Finland has started tallying births by circumcised mothers as the medical community is increasingly dealing with delivery complications caused by female genital mutilation, FGM.
Päivi Polo, who heads the women’s clinic at Turku University Hospital, told Yle she sees 1-2 circumcised patients every week, a practice where some or all of a woman's or girl's external genital organs are cut or damaged for cultural beliefs. Female genital mutilation is most prevalent on the African continent, particularly in Egypt.
”We had 50 circumcised women giving birth in Turku last year, and we have to be able to serve circumcised women in the best way possible,” Polo told Yle.
FGM can cause serious medical complications, from urinary problems to severe infections and extremely painful, or obstructed deliveries, according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics.
It was only last year that Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) began recording births by circumcised women in Finland, and other major hospitals have also failed to keep detailed records. The THL, however, estimates that a few hundred circumcised women gave birth in Finland last year.
Meanwhile Seija Grenman, Polo’s predecessor at Turku University Hospital, pointed out that medical practitioners should be sensitive not to project any judgement on circumcised women, even though the practice is criminalised in Finland.
To respect patients, medical practitioners use the word 'circumcision' instead of 'mutilation', according to Grenman.
FGM outlawed in Finland
”Suspicions of planned FGM have to be reported to both the police and child welfare authorities in Finland,” explained Grenman, who currently serves as vice president for The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).
Polo and Grenman said most cut women in Finland were circumcised before arriving here, but that girls born in Finland may also be subjected to FGM.
”It can happen without the parents’ even knowing about it if the girls are visiting relatives back home,” Polo explained.
”It’s not up to a three or seven-year-old girl to decide if she’ll be cut or not. Circumcision is a male tool for ensuring that girls remain untouched before marriage,” Roda Hassan, a Turku city councilwoman and Somali interpreter, told Yle.
Hassan said obstetricians today are more aware of FGM than they were in the 90s. Nowadays prenatal clinics will inform the local hospital if an FGM woman is due to give birth.
”Many are aware of the fact that the majority of Somali women are cut. And some doctors know how to approach the issue of how FGM complicates labour and delivery with the patient,” Hassan explained.
"Circumcised women may worry about delivery, so it’s very important that physicians are able to communicate to these mothers that they are equipped to handle FGM births," she added.
In Finland, circumcised women are not sewn back up after giving birth, but receive reconstructive surgery. Polo said that this is often explained to male family members ahead of delivery.