The re-enactment of childhood sexual abuse in maternity care: A qualitative study
Montgomery E., Pope C., Rogers J.
© 2015 Montgomery et al. Background: The process of pregnancy and birth are profound events that can be particularly challenging for women with a history of childhood sexual abuse. The silence that surrounds childhood sexual abuse means that few women disclose it and those caring for them will often not be aware of their history. It is known from anecdotal accounts that distressing memories may be triggered by childbirth and maternity care but research data on the subject are rare. This paper explores aspects of a study on the maternity care experiences of women who were sexually abused in childhood that demonstrate ways that maternity care can be reminiscent of abuse. Its purpose is to inform those providing care for these women. Methods: The experiences of women were explored through in-depth interviews in this feminist narrative study. The Voice-Centred Relational Method and thematic analysis were employed to examine interview data. Results: Women sometimes experienced re-enactment of abuse through intimate procedures but these were not necessarily problematic in themselves. How they were conducted was important. Women also experienced re-enactment of abuse through pain, loss of control, encounters with strangers and unexpected triggers. Many of these experiences were specific to the woman, often unpredictable and not necessarily avoidable. Maternity care was reminiscent of abuse for women irrespective of whether they had disclosed to midwives and was not necessarily prevented by sensitive care. 'Re-enactment of abuse' occurred both as a result of events that involved the crossing of a woman's body boundaries and more subjective internal factors that related to her sense of agency. Conclusions: As staff may not know of a woman's history, they must be alert to unspoken messages and employ 'universal precautions' to mitigate hidden trauma. Demonstrating respect and enabling women to retain control is crucial. Getting to know women is important in the building of trusting relationships that will facilitate the delivery of sensitive care and enable women to feel safe so that the re-enactment of abuse in maternity care is minimised.