At any given time, as I scroll through facebook I see multiple friends and family’s post-pregnancy and birth announcements. I smile as I think about the excitement around gender reveal parties, baby showers, decorating nurseries and choosing names. These little bundles of joy can bring… well, so much joy, but as most parents can attest, newborns can also bring a lot of stress and strain to a healthy relationship. And if that relationship is already abusive to begin with, pregnancy can become a very dangerous time for mom and baby.
With pregnancy and domestic violence, statistics tell us:
- Women in childbearing years (18 to 34) generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. (NCADV)
- Pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for people in abusive relationships, and abuse can often begin or escalate during the pregnancy (Mezey & Bewley, 1997)
- Murder is the 2nd most common cause of injury related death for pregnant women (31%) after car accidents (Chang, Berg, Saltzman, & Hernodon 2005)
- Trauma and abuse are risk factors for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues (Mezey & Bewley, 1997)
What these unfortunate statistics tell us is that safety planning with women who are pregnant is extremely important. There are many important and delicate factors to consider to protect the safety of the mother and the baby. As always, survivors are the experts in their own safety. Below are some additional ideas for survivors and their loved ones to think about during this special time.
Safety Considerations During Pregnancy
- Attending prenatal visits. It is important for mothers to attend their prenatal visits to ensure that mom and baby are physically healthy. This also gives mom a chance to talk to health care providers about resources available to her, and her safety.
- Being aware of all the attention on mom during pregnancy. Between facebook messages, baby showers, and strangers, pregnant women get a lot of (deserving) attention. An abusive partner might become jealous and resent the attention mom is receiving.
- During pregnancy, moms naturally focus a lot of attention “inward” toward their unborn baby. Abusers can become jealous of the baby, and the attention mom is giving to her body and the pregnancy. Abusers might think mom will love the baby more then him and could see the baby as a threat to his entitlement. If mom is having a difficult pregnancy (morning sickness, bed rest, etc.) and requires more assistance, abusers, most often, will not be helpful or resent the care and attention mom needs.
- Physical safety. As stated earlier, abusive men can escalate during pregnancy. Mom can put together a safety plan for if abuser escalates.
- Creating a birth plan. Although one can never truly plan every aspect of labor, thinking about and creating an informed birth plan can help alleviate some of the stress for mom in the delivery room.
- Self care. Abusive partners take up a lot of energy and emotional space. It is important for mom to find space to take care of herself and baby.
Safety Considerations During Labor and Delivery
If She is Living with Abuser
- Labor and delivery is very emotionally and physically taxing. Having supportive people in the room can be very helpful to mom. If abuser is there as well, and mom feels comfortable, mom can “assign” one of her support people to him to keep him distracted.
- Disclosing to hospital staff. Again if mom feels comfortable disclosing about the abuse, she can share information with medical staff or create a code word to alert staff if she feels unsafe and needs to have abuser removed.
- Distracting abuser. Mom can give abuser a job or task, going to the store, contacting family to keep him occupied
- There is also a strong likelihood that abuser will choose not to be present in the labor and delivery room. She might also be isolated from supportive friends or family. If that is the case, mom will need to be emotionally prepared to go through delivery alone.
If She Has Left Abuser
- Again, surrounding mom with safe people can help to support her emotionally through labor and delivery.
- If abuser knows the hospital and delivery date, he might try to meet mom at the hospital. Can someone else drive mom to the hospital, so abuser cannot identify where she is by her car?
- If mom feels comfortable, she can share information with hospital staff/security about abuser. Sharing her protective order or a photo of abuser to security and asking if they will inform her if he shows up.
- She can ask hospital staff to use a pseudonym for her at the desk in case he comes to the hospital asking for her.
- When she leaves the hospital mom can ask security to do a sweep beforehand or walk out with her to the car.
- Being aware of loved ones posting pictures on social media accidentally notifying abuser of the birth of the baby or location of mom.
Safety Considerations During Postpartum
- Between the physical trauma of vaginal delivery or c-section and having a new born baby, mom can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. The abuser might escalate or become jealous of the attention mom is giving baby.
- Trauma and stress can increase the likelihood of mom developing postpartum depression.
Thinking about and applying some of these considerations may help increase a mother’s safety, BUT it can never be guaranteed. Abuse is always the fault of the abuser. Mothers should not have to plan and consider safety from an abuser while she is expecting. We, at Genesis, are here to help. If you, or someone you know is pregnant and experiencing abuse, please call us. We can talk through safety, resources, and counseling options for mom and baby.
Written by Krista Fultz, director of advocacy and education at Genesis Women’s Shelter.
Mezey, Gillian C., and Bewley Susan. “Domestic Violence and Pregnancy: Risk Is Greatest after Delivery.”
BMJ: British Medical Journal. 314.7090 (1997): 1295. Print. Risk of abuse is greatest after delivery
Jeani Chang, MPH, Cynthia J. Berg, MD, MPH, Linda E. Saltzman, PhD and Joy Herndon, MS, “Homicide: A Leading Cause of Injury Deaths Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women in the United States, 1991-1999,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 95 No. 3, pg. 471-77 (2005).