But despite its universal health care system being widely lauded, many women in France experience obstetric violence during pregnancy and childbirth. Although conditions have improved in the past decade, experts and activists say the patriarchal culture of medicine in France leads to systemic mistreatment. Men represent 74 percent of board members of the French National College of gynaecologists and obstetricians but only 49 percent of OB-GYN practitioners. The practice of pushing on a woman’s stomach to aid childbirth, as experienced by Laura, had supposedly been banned by France’s national health authority (HAS) in 2007.
“It is as if as soon as you get pregnant, you have no rights, no brain.”
During a checkup exam, the same doctor examined Danielle vaginally without her permission, despite French law requiring informed consent. The Kouchner law, named for French doctor and politician Bernard Kouchner, is intended to protect patients rights, including asking for consent before a medical procedure.The vaginal examination set off contractions. Danielle went to the hospital and contacted her midwife, who told Danielle that the doctor had stretched her cervix during the exam. Although the contractions subsided, the same thing happened in a later checkup, again without her permission. This time, she was only two weeks away from her due date, and she went into labour. While waiting at the hospital, her doctor called, telling her that “if I say that you have to be strapped down to the table, then you have to be strapped down the table,” Danielle recalled.Shaking, Danielle returned to the delivery room, where the midwife said Danielle’s doctor had ordered her to forcibly break Danielle’s water using a long needle. The pain was immediate, and excruciating.“My whole entire body felt like it was shattering because my child started slamming against my pelvis instantaneously,” Danielle said. “At this point I am screaming, ‘I am going to die.’ And I'm gripped onto this midwife, who was actually also pregnant, and I am holding on to her face. I've got my arms wrapped around her neck. I’m just holding on for dear life.”
“At this point I am screaming, ‘I am going to die.’”
When Lara, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the details of the trauma she shared, gave birth at the Port-Royal Hospital in Paris in 2019, she was given a point du mari without informed consent and without a sufficiently-strong anaesthetic.“The last few stitches I felt raw because my anaesthesia was gone. After, the stitches pulled all over,” Lara said. “I continued to bleed for 3 months after the delivery.”She was in excruciating pain for two months and had to return to be reexamined several times. Lara had another operation nine months after her delivery and is going through post-operational rehabilitation. She sees a psychologist today too.“Of course, France is the country of human rights. But it is also a country of no rights in the delivery room,” Lara said. After experiencing excruciating pain, Lara went several times to be reexamined. Even when she went to a different practitioner, she was told that she was fine.
“France is the country of human rights. But it is also a country of no rights in the delivery room.”
“It is a taboo subject, and the goal of this report is to address those subjects concretely, to carry out hearings and in-depth hearings,” Schiappa said in an interview at the time. Bisch applauded the report, but says not enough has been done with the findings.“The reflection period was very important, but it's time to move on to concrete action,” she said.The Sorbonne Institute of Legal and Philosophical Studies launched a recent project that aims to identify avenues in the field of law to protect women from obstetric violence, or to seek recourse.Some hospitals in France are changing their practices. Danielle’s third pregnancy was a very different experience. She went to a special clinic in eastern Paris. There are birthing pools and a birthing center attached to the hospital for those who don’t want to give birth in a hospital. When Danielle went in for her first exam, the midwife only used an ultrasound machine, rather than examining Danielle vaginally, explaining that they know physical examinations can set off contractions, as had happened with Danielle. “I felt a lot more empowered,” she said. Most importantly, medical professionals and the general public need to listen to women. “We need to talk about it. You feel guilty talking about yourself because when you give birth to a child, the mother is relegated to the background. Of course it’s important that the child is well, but we aren’t sufficiently warned that this [trauma] can happen,” said Laura.“The most important thing is to listen to our pain, to take into account when we are in pain.”
“The most important thing is to listen to our pain, to take into account when we are in pain.”