I’ve reached the end of my drafting of my intake forms for well person care — the result of maybe 20 hours of my life sitting at my computer hashing out minute details of formatting and trying to leave no stone unturned. The last little hill to climb over, though, is the trickiest. It’s the one that turns my stomach in anxiety about getting it right. It’s the part where I have to figure out how to compassionately open the doors to the conversation about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence.
Over the past ten years of sitting in witness with women (and trans folks and non-binary folks) learning about the amazing processes of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and our cycles, I’ve heard as many stories of trauma as I have of triumph. Personally, I am not a survivor. When I am in circle with birth workers, I am constantly reminded that I am one of the lucky ones; that I’m in the minority. Of all the things that I walk away with from these groups and classes, understanding that dismal fact is the thing that takes me the longest to process and there hasn’t been a single gathering of women in learning I’ve been part of where I haven’t had to walk away with that stone in my throat. It’s made me profoundly grateful in my partnerships as well as profoundly angry and impassioned to figure out what I can do to change that fact for others.
One of the strongest missions I have in starting this new area of work is to hopefully have fewer folks traumatized or re-traumatized through their gynecological and obstetrical visits. Since I’m not a practitioner myself, there is only so far I can go in protecting those I see, but I’m here to do that part and protect it as fiercely as possible. I’m honestly just sick and tired of hearing about and witnessing abuses of women’s bodies by medical practitioners…by anyone.
I have so much to say about this and also nothing coming out but tears. I’ve seen that picture of Dr. Blasey Ford with her eyes closed and her hand up at least a hundred times in the past two days and my heart aches every time. Though I feel so deeply inspired to sit and type up the DV portion of my intake form each time I see it, I also feel the enormous weight of my role as a counselor and witness and can’t quite make my fingers move.
So much of my childhood was having my strict Catholic parents try and (with the absolute best of intentions) try and limit my visibility, my sexuality, my body in order to protect me from predators they felt lurking at every turn. I couldn’t go to sleep overs. I couldn’t go to camp. I had a very restricted dress code. All of this was to protect me from being assaulted because is a reality for all of us that sexual assault is a norm. And that those that perpetrate assault are often those in power. I continue to have difficult conversations with my parents about how much the responsibility and potential blame for this seemed to be placed on my young brain and body. About how it’s negatively affected my relationships to my body, my sexual life, and my partners. I feel a strong sense of purpose to shift that focus and the conversation as a whole away from those who would/have been hurt, and that’s part of the weight I feel in writing this part of my forms.
Working with young people is something I feel I need to do more of in Rosewood. My goal is to be speaking to Girl and Boy Scout troops, youth art groups, and similar gatherings of young people on informed consent and choosing care providers who are supportive of their ways of living and views on their bodies. I want to meet with young people who have started their cycles and need to transition out of pediatric care into well person reproductive care/gynecological care as well as their parents to help find them practitioners who are not going to assault them or treat them callously. Knowing they have rights over their bodies, even when in a situation where there seems to be an imbalanced power dynamic such as in a medical setting, they can know that they can refuse procedures, fire a provider who is hurtful or just not in line with what they need, they can be advocates for their own care. Maybe if they find compassionate providers, they’ll not skip their annual check-ups as so many of us do. Maybe they will be able to take more responsibility over their bodies and their health sooner so they’re not always chasing problems the way too many of us do because of fear and access issues and trauma. They’ll gather tools they need to take care of themselves on all level of their health and well being, not just their sexual organs, understanding that we’re more than a cave for infections and other people’s parts. That our bodies aren’t dirty and shameful. That regardless of any medical issues and how they got there, they deserve to be treated with respect. They deserve to be heard when they say “no".
Many doulas and midwives come into birth work because of trauma they’ve experienced, many not even in birth, but in their well person exams, so I’ve heard endless stories of gynecological/obstetrical rape and assault. Once people know what my job is, many of them, regardless of their age or background, will feel there is an avenue, FINALLY to tell someone about their traumatic experience with IUD insertion, shaming in STI screenings, weight shaming, dismissal of mental health complications from hormone treatment, being cut open, being told they were killing their baby for making informed choices of refusal, feeling inadequate, having instruments shoved inside of them, and told to stop asking questions. I could go on, but I actually can’t get it all out in one go. It’s too much. It needs to stop.
I can’t stop rape. I can’t stop obstetrical and gynecological abuse. I can’t make men stop cat calling. I can’t alone stop acts of violence against trans and queer folks. I can’t make our culture stop trying to view our bodies as dirty objects that belong to someone else. I can’t (yet) change laws to let us live our lives without fear that assailants can become Supreme Court judges. I can’t erase Dr. Blasey Ford’s or anyone else’s trauma. I can, however, create a space for everyone in my care to demand better. To know they deserve better. To speak up when their care providers are violating them. To speak out against care providers who are abusive so that others don’t suffer the same. When we speak up, when we believe victims, we can move us all in a better direction — toward safety, toward compassion, toward ending systematic and excused violence. I know I am small, but my voice is loud and fierce and I know I’m not alone.
To everyone hurt and triggered by the events of the past week, I hear you. I believe you. I’m here for you.