The birth of her first child was a traumatic experience for Nahia Algorda (36). Without her husband by her side, hospital staff performed a caesarean section against the Spaniard’s consent, with her hands pinned and trembling with fear. Spanish courts rejected Algorda’s allegations of violence against midwives, but the United Nations backed him in July.
Since then, more than a hundred women have contacted Algorda saying “they experienced the same thing,” says the 36-year-old mother of three who lives in the Basque town of Zigur. Violence against midwives appears to be a widespread problem in Europe.
“Don’t you talk about it”
Algorda has been fighting for ten years to acknowledge the injustices he suffered. From the experiences of her first delivery in 2012, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, suffering from nightmares and insomnia – and experienced violent experiences during childbirth as taboo.
“You don’t talk about it because of the pain it causes, the shame and the idea that it’s like that, that’s it,” says Alcorta.
Victims of unprovoked violence
However, in the end, she was recognized by the UN as a victim of unjustified violence during childbirth. She called on the Spanish government to recognize the Committee on the Rights of Women (CEDAU) and provide appropriate compensation. The group also highlighted that such violence is “an all-too-common occurrence and entrenched in health systems”.
Before Algorda’s first delivery, the amniotic sac ruptured at 38 weeks of gestation. At the government hospital in San Sebastián, without further explanation from the staff, she was given oxytocin to induce labor – even though she was already in labor. Alcorta recalls that the staff’s responses to his questions became increasingly aggressive.
Weapons were repaired
The day after she was admitted, doctors decided to deliver Algorda’s son by caesarean section — without the expectant mother’s consent and despite a midwife telling her the labor process was progressing.
Surgery was performed with fixed arms as usual in some hospitals for surgery. Algorda was trembling with fear and her husband did not allow the staff to see her. “I was completely overwhelmed by their kindness,” she says.
“No ‘Birth A La Carte'”
However, Spanish courts rejected her complaint of violence at the midwifery. In a report to the Cedaw Committee, the Spanish government explained that there is no “birth à la carte” and that the decision on medical interventions is “up to the doctors”.
“I didn’t want a delivery ‘à la carte’, I wanted humane treatment, and I didn’t get that,” says Alcorta. Her lawyer, Francisca Fernandez Guillen, said medical staff and women’s relatives often downplayed the traumatic experiences of childbirth and advised them to “forget what happened”.
Switzerland is also said to be a problem
As the Federal Council explained a few years ago, there is no comprehensive data on this problem in Europe, not even in Switzerland. However, human rights groups insist that women continue to suffer from rude and degrading treatment by medical staff during childbirth.
In some countries, such as Spain and Italy, specific complaints systems have been set up to deal with domestic violence. However, court cases are generally rare.
According to Daniel Morillas, vice-president of the Spanish Association of Midwives, there is reason for optimism. He says medical workers are becoming more aware of the rights of expectant mothers. Much more needs to be done on this issue, but “the first thing to do to combat violence in the hospital is to acknowledge its existence”. (SDA)
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