Pregnancy is a time when I wish that everyone experienced only good things. I want you to be safe, healthy, joyful and a glowing up.
After all, it is physically and emotionally demanding to grow an entire human. If we’re protected at any point in our lives, this would be the time.
But, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I want to take time to acknowledge that pregnancy is not always a time when women are safe.
Experts have a difficult time determining how common intimate partner violence is during pregnancy. Estimates range from 3 in 100 pregnant women in the US, to as high as 1 in 10 nationally.
While this is an issue that none of us are exempt from, some groups are more vulnerable. Young mothers, those living in poverty, single women and women of color are all at higher risk of experiencing violence. These groups have had rates as high as 50% in some studies.
This violence is not solely physical harm (though that is certainly a part of the picture). Partners can also attempt to hurt someone emotionally, with manipulation, insults and arguments. Efforts to control the finances and make a pregnant woman dependant can also be a form of violence.
Why am I talking about intimate partner violence, when generally, people look to doulas to be optimistic and uplifting?
Because I want women going through this to know that they are not alone, that it is not their fault, and that they deserve to be loved and cared for.
As a doula, I see how challenging the times of pregnancy and postpartum are, even for women with a great deal of support. And I have also seen how isolating the experience can be, and the stress that it can place on relationships.
I believe that it is vital that we name this as a phenomenon that does occur, so that women understand that they are not alone. Whether or not you are ready to leave, or share your story, know that you deserve to be treated well.
So, if someone has found their way to this page who is not safe, I want to tell you a few things.
First, I understand that finding a way to be safe is hard.
It is perfectly reasonable to be afraid of what will happen if you leave, worry that you don’t have a way to support yourself and your child(ren), or hope that it will get better. No matter what, this isn’t your fault.
Second, there are steps that you can take towards safety.
ACOG suggests the following safety plan, in order to leave quickly:
- Pack a bag ahead of time and give it to a friend. It should include clothing (for you and your children), toiletries you may need, and an extra set of keys.
- Keep important items such as ID, medicine, cash, health insurance cards and birth certificates or other important records handy.
- Know where you would go, before you leave. This may be a shelter, friend or family member.
- Get medical treatment if you are hurt.
I’m also talking about this, because I want everyone to know that things can and do get better.
Many women who experience IPV cope in ways that don’t improve their health, or that of their baby. They may withdraw from friends and family, and are at higher risk of mood disorders. And long term, this can affect not only their own wellbeing, but their baby inside the womb and after birth.
But this situation can improve. No one has to stay in a situation where they are being hurt.
Please know that there are resources for pregnant women in DC and Maryland that are experiencing IPV, or are not safe.
Let someone know, so that you can get help. You don’t have to be alone.