Helena, the mother victim of obstetric violence who decided to become a midwife and now advises the UN

  • Helena was abused during the birth of her first child and decided to become a midwife to avoid the suffering of other women

  • She has set up a company dedicated to the training of midwives that operates internationally in Spanish-speaking countries.

  • For the UN she has developed a protocol based on respect and informed consent of women in all interventions during childbirth

The traumatic birth of her first daughter changed her life Helena Eyimi from Madrid forever. “The midwife treated me terrible, she yelled at me, she called me names… she just needed to hit me‘ she recalls now, years later, still unable to help a lump in her throat.

What was supposed to be one of the best experiences of her life turned into a nightmare for her.. “I came in with all my enthusiasm, with a birth plan that I had prepared and she smashed it in front of my nose,” she says. “She told me…” Here I am the midwife and things get done as I say”.

Elena suffered obstetric violence, a bad practice “all too common in Spain”, says Helena, in which the pregnant woman suffers ill-treatment, being judged, frightened, humiliated or hurt physically and psychologically during pregnancy, childbirth or the puerperium.

Includes inappropriate or non-consensual acts, such as Non-consensual episiotomies, painful operations without anesthesia, forcing to give birth in a certain position or providing excessive or unnecessary medicalization which can lead to sometimes serious complications.

‘They shaved me, put me on an IV to no avail, but the icing on the cake was that the midwife forced me to give me an enema. I didn’t want to, but she maintained it was hospital protocol. What I’ I’ll tell you it may be scatological but it’s very explicit,” she adds. “She forcibly enemated me and when she gave me the next contraction I went straight to the bathroom. I shit all over the place. I remember seeing myself reflected in the mirror, full of shit and it makes me want to cry. It was at that moment that I said to myself, I’m going to become a midwife to try and make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

“Informed consent is necessary for the woman during childbirth”

Helena has asked for voluntary leave. He came home and suffered PTSD that she still remembers. “I reported that midwife and she was suspended for six months from work and salary. In Spain there are more and more women who dare to report the violence they suffer during childbirth but they are still few. If there were more, some toilets would reconsider how they treat us in such delicate moments, ”she points out.

That ordeal made her an activist against obstetric violence. “At the time I was a flight attendant for British Airways. I was 27, but I dropped everything. I started studying nursing, then went to England to specialize in midwifery and stayed there, fighting every day to change things”, he says proudly.

Her journey led her to join the association The birth is ours meeting other women, with families, meetings at the Obstetric Violence Observatory in Spain… years and years of activism that failed to stop even an unexpected cervical cancer that was diagnosed. “On the contrary. She gave me more strength to continue,” she says emphatically.

His dedication and commitment culminated when two years ago he received a phone call from the UN. “They told me that they had heard about my work, my struggle and that they wanted to offer me the position of women’s health midwife,” she says. “I could not believe it.” “I created a action protocol for the United Nations team which is applied in missions around the world and whose bases are essentially the respect and informed consent to the woman in all interventions during childbirth. You have to ask the woman what she wants, keep her dignity, her privacy. Take her religious beliefs into consideration when treating her, for example, if she is a Muslim woman, and there is an option, so that female staff look after her, etc,” she explains.

“Hospitals and professionals around the world must comply with the recommendations of the World Health Organization in this regard. Constantupdate clinical practice based on scientific evidence in the toilets that attend deliveries, know that an episiotomy is not necessarywhat keeping the woman lying down during delivery is counterproductive for the offspring of the child and for the birth, which after the birth of the child, the baby must go skin to skin with the mother and not cut the umbilical cord nothing else to be born, that the enema has no scientific evidencecreates more inconvenience than good. We have to put an end to a lot of routines that are performed that harm women,” she says.

Effects of obstetric violence on women

The impact of midwifery on a woman’s life can change its course forever.”Elena points out. “It happened to me. I decided to study and fight to change it, but other women decide not to have any more children. One creates them horrible traumahay many depressions after delivery. It causes very complex situations,” she warns. “Unfortunately I know many women, thousands, who have had a bad experience and you don’t know the difference there is with those who have experienced a joyful birth, the bond they have created with their child they feel super powerful, they feel powerful, yes they feel cared for, they feel they can handle everything,” defends Helena.

«That’s why our role, that of midwives, must be to stand by the woman continuously, always. Accompany, inform and support women in all their health cycles, not only in childbirth, even in menarche or menopause … who are in menopause and do not want to take hormones, so give me other alternatives, that I am pregnant and I want to try a home birth… so support me. Tell me where can I go…

Must take care of women individually focusing on your needs and not hospital protocols. Because I see midwives feel the duality in their practice. They seem torn between the obligation to respect the hospital protocol and the real needs of the woman.

Training professionals as the only alternative

“There is a new international midwifery movement that I am transmitting and that combines ancestral wisdom with scientific evidence. The message is that midwives We don’t have to be fully medicalized, we’re not little doctors, but we’re not potion-making witches either. The two can be mixed for the benefit and satisfaction of the woman“, he proposes.

“Midwives and health professionals who care for women during childbirth need to be aware of this You can’t yell at a woman who’s in labor, we must not abuse our white coat power. We are at the service of women. If the lady vomits or shits, we are at your service. We have to support, encourage and protect her at the moment when there is a deviation from normality,” she argues.

“We must all work as a team. The midwife must inform the gynecologist and the midwife is the one who decides, but it must be clear that she must have her autonomy. She is not below the midwife and must not limit herself to obeying her orders. He has sufficient expertise, education and training to make his own decisions. Now that’s not happening. In Spain midwives do what the doctor says, period. “Cut it, well, cut it, put a line over it, and put it on, let it lay, and he does it, even though he many times he knows what he’s doing is counterproductive to the patient,” he complains.

“I’ll give you some information,” says the midwife. “Spain is the country in Europe that makes the most instrumental deliveries. Do you know what it means to put a forceps in a vagina? What can damage the perineum and the complications of incontinence it can bring in the future? the baby’s head goes down,” she details.

“Must put an end to obstetric violencewomen are starting to raise their voices against this aberration and we midwives must live up to it, accompany them in this fight, for your daughters, for mine, for all those to come”, she concludes.

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