I am the first person to admit that I have issues regarding my personal space and who has access or “control” over my body. A lot of these, I’m sure, could be traced back to unfortunate encounters in relationships and otherwise when I was a teenager but some of the most profound ones stem from my last birth experience — something I like to think I’ve mostly gotten past, but wonder if I’ll ever really get over.
That said, I have always given consent for student doctors to be present in my medical care. There was a student midwife present for my previous pregnancy and birth; #2’s regular CHEO appointments are often attended by students, and have been since before he was born; I’ve had two “fascinating” gynecological surgeries to deal with endometriosis — one when 19wks pregnant — that have been observed and followed up by residents; and add to those a few handfuls of other specialist appointments for various things.
The only time I have declined to have a student involved is with this pregnancy — partly because of my hang-ups over my last birth experience and partly because of the timing. The new student midwives are only coming on-board now and I don’t feel there’s the time between now and the birth for me to build a relationship of trust with a new person.
Six years later, I still feel as though I was attacked at #2’s birth by the people I had grown to trust. I can remember the physical pain as clear as if it had happened yesterday — long after the memory of labour pains faded. I remember screaming “no!” and feeling exposed and vulnerable at a time when I needed my care providers to respect me, seeing them turn from protectors to attackers in an instant. I remember being robbed of control by those same practitioners. For a long time, my desire to have another child warred with feeling as though there was no one I could trust to care for me during another pregnancy. I still find that every year, around #2’s birthday, I feel vulnerable again — like I failed myself somehow in not preventing the fiasco that took place at his birth. I would be lying to say it doesn’t have me apprehensive about what could happen this time around, despite choosing a different care provider. That single incident over 6 years ago has left me with a lot of baggage.
I honestly wonder sometimes if just being in a hospital for that birth was my implied consent for the various ways I feel I was violated. Part of me wonders if that’s the same mind-set as a sexually assaulted woman wondering if she was dressed too provocatively or somehow “asking for it”.
So imagine my dismay when I read that anesthetized women at teaching hospitals in Canada are frequently used as real live dummies for non-consensual pelvic exams. My first thought was, quite honestly, “Has this happened to me?” My second thought was more of a knee-jerk reaction — I’m not so sure I want to consent to having students present anymore if they’re going to be present and performing procedures without my consent at other times.
There are various petitions circulating now in the hope of ending this practice. I recommend you educate yourself on the issue, think about your own feelings, and sign one.
Providing consent is critical to maintaining a sense of control over what happens to ones body. Without consent, control has been stolen by someone else. Implied consent isn’t good enough — a definite YES or NO is needed. I will certainly be thinking twice before saying “yes” next time…