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Holding The Safe Space

A womyn I am serving is on day 3 of her labor. I know her well and know her story. She is close in age to me and this being her first child, is of course naturally nervous and a bit scared of the whole thing, which is why she asked me to be there for her. And because of my great love for womyn, I smiled and said yes.

Today was the second time we went to the hospital. They kept her in triage for a while, so only one person could be with her at a time. We were at a hospital with a bad reputation for being inattentive so I was both apprehensive and unsurprised about this. The one nurse I connected with there was kind though, so I felt a little better.

My friend’s husband and I traded places because he needed to get something to eat. I asked her what was going on. She looked me in the eyes.

“They only have a male doctor who can check me for dialation. He looks just like the man who…”

I held her hand and looked right back at her.

“I know.”

Shortly after, the nurse and doctor came in. They told us that the only other female doctor was in the middle of a C-Section and would be a while. I looked back at her and then looked at the nurse.

“She really can’t be checked by a male doctor.”

The nurse looked at me like she knew, and told us she’d give us a minute. My friend looked up at me.

“I can’t get checked by him.”

“I know. It will trigger you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Later, I told the nurse of her decision and she gave me a knowing nod.

I’ve been thinking about this moment all day, since my friend was sent home again to wait out her labor. I remember learning in my doula training about being careful with language when talking to birthing mothers. A mother in labor is at her most sensitive; all of her traumas and fears are at the forefront as she goes into her unconscious mind. We touched on being with womyn who might have a history of sexual violence and how certain language, i.e “Spread your legs” or “Relax”, could trigger them into a place of terror. Today that became so clear to me, having the sensitivity of personal experience to guide me but also knowing her story.

I wonder how many labor and delivery floors are trained or briefed on this very real matter, given the fact that 1 in 3 womyn experience some type of sexual violence in their life. I wonder how many women are scoffed at when they ask for a female doctor and unable to bring themselves to say why they cannot have a vaginal exam with a male doctor. Today this became clear to me: we must be sensitive to this. We must not only hold a safe space for womyn to birth as they wish, but also support their desire to be examined in a way they feel comfortable. Even if you have not experienced this type of violence, many of our sisters have and we must be vigilant that we make the space as safe as possible for them. Let us doulas remember that it is not just a baby coming into the world, it is a womyn with a life that came before this moment and will continue to be a part of her.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Stella Paul's picture


Can I tell you something? I often find it difficult to talk to people who are rough with their words, often choosing the insensitive ones. And yes, when a woman has been a victim of gender violence, fear is bound to return at the very mention of certain words. The key is to understand and respect this, not question or wish away the difficulties. Nice read!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

MaDube's picture

Great post. We often take for

Great post. We often take for granted the enormity of other people's experiences and how small words can trigger bad memories. And some nurses are hardly sensitive are they. At least your friend was lucky yo get someone who understood her plea.

Greengirl's picture

Sensitivity is key!

There is no doubting the fact that certain words and circumstances do trigger memories one would prefer buried. It's important that people should be sensitive to and also respect the feelings of others.It sure would make the world a better, safer and comfortable haven for everyone. Thanks for sharing.


Nusrat Ara's picture

Such care is rarely taken.

Such care is rarely taken. Thanks for bringing this up.



LatiNegra's picture

thank you sisters!

thank you sisters!

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer

flora1's picture

Words are powerful


What you have written is so important that I think you should send it to hospital training programs. Even if only one in a thousand read your e-mail, even if only one person is moved to teach what you are saying to one class, it would be powerful.

This is how change happens, one voice at a time.

Thank you for addressing something I have never heard addressed in a hospital delivery context. As I read your words, I kept thinking "of course....of makes so much sense"

Keep writing and spreading your important message.


LatiNegra's picture

wow. thank you so much! i

wow. thank you so much! i would love to send this to a hospital training program. let me know how to make that happen.

thank you for your means the world to me :)

Ynanna Djehuty
Certified Birth Doula and Writer

flora1's picture

I just googled for a few

I just googled for a few minutes and found everything from eTraining companies that supply on-line courses to individual hospitals who publish training materials. I don't know anything more than you do about how to navigate their system of adoption of programs but I think if you send this story, shortened as a letter, you might start a dialogue.

Also, I am certain that through the various doula and midwife community blogs you can probably get some great advice.

Keep me posted!


CoachMarcie's picture

So True

Great writing! The story you told is so true and really got me thinking. Being subject to sexual assault in any manner is a life changing event. And, the sad part is women endure so much! Yes, keep us all in the loop and I wish you well along with your friend.

Coach Marcie


amymorros's picture

A Safe Space

Thank you for your contribution. I learned a lot by reading this story. Many medical professionals need to be sensitized to this type of situation.Best of luck in your work.


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