Pregnancy is the wondrous time in a woman’s life when she is privileged to nurture new life. She glows with excitement as the weeks pass. The anticipation of meeting her little angel face fills her with joy. Each new kick brings joy and trepidation. There are books to read, support groups to join and a nursery to decorate. “Will I be ready?” “What will labor be like?” “Will he have my nose?” All are normal questions to ponder as her little darling’s arrival draws ever closer. Pregnancy should be a time of peace and safety.
Amidst the plethora of books and websites offering tips and information on what to expect during this precious time, few help a woman understand or handle domestic violence during her pregnancy.
Domestic violence is cited as a pregnancy complication more often than diabetes, hypertension or any other serious complication.[i] One out of six women reported the abuse actually commenced during the pregnancy, according to Centers for Disease Control. In the U.S. more than 300,000 women experience some kind of violence from their intimate partner during pregnancy. As the child’s birth approaches, the father feels more stress. This stress leads to frustration. Frustration is directed at his perceived source of stress, the mother and their unborn child.
When women are abused by an intimate partner, they are at a higher risk for stress, depression and substance addictions. The effects of stress are challenging to isolate. They may include the mother’s general loss of interest in her and/or her baby’s well being during pregnancy and after.[ii] There are long-term detrimental psychological consequences for the child. Compound this with the fact the child is very likely to witness and experience domestic violence during his childhood.
It can be easy to stand on the sidelines and critique why a woman stays with her abuser. What many don’t understand are the variety of complex reasons she does. Like everything else in life, you have to walk in those shoes. There are economic pressures as abusers often control the finances. Being pregnant, she may be unable to secure a job. In healthy relationships pregnant women often feel vulnerable and fear being alone. Add domestic violence and she feels helpless and hopeless. Believe it or not there are still religious and cultural pressures to stay; families will coerce the woman. It is a difficult situation where known risks are balanced against the unknown. She will do whatever she can to reduce the damage. Sometimes, that means staying. This is a human conditioning we all do. Some women finally reach a point where the routine risks become intolerable. When this occurs, she needs warm, receptive and loving support. We need to be there, ready and willing to do whatever we can to help break the cycle of violence. She has to know the violence is NOT her fault and she cannot change her abuser.
Domestic Violence is about power, one person using a pattern of behavior to control another. These include:
- Pushing, slapping, kicking
- Marital rape
- Intimidation, threatening
- Suicide threats
A few physical effects of violence during pregnancy:
- Insufficient weight gain
- Abdominal trauma
- Ruptured membranes
- Fetal bruising, fractures, hematomas
If you are in an abusive relationship:
- Have important numbers handy, in phonebook under false names or in some code
- Make a safe plan of escape
- Consider safer places in your home; where there are exits and no weapons. Try to get there when abuse is impending
When you plan on leaving:
- Plan safe places of escape
- Open a bank account and/or get a credit card in your name
- Try doing things to get out of the house: take out the trash, walk the dog, go to the store.
- Mentally practice how you would leave
- Prepare an emergency bag of everyday things and important documents. Hide it where it is easy to get to. Keep in mind there are situations when all you can do is leave with the clothes on your back. Things are replaceable, lives aren’t. Do what you have to in order to be safe.
Speak up if you suspect someone is being abused! Are you hesitating, maybe telling yourself “It’s none of my business”, “I might be wrong”, or “She might not want to talk about it”? When you express your concern you are letting her know you care. You may even save her life and her baby’s!
Regina Rowley enjoys helping others and living a life where she makes a positive difference. She accomplishes this as a Women’s Group/Conference Speaker, teaching Smartsafe, a reality based self-defense for women, and as a blog writer.
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