, they work with a lot of different patients, but this stuff matters). Also checking who the patient would like present at each point. I for one, found it incredibly calming having my husband holding my hand during more intimate/invasive experiences.
- Talking through processes before they are started. Whether it’s measuring belly growth to blood pressure to internal exams. It seems silly but I consistently needed to prepare myself for someone else to be touching my pubic bone, even though it was over my zipped jeans.
- Asking for affirmative consent at each stage – such as during an internal exam (for example): “Okay, I’m just inserting (g), are you still going okay?”
- Absolutely no sexual jokes.
- Society to accept pregnant women as empowered individuals
- And as such – afforded the same social courtesies as their non-pregnant peers. I wouldn’t rub your knee without asking, or pat your beer belly, I’d like the same respect. And I’d like it to be more socially acceptable for a woman to stand up for her boundaries and for that to be backed up also.