Our birth social media networks shared a story that broke last week about a young woman’s lawsuit against her obstetrician for performing an episiotomy (apparently making 12 cuts) despite her express refusal of consent. One of the Maternity Support Survey team, co-Investigator Louise M Roth, PhD (University of Arizona), was interviewed in the Daily Beast, sharing the findings of our research:
And in a recent survey of more than 2,000 doulas, childbirth educators, and labor and delivery nurses across the U.S. and Canada, Louise Marie Roth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, found that 63 percent of maternity support workers either “occasionally” or “often” witness a provider “engage in procedures without giving the woman a choice or time to consider,” and 17 percent report that providers go through with procedures even when they are explicitly against the wishes of a laboring woman.
“When you’re in the moment and things are urgent, it can be difficult to have the kind of comprehensive conversation that needs to happen to get really good, informed consent,” Roth told The Daily Beast.
Still, Roth stressed that a pregnancy doesn’t negate a woman’s civil rights. “There is no informed consent without informed refusal. If you can’t say ‘no’, then you don’t have informed consent.”
We are pleased that our research has been able to provide context to the story of Kimberly Turbin, from the perspective of “maternity support workers,” or the focus of our survey. We will continue to analyze the data exploring how often doulas, childbirth educators and labor & delivery nurses witness ethically troubling events in the course of providing care to birthing women in the U.S. and Canada. We will present our findings on this issue at the forthcoming annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, November 18-21, Denver Colorado. The theme for the meeting is “Familiar/Strange.”
On some level, birth is familiar to us all – we were all born, and we have a general idea from personal experience, popular culture and for some, professional knowledge, how birth happens and what is the best way for birth to be socially organized. We can know, if we read the books and online postings, and the scientific literature, quite a bit about women’s experiences of childbirth. Yet we know little about the views of maternity workers, especially labor & delivery nurses, and how they compare to views of doulas or childbirth educators. What is familiar to a nurse is a strange world to the pregnant women and her family; childbirth educators and doulas attempt to be a conduit in making the strange familiar through their advance preparation classes and continuous presence at the birth, respectively. Our research tries to capture, through survey research methodology, how maternity support workers are similar to or different from each other in their views, and what factors might help account for their views.