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Finland's health watchdog seeks funding to research delivery room mistreatment

Some in Finland say that society turns a blind eye to the maltreatment of women during childbirth.

File photo of newborn baby. Image: AOP

The National Institute for Health and Welfare THL says it is currently looking for sources of funding for research into the phenomenon of delivery room mistreatment of women in labour. The disclosure follows an online campaign in which women shared stories of their childbirth experiences.

Reminiscent of the #metoo movement which exposed cases of sexual assault against women, the #Minämyössynnyttäjänä (roughly #Metooduringchildbirth) campaign sought to draw attention to the stories of women who felt they were mistreated in the delivery room.

"The doctor at the hospital got angry and threatened me, saying that I had to come in to be induced or they would perform a C-section. I felt that i was being forced into procedures that were previously traumatic for me. On top of that, I had spoken about my fears many times before," one mother disclosed in the campaign.

The outpouring of personal accounts prompted THL as well as the Federation of Finnish Midwives to collaborate in order to make the act of giving birth a more positive, inclusive experience for women.

Marjo Lyyra, chair of the midwives' federation, said the group is worried that the childbirth campaign has made expectant mothers more fearful.

On the other hand, Katriina Bildjuschkin, a sex educator at THL - and a trained midwife - told Yle the discussion surrounding Finnish birthing culture was welcome.

"Women should not be coerced, harmed, left feeling helpless or denied help. They are entitled to participate, self-determination and access to information,” Bildjuschkin explained. She added that research into women's treatment in the delivery room needs to be approached from several dimensions.

"Historical aspects, birth experience satisfaction, real risks to the health of the mother or foetus as well as the mother's participation in childbirth. If our mothers are saying that this doesn't feel good, then of course we need to pay close attention. It's time to look into the root causes."

"Ashamed of my colleagues"

Yle wanted to learn about midwives' experiences as caregivers during childbirth as well, and enlisted the help of the midwives' federation to conduct a Facebook survey among its members.

"Sometimes I’m so ashamed of how my colleagues practice this profession," said one midwife working in Finnish hospitals for the past 15 years.

"To intentionally hurt someone, making the experience comparable to rape seems strange and macabre," wrote another midwife with 12 years experience.

"I don’t think any midwife wants to hurt the mother or be cruel. I doubt anyone performs an episiotomy without reason," said a midwife with two decades’ experience, referring to the medical procedure which entails a surgical incision of the posterior vaginal wall to enlarge the opening for a baby to emerge.

Another midwife pointed to challenges posed by technology: "I feel there’s a huge conflict between the physiology of birth and medicalisation of birth. We induce far too many births, and we’re losing the art of midwifery while staring at beeping machines."

Bildjuschkin said there haven’t been studies on how midwives are able to deal with very busy schedules during their shifts.

Many midwives joining the online discussion said they were glad the campaign was drawing attention to the effects of under-staffing in many maternity wards, particularly during peak periods.