Rape victims suffer 'flashbacks' during childbirth

Silouhette of woman Image copyright PA

For many victims of rape and sexual assault, giving birth can trigger frightening, graphic memories of their attack.

As the UK's first maternity clinic for rape and sexual assault victims opens, BBC News speaks to three victims - two of whom helped design the clinic.

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'I cried and cried hysterically'

Kim, 28, had her first child in a Birmingham hospital last year. She helped design how the clinic would operate.

Kim said: "During labour, I couldn't stand being physically out of control and I wouldn't let the contractions come. I couldn't give into the process of labour, because I felt that I needed to fight back this time, now that something else was in control of my body. The midwife was shouting at me about why I was stopping my contractions and that I wasn't normal and it wasn't natural to be doing that. But I couldn't help it.

"Eventually I started crying and shouted back at her about what had happened. I cried and cried hysterically, forever, and after I'd got it out of my system and let out what had happened from my mouth, like magic, my whole body began to open up.

"The rest of the labour went smoothly. I needed to open up mentally to open up physically. If only this clinic had been around when I had my baby. It would have saved us both so much agony.

"At one point I kept trying to close my legs because I was reacting to the flashbacks of the rape I was experiencing. Three midwives had to prise them apart because they said my baby only had a quarter of the space he needed to come out into the world. I cared about his first few hours in the world and I wanted to open my legs so he'd have more space, but I couldn't do it.

"I desperately needed a clinic where people understood that, and where we could both be looked after before, during, and after. I can't believe this hasn't existed before. I am so glad that My Body Back project's maternity clinic is starting. It will mean that countless more women will not go through what I went through in future."

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'I started hallucinating, seeing my rapist'

Melanie (name changed for confidentiality), aged 37, had her baby two years ago.

She said: "I was slow to bond with my daughter because I was in such an emotional state for weeks after she was born. I had nightmares for months and I was grateful she wouldn't let me sleep at night. I still wonder how this affected her early emotional development. I feel angry that my rapist was allowed to do that to her and there was nothing to protect us from that.

"I was given gas and air whilst in labour and I started hallucinating, seeing the man who had attacked me in the room. I managed to articulate what was happening to my husband, but he didn't know what to do. He wasn't equipped to deal with it at all, and there was no-one else in the room who was either. I was terrified and screaming. Nobody asked me; I wish I'd had some control.

"I feel my rapist was allowed to hijack the birth of my child because no-one stopped enough to care. I had to explain to every different staff member that I had been attacked. I was also not coping well with strangers touching me and I felt that the staff were blaming me for being oversensitive. I wish that they were equipped to deal with what I would experience, that my body was respected and I didn't have to debate it.

"For the last year I have been thinking that I would love one more baby but that I couldn't have one because I didn't want to risk this happening again. I am so over the moon that this clinic is happening, this allows me and my husband to have another child in safety."

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'Talked to like I was a terrible mother'

Jessica, 34, had her first child two years ago in a London hospital. She also helped design how the new clinic would operate.

She said: "Once you become pregnant, there is this assumption that everyone has access to your body. If you say no to that, you are considered a bad mother who puts herself before her baby. But I know I have to look after myself if I am to be mentally able enough to look after my child when she is born.

"Pregnancy meant I was no longer asked for consent, because they assumed I already consented to everything anyway and that's how I got pregnant. The thinking is so patriarchal. It's no surprise, because our hospitals and the health system have been set up by men. There's this idea that because they have a qualification they have access to you and your body, and it doesn't matter about you or your life.

"At 12 weeks I was told I had to have a transvaginal scan. I didn't want it because I was raped when I was 13 years old. I said I didn't want it but no-one listened to that, and I was talked to like I was a really terrible mother for not having this scan. Then when I experienced flashbacks as they did it, someone said: 'Why are you becoming hysterical? You need to calm down.'

"It was as if the entire thing was my fault. The whole thing was based on victim blaming. I felt it was another way I was being blamed, again, for having been raped. It turned out that the scan wasn't required at all for my baby, and it was to do with research to do with the length of cervixes."

Woman can self-refer themselves at the My Body Back Maternity Clinic, which is run by Barts Health NHS Trust and the My Body Back project at The Royal London Hospital.

To book an appointment email

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