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birthmother stories

"It was the worst place to be if you were an "unwed mother" in labour ... the nurse slashed my private parts several times with a razor"
- Catherine

Many of us experienced abuse at our deliveries that even animals don't receive.  Having our babies taken away from us for days and not being allowed to hold them, being forcably given shots (of DES?) to dry up our milk, being denied pain relief, and - in Australia - cut by doctors in a certain way to BRAND us for life as a birthmother. 

Below, is Catherine's story of how the medical establishment of one Canadian hospital treated her and other unwed mothers.  If you are an adopter reading this story, remember this is what we went often through, leaving the hospital with milk dripping and empty arms, while you were given the most important, precious thing in our lives.  If you ever meet your child's natural mother, please consider letting her into her child's life as a parent and not just a visitor.   If a mother can love more than one child, a child can love more than one mother.  Haven't we been punished enough for our sin of fertility without wedlock?

Womens College Hospital was the worst place to be if you were an "unwed mother" in labour.  It was 1978.

I was thrown against the wall (which bruised my ribs) and forced to have an unnecessary enema with cold water. Both the nurses that attended me during labour shouted abuse at me about being a slut and an unfit mother. Both of them told me to shut up and stop moaning.

In those days they shaved you before you gave birth. They used an old-fashioned barbers razor - it looks like a big knife. The nurse had finished shaving me when she said "I am going to teach you a lesson about being a little whore." Then one of them stood as lookout at the door while the other one slashed me many times in my private parts just as my son's head was crowning, cutting very deeply. She did not realise how far dialated I was - she had not bothered to check. My son's head was crowning and the razor also slashed his head too. They both left the room and left me to bleed, suffering incredible agony. I passed out.

Next thing I know, I was wheeled into the delivery room. The doctor took one look at me and screamed "Get out!" at the nurse who cut me. She did and I never saw her again. My son went into distress and my contractions were stopping. They drugged me up to the hilt - epidural, drip and god knows what else. I remember the doctor shouting that he could not see anything because of the cuts and the amount of blood pouring out of me. I remember the smell of burning flesh as the doctor frantically tried to suture the mess left behind so he could deliver my son. They had to use forceps to turn him around and the cord was around his neck. My son was blue and silent for a few terrible moments when he was born. Then he cried and turned pink. Thank God he was okay but he still had cuts on his head from where the nurse slashed him. They still continued to top up my epidural even after my son was born. At this point I didn't know why. The doctor left the room.

The doctor who delivered my son told-off the nurse who had done that to me but I received no apology. 

After the birth of my son (which had complications) two nurses held my down to dry up my milk without permission - one of them jabbed me so hard with the needle that 20 years on I still have a mark from that on my thigh. I had been given several top-ups on  the epidural towards the end - I think it was done so that I couldn't struggle to get away from the needle. They said that my milk was not good enough for my son. They left me to shiver naked for half an hour on a trolley before taking me to the ward.

The damage done to my son's head was so bad that the hospital put him into a nursery all on his own so no one would see the cuts. So no one could see the damage done to my son, he was put into a separate nursery at the other end of the hospital. I was not allowed a picture of him. I was told to look after him as they claim they did not have enough staff to look after him. I think it was the hospital's way of keeping this abuse quiet. I was very lucky to be able to spend those 10 days with my son before they took him away. The other girls from the home were not allowed near their babies in the main nursery. I still get angry and upset about the way we were all treated. I swear that the nurses must have studied "Course 101 - Nazi torture for birthmothers". No one was very nice to me there. Even the kinder ones covered up for the nasty ones.

The treatment of my baby and myself was barbaric. I know another girl who had her baby at the same time I did (she was at the same maternity home as me) at the same hospital. After she delivered her baby (breech birth) the doctor shoved her hand up her uterus and *punched* her hard repeatly - other staff had to restrain the doctor. My friend could hardly walk after that terrible treatment.

The scars are so bad that when I had my other two children in Britain, all the medical staff were appalled at the damage left. They could still see the many scars as my other childrens head crowned. One of them asked me who had done that to me and that who ever it was should be shot. Her exact words were: 

"I have delivered babies for 20 years. I have delivered babies of women who have 6 or 7 children. But in all my years, I have never been such damage done to a woman with so few children. It is the worst scarring I have ever seen - there is no flesh left." 

I have now launched a formal complaint to Womens College Hospital. I am awaiting their answer (nothing short of an apology will do).  If Womens College want to sue me, they better remember that this scarring has been noted in my medical files - the scars caused problems with the delivery of my other 2 children.

I will never forgive them for the treatment I received. They even refused to let me have a photograph taken of my son despite the fact I was still legally his mother.

I only managed to get his birth necklace through the kindness of the doctor that delivered him - that doctor was the only one that treated me like a human being.

One day I would like to see a movie made that shows *all* the horrors we were subjected to. I must admit that I am thinking about writing my story - the public need to be made aware of what was done to us - the whole list of human rights violations.

They have a war crimes court - there should be a court for crimes against birthmothers.


I have just received a letter from Womens College Hospital.

They said that all of the treatment I received at the time including having my milk dried up straight after birth without consent was *Standard Practise of Care* for that time at Women's College Hospital (1978). They said they were truly sorry for these things and that all these terrible procedures were no longer done. My letter of complaint about documentation errors has been put into the records.

I flabbergasted at the honesty. It is an admission by a hospital in writing that this treatment was systemic and was probably practised at all hospitals in the Toronto area.

There is one thing though for those who think I should sue. I can't. Womens College has renamed itself to Sunnybrook and Womens Hospital which makes it a new legal entity. Womens College Hospital no longer exists (it is now called Womens College *Campus* of Sunnybrook and Womens Hospital). You can't sue something that doesn't exist.

Just change the hospital's name and they can't be sued! It seems that hospitals are changing their names to get out of major lawsuits. They hung onto my complaint long enough to make sure that the paperwork for the name change was complete for the hospital.

No wonder they could afford to be so honest. At least it confirms what we thought all along - that our treatment was institutionalised abuse by the system.

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