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Violence in Pregnancy

By Brea Onokpise, MPH, CHES

Violence in Pregnancy

Are you experiencing violence in pregnancy?

Janie is 24 weeks pregnant and lives with her boyfriend, Roy. She’s excited about the arrival of her baby girl but worries when Roy pushes her, shouts and calls her names. She knows Roy is happy about the baby—he’s just under a lot of stress. She hopes everything will be OK once the baby arrives.

Janie is not alone—1 in 4 women in the US experience some form of sexual or physical abuse at some point in her life, estimates the National Violence Against Women Survey.

Has your partner ever stalked you? Isolated you from family and friends? Prevented you from taking birth control? Or forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to (rape)? These are all forms of control and aggression.

Sadly, pregnancy is a common time when violence can begin in a relationship. Although you feel joy, your partner may feel he’s losing control over you due to your baby’s needs. He may continue or begin to yell, call you hurtful names, hit, push, kick, or slap you. If you’re being abused, you’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. You and your baby have a right to be safe.

Recognize an abusive situation

Are any of the following true for you? Ask yourself: Does my partner…

  • Make me feel unsafe?
  • Repeatedly suggest abortion?
  • Call me hurtful names?
  • Keep me from friends and family?
  • Accuse me of sleeping around?
  • Prevent me from earning my own money?
  • Shove, slap, hit, kick, or push me?
  • Threaten me with weapons?
  • Use illegal drugs?
  • Drink to get drunk?
  • Destroy my belongings?

If you answered yes to just one of these questions, you’re in a potentially abusive relationship. The more yes answers, the greater your risk. Your partner’s behaviors aren’t your fault; he’s choosing to harm you and you don’t deserve to be abused.

Protect yourself and your baby

If your partner is abusive before or during pregnancy, you may delay seeking early prenatal care or not gain enough weight. Your partner’s hits and pushes could cause your baby to be born preterm or have a low birth weight. Unfortunately, the abuse may continue after your baby’s birth.

Postpartum, your partner may break condoms or stop you from using contraception in order to control you and get you pregnant again. This abuse can affect your mental health in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression, which often affects moms who are abused before, during or after pregnancy.

Make a safety plan

Experts at the March of Dimes advise:

  • Tell someone you trust that your partner hurts you and ask if you can stay with them in an emergency. Pack a bag with cash, important documents (e.g., driver’s license, Social Security and health insurance cards, etc.) keys, clothes and medications. Leave it at their home.
  • Make a contact list that includes your health care provider, close family and friends whom you can trust; but call 911 if you’re in an emergency.
  • At your next appointment, tell your nurse in private that you’re being abused. Your nurse has resources in your community such as social support programs, crisis hotlines, shelters, or home health providers who can help keep you safe. Know that in most states, health care providers are required to report any suspected child abuse to social services or law enforcement.
  • Seek private or group counseling to cope with stress and depression.

 

Know that leaving can be dangerous

You can create some distance between you and your partner by filing an order of protection or restraining order with the court. This action can put your and your baby’s life at risk because you expose his abuse to others and he may want revenge. However, as you grow less fearful of your partner, he loses control of you.

There are advocates in your community who will help you understand what your legal rights are. If your partner breaks the rules, he can be arrested by the police. Ask family, friends, and community advocates to help you make decisions so that you can begin to live safely with your newborn.

Revisit step one and remember that no one deserves to be abused. You have the right to protect yourself and your baby.

 

Get support

No matter where you are in these steps, if you are not in immediate danger but need advice or support, there are organizations to turn to. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for example, is open 24/7, is toll-free, confidential and anonymous. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Brea Onokpise, MPH, CHES, is a research coordinator at AWHONN in Washington, DC.


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