Roses Revolution – Against Obstetric Violence

Roses Revolution – Against Obstetric Violence

Bringing a healthy child into the world is the wish of every pregnant woman. However, the sentence “At least the baby is healthy” leaves a bitter taste in many a new mother’s mouth. These are the mothers who have a feeling of ambivalence after the birth…that something wasn’t as it should have been or different from what they learned in their birth preparation course. Often women ask us- the Roses Revolution Team whether that what they experienced could perhaps be termed ‘violence’. The answer is often easy but hard to swallow: It is violence if you felt it was violence.

25th November is worldwide day against violence towards women. It’s also the worldwide campaign day against violence in obstetrics, on which women (or their families or witnesses) lay down a rose at the place at which they experienced violence- in front of the hospital or birthing center to take a stand against this and to somehow get back some of their dignity in a symbolic way. This year is the fourth time that Germany is taking part in the Roses Revolution.


People who hear of this for the first time often ask what obstetric violence actually is.. that of course birth hurts but is necessary for a child to come into the world. Violence and obstetric violence is however something very different from the pain experienced during birth, which women often describe as empowering and positive. By violence is meant that when a woman when she is most vulnerable not only doesn’t receive the professional support expected but that she is also treated without respect and even in a hurtful way.

This begins with the anxious, first-time mum not feeling like she’s not being taken seriously and being told that she should ‘suck it up’ and go home, there’s no way that she is in labour;
the pregnant woman being told in her 38th week of pregnancy that her baby is too big for a vaginal birth; or the midwife who knows already before the birth that the woman is too thin to breastfeed such a big baby. It’s the woman who is told to lie still with the CTG machine attached for well over an hour during strong contractions when she could otherwise have been moving around freely; painful, unnecessary vaginal examinations; having orders barked at her; membrane sweeps, episiotomy for the sake of a midwifery student, who needs to tick a box; the use of a ventouse or forceps because the junior doctor needs to practice and a caesarean section due to lack of personnel; women who are stitched without anaesthetic, the doctor who says she is a mess and won’t ever make a full recovery; the bonding that doesn’t take place because the child, despite being totally ok is taken away to be checked over in another room; the washed and dressed newborn who is handed over to the anxiously waiting mother two hours later…This happens daily in German hospitals. It happens due to fixed routines, lack of personnel, lack of knowledge or carelessness, negligence or maybe because the midwife is headed towards burnout.

The consequences for women, children and families can be dangerous. Often those effected suffer years later. Few seek help. At the end of the day, everything was fine, wasn’t it? Trust in the health system is so shaken that women rarely want to return to a similar situation.

Roses Revolution wants to show women that they are not alone in their pain and that other women are feeling the same. They want to give courage to the women to call out unethical behaviour and to break their silence. The logo of the campaign is a rose with the sentence, “Name it – each woman is a rose”. With the laying down of a rose, the woman is marking the fact that a rose is delicate but also strong and beautiful. The rose is a symbol of gaining back dignity. On the Roses Revolution Facebook page, photos of roses and birth stories will be published, also anonymously. Women have reported that laying down a rose was part of their healing process and offer to accompany women in later years.

Can one congratulate a woman after a traumatic birth? I have gotten out of the habit of congratulating someone before I ask them how they are and how the birth was. Often I wish the answer was different and yes, of course I congratulate them as a healthy baby is important but not everything.

Written by Claudia Watzel, Psychologist. Supporting the Roses Revolution Germany for the second time this year and campaigning with Mother Hood e.V. for improved pregnancy and birth services.

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