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 created on: Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

global, Spain

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Malla was about to have a natural childbirth without deciding it. Her son was born little time after she got into the hospital because in the pre-natal classes she was told that when the moment arrived, “she will clearly notice it”. It went without saying a cause of the pain.

Malla is a vocational hairdresser from Catalonia. She is in her mid-forties and, She remembers wanting to work in the aesthetics field since she was only eleven years old, so she started learning the profession as soon as she could: specialised academy, related courses and some trainee time with others hairdressers until she could open her own salon which has been running with anyone else than herself for the last 21 years.  She likes the job a lot, even though she works very hard every day. She is in charge of absolutely all the dimensions of the business. From washing heads to prepare the accounts, ordering the products, sweeping hair, cleaning the place, cutting manes, perms, colours, stylish dryings, designing promotions, paying the bills, organising the agenda, answering the phone and working many, many hours on her feet in full performance, especially during weekends and days closers to holidays. And under this frenetic daily rhythm it was how she also spent the last day of her pregnancy.

Two weeks before being due, after a very long and tiring Saturday, Malla started feeling some annoyances but she didn’t think it was the moment yet because she never had given birth before. However, she listened to her body and followed her instinct; she took a warm and long bath accompanied by relaxing music. Surrounded by this calm and familiar environment Malla dealt very well with the most part of the labour.

In spite of the pain was not that strong, after a few hours Malla decided to go to the hospital *2 and as soon as she got there she lost control of everything”. Unfortunately, her midwife was not there and she was attended by the on-duty personal that roughly disturbed the harmonious way in which she managed the first hours of labour with an unjustified urgency. “They ‘scold’ me for arriving too late when, in fact, I was not really aware than the moment had already arrived. I was due to two weeks after and the pain didn’t advise me”. Coldly, they hasten to prepare her and very quickly she had been put an intravenous drip in her arm.

“What’s this? Why do you put it to me?” – asked Malla, overwhelmed by the abrupt hurries of medical staff.

– “We put this to all” – answered the nurse without any other explanation.

Days after Malla learnt the drip contained oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates contractions when they are not rhythmic or continuous enough. It was responsible for the rashness of the birth few minutes after being administrated. This inducted acceleration caused her a deep internal and external rip.

Reconstruction sutures took more than two hours and required a ‘post-operative’ time that in such a special moment, Malla spent alone in a room until the spinal anesthesia effects disappeared. The baby was safe and sound with his father, but she was not informed nor could watch him until she recovered the sensitivity in her legs. “Only half of my body was rent insensible to avoid the pain while the sutures. There was no reason to prevent me to know about my son’s health or, at least, to see my baby”.

Any invasive practice to women’s bodies before, during or after the childbirth that lead to women’s loss of autonomy and a free capacity of decision about their bodies are specific types of violation of women’s reproductive rights known with the term of “obstetric violence” by the World Health Organization. It refers to a whole of common processes considered normal and unavoidable – as much for the ones who inflict them as for women who suffered them – where pregnancy and childbirth are considered as a disease expressed by a hierarchical and dehumanizing treatment of the medical personal towards the future mothers *2.

Modifying the natural process of a low risk birth throughout caesareans or other birth acceleration techniques without the voluntary, express and informed consent of women; forcing women to give birth in a supine position with raised and/or tied legs when a vertical one is possible; avoiding to provide an appropriate attention to obstetric urgencies and obstructing the attachment of the mother and the baby without justified medical cause immediately after the childbirth are some of the actions constitutive of obstetric violence as well as the lack of information; indifferent, rude, humiliating and denigrating attitudes and any act that contribute to women’s exclusion of the reproductive process happening in their own bodies.

I’m aware the most difficult moments of the labor are the last ones and medical staff must be ready for any possible complication but I think if they had respected my body rhythm, I shouldn’t have felt so confused about what was happening to my body – Malla reflects – In addition of health care, it would be great to count with somebody who accompanies women during the process; an experimented figure who listens, informs and emotionally guides them in such a special moment as the childbirth but also after, at home, because everything is new…at least with the first child. Once alone with your baby, sometimes it is difficult to make the difference when something is normal or not, and also our bodies are just readjusting from pregnancy, keeping in mind that every person is a unique and special case”.

This is: to properly assist physical and emotional needs of women, the real subjects of the process that only they are capable of: to give birth.

*1 In Spain, health care system is free and universal. Although private centers exist as well, the best provided had always been the public ones and people used to go to the hospital for proximity reasons when needed. Malla went to the hospital when she felt it was the moment as the normal procedure for low risk births that most part of women follow in Spain.

*2 You can find some more information about obstetric violence here:

Parir amb respecte [Literal Translation: To give birth with respect] by DONAllum Association, Spain (01:25”)
Different women explain their experiences in order to transmit what is called obstetrical violence. Available in Catalan with Spanish, French and German Subtitles:

Por tu bien [Literal Translation: It’s for your own good] Directed by Íciar Bollaín, Spain 2009 (2:56”)
Short video about what is known as “obstetric violence”. This is when women who are going to give birth are not accompanied according to their real needs in this exceptional moment of their life. Available only in Spanish in Youtube:

Cállate y pujá [Literal Translation: Shut up and Push!] by Sonia Cavia and Eduardo Díaz Cano, Argentina 2011 (04:21”)
It films a common birth in an Argentinean hospital in order to denounce obstetric violence. It is narrated in Spanish but images have a strong visual impact. Available in Youtube (in Spanish):