'I felt so violated while giving birth that I had to hide in a bathroom.'

This story includes graphic depictions of sexual violence.

"I feel like a rape victim," Joanne* revealed.

Her trauma of giving birth in 2012 and 2016 is still as raw today as it was then.

"I was completely violated through vaginal examinations, even when I said no," she shared with Mamamia.

"I feel like I was raped, but it was 'okay' that it happened because it's seen as just part of birth, but it's not normal."

Joanne is one of over 4000 women who have submitted their birth experience to the landmark NSW inquiry into birth trauma.

It is the first government inquiry into birth trauma to be held in the world.

Watch: COPE's The Truth campaign unveils the profound and potentially long lasting emotional impacts following a traumatic birth. Post continues after video.

Video via COPE: Centre of Perinatal Excellence.

Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University Hannah Dahlen said the outpouring of submissions has been so overwhelming the government must take note.


"This is the #metoo of the birth world and it has roared into being," she said.

"We have the evidence we just need to get on and do something and if we valued women we would."

Joanne was just 20 when she had her first baby and was completely unprepared for the constant invasion of her body by health professionals.

As she laboured on all fours, a midwife put her whole hand inside to check the position of the baby's head.

"I screamed at her and told her to get out of me," she explained.

"I locked myself in the bathroom to hide because it was the only place I wasn't able to be touched. The only time I was able to get back into my breath and relax into my labour, that was when the midwife was saying to me 'I have to check you now' and before I had even a chance to say no, she was already touching me.

"They were banging on the door and telling me that I was putting myself and my baby at risk if I didn't open the door and let them in and they'd have to get a key and come in anyway. 

"I remember just looking at my partner and I was crying and saying 'I don't want to let them in but they will force their way in if I keep saying no'. So, I felt like I had no choice."

Desperate to make them stop the bullying, Joanne consented to an epidural. Within 10 minutes of the obstetrician arriving, she was told her baby’s heartbeat had dropped, there was meconium in the waters, and she’d need a caesarean.


Joanne didn't get to hold her baby. Instead, he was handed to her partner, and she was taken to recovery. 

"Everyone held my baby before I could see him," she said.

Postnatal depression set in almost immediately.

"My son was screaming, but I was numb in my body and felt completely emotionless," Joanne said.

"The postnatal depression would come in waves and when you come off the wave you feel like a horrible person.

"I cried all the time. I had an inner rage, but never understood at the time why.

"I tried to find something to blame for why I couldn't bond with him."

When she became pregnant again four years later, she felt her only option was to have a free birth without the support of any trained health professionals. 

"I didn't want to go through the violation of my body that I'd gone through with my son. I thought it was the only way to stay safe," Joanne recalled.

"I thought I'd go to one to two appointments and let them know I was pregnant, and I might need to go to hospital but that I planned to birth at home."

At her second antenatal appointment the obstetrician said she'd need a routine vaginal exam but didn't explain why. 


"I said I was not comfortable with that," Joanne said.

"She said to me, 'but you've had a baby before, haven't you?'. When I said yes, she said 'so haven't you had one of these before?' I told them not in my pregnancy and she replied, 'oh that’s strange, what are you afraid of?'

"I said I don't feel comfortable in a bright room with a student and you both doing a vaginal exam. 

"I eventually gave in due to bullying and while she was already doing it, she said, 'I am just going to do a stretch and sweep'. I had no idea what that was until years down the line, so there was no explanation or informed consent."

While labouring at home, Joanne began vomiting so much that fear set in, and she began to question herself and decided to go to hospital for a check-up.

However, once she got there, she was told they had a duty of care and she had to stay.

Listen: The Quicky team looks at how this inquiry hopes to change things and how the truth telling will not be easy. Post continues after podcast.

That night her waters broke, and the contractions ramped up to an overwhelming intensity.

The midwives insisted a monitor was put on, which Joanne said took her back emotionally to the trauma of the first birth.


She found herself squashed in a tiny room with several midwives and an obstetrician.

"People kept walking in and out. They acted like I wasn't a labouring woman. Like I wasn't a priority, no one cared what I was doing. I was left alone, although there were so many people in the room," she shared.

Joanne begged to go home but was told they'd call the police and do a welfare check if she did.

"I just wanted to get out of there to feel safe and they basically held me there against my will," Joanne explained.

"After one of the contractions I felt so out of control, I asked for an epidural, I felt like I couldn't do it anymore, there were so many lights, noises, normal conversations around me and I felt so out of it."

The male obstetrician said he'd have to do a vaginal examination before giving her an epidural, which Joanne said she didn't want due to the trauma of the first birth, but felt she was given no option but to comply.

She was then told the baby's head was raised, and she'd need a caesarean, but he'd try to use forceps first.

"I didn’t know what forceps were," Joanne said. "It wasn't explained to me. I was completely traumatised by that point. He tried the forceps but then said he'd have to do the c-section, anyway."

When she woke up, there was a male midwife in her room and she didn't know what had happened.


"I said, 'what's going on? Did I have a baby? Where is my baby?' and he laughed and said she was in nursery, and I was in recovery and I'd have to stay here for a while," she said.

Joanne's baby daughter spent 10 days in intensive care and for the first two days she didn't see her because no one came to take her in a wheelchair.

Despite the years that have passed the distraught mum continues to grieve for all that she lost in those births.

She has virtually no photos of her babies and the trauma she experienced carried through into life after the birth contributing to the breakdown of her relationship with her partner.

Joanne hopes sharing her story will at the inquiry will bring about change and prevent other women going through the same ordeal.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

And if you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.