Dr Kathleen Hill and Diana Bowser have compiled an extensive report for USAID on evidence for disrespect and abuse of women in facility-based childbirth. While I am aware of the dire need in South African hospitals for an analysis of this nature, it is both heartening that someone is highlighting this aspect of care and saddening that this appears to be a global phenomenon.
How we begin our lives and make the transition from the womb to the world lays the neurobiological foundation for how we will feel about ourselves and ultimately how we will perceive our world. Babies who are brought into the world in an atmosphere of respect and love, are more likely to grow into human beings who will respect and love their world. This has profound implications for the future of humanity and our planet. The authors state examples of disrespect during childbirth as including subtle humiliation of women, discrimination against certain sub-groups of women, overt humiliation, abandonment of care and physical and verbal abuse during childbirth. These behaviours engender feelings of shame and fear at a time in women’s lives when they are most vulnerable, and these feelings are relayed via neurochemicals and hormones through the placenta to the unborn baby. So the baby, infused with such chemicals learns to hesitate and doubt his efforts before he is born and comes in trepidation into a world where he is barely welcomed. No wonder our social fabric is so ambivalent and why so many humans struggle with issues of power and self confidence.
I hope this report will enlighten both global and local health officials and that action will be taken to alleviate women’s plight in childbirth. I attach the link for your interest.