Every now and then I hear about the (thankfully) rare case of a woman who dies in childbirth. This is tragic to me as someone who understands loss (especially of mothers) on a deep level. However, today I want to discuss what is really killing pregnant women. Something that is not often discussed on birth blogs--and that is violence. The fact is, the number one cause of death among pregnant women has nothing to do with pregnancy. It's homicide. And more often than not, the slayer is her partner.
I was pregnant shortly after the Scott Peterson trial. There was also that guy in Utah who got some media attention for the same thing, but pled guilty and didn't put the world through a trial. In cased you missed it--both men killed their pregnant wives. Both had been model citizens--outwardly--and shocked their families and communities. I'm not sure why these particular cases got so much attention and others that happen don't, but according to a Maryland study in March 2001 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, murder was the leading cause of death in pregnant women. "Using death records and coroner reports, state health department researchers found 247 pregnancy-associated deaths between 1993 and 1998. Among those deaths, 50 were murders." The Maryland study reinforced two earlier studies that found the same results--the leading cause of death in pregnant women is murder.
Here's some information from an article that I cut and pasted from the National Organization for Women:
"People think that pregnancy is a joyful, happy time for families. That's not always true," said Phyllis Sharps, an associate professor at The Johns Hopkins University's school of nursing who researches violence against women.
In some cases, the woman has been abused for years, and the violence escalates to murder after she's pregnant. In others, pregnancy itself sparks emotions that can lead to murderous rages.
"Violence in intimate relationships is all about power," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "There are fewer times when you can have power over a woman than when she's pregnant. She's vulnerable. It's an easier time to threaten her.""There are a lot of dynamics that go on in a relationship that involves violence—power and control and the need for the abuser to be primary," she said. "A pregnancy can create a sense of possibly losing that primary position."
The last statement rang very true in my case. The abuse was subtle and so confusing for years so that I couldn't see my way out. I thought batterers hit their wives weekly. He hit me only once--but the threat was always there. He once threatened to disfigure me on a Christmas vacation, and another time he beat up a chair in front of me. I can take inferences.
Most of the abuse was psychological. He'd isolate me by telling me people didn't like me. But in public he was charming and told everyone how wonderful he thought I was. At home, he'd do more gas lighting. I was always sucked back in by the honeymoon phase of the cycle and the promises that everything would change. I couldn't tell anyone what was really going on because I'd have to admit what an idiot I was. So most of the time I was in denial. I honestly believed that the honeymoon phase was the real marriage and everything else was just "out of character." Here's news for anyone else out there who believes this: everything a person does, even if it is only once, is in her/his character.
Well, then I got pregnant. Things were fine until I got sick and he wasn't the center of attention. Then the psychological abuse got so bad that I started to talk to people. And I realized something was wrong. I knew he had mental health issues, and so I blamed his OCD. I told him he had to get help or I'd be staying with a friend till he could get his head together. If I had known anything about the cycle of abuse and power struggle I might have expected his response.
He said, "I'd rather pay alimony." He filed for divorce the next day. Of course, the filing for divorce was an attempt to get me to panic and change back to that way I always was. To come back and to get rid of the pregnancy. He tried very hard to make me think I wanted an abortion--that it was my idea.
Of course, by then, I was thinking with two brains and I wasn't having it. Something about a growing baby in your womb changes everything. To cut this story short I put his stuff outside and changed the locks and that was it.
But I spent the rest of my pregnancy on high alert. I got a few dirty crank phone calls that were somewhat traumatizing, and my car was vandalized twice during that time. I had the police department down the street on speed dial and they regularly patrolled my house. Many times, I wondered if I was being paranoid, but when I look back I also wonder if my hyper-vigilance saved my life. Thankfully, his manic behavior settled down after a few years and I finally broke out of the cycle. (Divorce doesn't end the cycle.)
I feel sort of naked sharing all this here but I'm hoping that it helps someone. The thing I have learned about abuse is that is can happen to anyone. There is no special type of person that batterers target, and there is no stereotypical batterer.
In fact, police records show that violence, including homicidal violence, cuts across all races and classes.
"There is no profile of what these men look like," Sharps said. "Many are educated, upstanding citizens."
Upstanding citizens means that they could be priesthood holders and do their home teaching every month. Mine did. This was one of the problems--I thought no one would believe me if I told them. Thankfully he made that choice for me and soon everyone saw what I knew all along. But here's the deal--it doesn't matter how it looks to anyone else. Heavenly Father knows. And there is no way he wants one of his daughters (or sons) being treated this way. He will help you and guide you if you go to Him. How do I know? Because I have been there. (If you are not so hip on men right now, try to remember that we have two heavenly parents, and that they are united. While we address our prayers to Him, I imagine that if they are united, She hears everything, and is as much a loving mother as He is our loving father in heaven.)
If you or someone you know needs to get out of a physically or psychologically abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (ndvh.org) at 1800-799-SAFE (7233). Also, I would advise counseling with your bishop. He has resources that can help you.