Pregnancy should be a time when you as a pregnant woman feel safe and loved and know that you are being cared for. Sadly, this is not always true. For many women, pregnancy is the time when they are abused physically, emotionally, or in other ways.
Let’s get one thing straight first: There is NEVER any reason for anyone to hit you, slap you, verbally abuse you, or coerce you in any way. No one EVER deserves any abuse. But pregnant women frequently experience many types of abuse.
Domestic abuse, also called domestic violence or intimate partner violence, is more common than you think. It happens in rich homes and poor homes, in couples who are well-educated or poorly educated, and in same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples. And it may start or increase during pregnancy.
An abuser may call you names, insult you, or blame you for things that are not your fault. He or she may try to control you by limiting your access to friends or to your family, prevent you from leaving the house, or insist on telling you what you are “allowed” to do. You may be prevented from seeing your doctor or midwife. Your partner may try to control you by threatening to harm other people or himself. This kind of abuse can harm you emotionally or psychologically. It can lead to depression and suicidal thinking.
Physical abuse can include shoving, slapping, choking, hair pulling, or kicking, and can include being threatened with a weapon. Sometimes the physical abuse can be aimed at your abdomen, with the intention of harming your baby. But any kind of physical abuse can potentially harm your baby by causing a miscarriage, a premature birth, or other problems. Some women report that they had been forced to become pregnant or forced to get an abortion.
There are competing statistics on the number of women who are affected by intimate partner violence while they are pregnant. A review in the International Journal of Women’s Health looked at studies of domestic violence during pregnancy and found rates that ranged widely, up to 81%, depending on how violence was defined or whether verbal abuse was included. One estimate is that more than 300,000 pregnant women experience violence in their homes each year in the United States.
One study done in Maryland found that a woman who was pregnant or who had recently been pregnant was more likely to die from homicide than from any other cause. In that study, homicide accounted for 20% of deaths among women who were pregnant, compared to only 6% of deaths for women of childbearing age who were not pregnant.
If you have other children, they are affected by the abuse you are receiving. Children who live in an abusive home at more likely to become depressed or have anger issues and have problems with school.
For some women, domestic abuse during pregnancy is a continuation of the abuse they have already been receiving. However, emotional or physical abuse may get worse or start during pregnancy.
Some partners become abusive during a woman’s pregnancy because of stress due to emotional and financial burdens of a pregnancy. The reason for why the abuse starts does not matter. The only thing you need to know is that the abuse should not be happening at all and must stop. No one deserves to be abused at any time.
What Should You Do?
If you are being emotionally, psychologically, or physically abused, get help. You are not alone, and help is available for you. Talk to your doctor or midwife. They can help you and tell you about resources that are available to you.
If you are in immediate danger, or if you are being hit, slapped, or shoved, call your local police or dial 911.
If you feel that you are in an abusive situation, make plans to leave. You have to get to safety. Leaving is a difficult decision, but it may be your only way to be safe. Put together a “go bag,” with a change of clothes, some money, and credit cards, insurance cards, and bank account information. Ask a friend to store the bag for you so that you can leave your home immediately when you need to. Ask a friend or relative if you can go to their house to escape at any time. If you have other children, include a change of clothes and identification for them.
If you need to talk with someone at any time, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (which spells out to 799-SAFE). You can also call the hotline to talk if you think you are abused but are not sure.
Again, you do not deserve to be abused. Seek help immediately.