It had been two months since my sister’s murder.  There I sat, crying in front of Dr. Meiers.  I did not feel relief from this.  I hated crying in front of other people.  It felt like a sign of weakness even if I knew logically that wasn’t true. If fact I never viewed it as a sign of weakness in others so I was never sure where I developed and held on to that line of thinking.

After letting me catch my breath he said, “Well, you’re dealing with PTSD.”

I visibly scoffed. “I don’t think I have PTSD.”

“Do you know what PTSD is?”

Images of men coming back from the war flooded my head.  Images of woman being raped and beaten crossed my mind.  They had PTSD.

When Dr. Meiers explained it a little more, I took a deep breath and looked at the floor.

I admit I had experienced years of anxiety sprinkled with some depression here and there, but PTSD was not something I wanted to add to the list.  It was just one more thing I was going to need to “get over”.  The thought of going around telling anyone I had PTSD was unthinkable to me.

So I didn’t, I didn’t use that language to describe how I was feeling.  When people asked how I was doing, which they usually didn’t, I would just say I was angry.  And I meant it.  Anger was safe, anger was tough, and anger was keeping my armour bolted on and getting me through the day.

The problem was this unbreakable anger was breaking down my body.  Physically I literally kept tightening up to hold the tears back.  An excruciating moment came at a visit to my chiropractor.  My back was so twisted and stiff that when he gave me an adjustment I burst into tears.  In one fell swoop he had ripped open a box of the trauma that I was storing up and hiding in my bones.  I didn’t tell him that my sister had been shot and killed by her husband months earlier.  Through embarrassment and tears I apologized for such an outburst and told him I had just been, so very sore.

When I was too weak to be angry, I’d open a bottle of wine, sit in front of my computer and listen to music until I was sobbing with my head on the table.  I would invite the tide to come in, trusting it would go back out.  I’d wake up the next morning, and know that one more day was behind me.  The further away I could get from this, the better off I would be.  In time, I could escape this PTSD.

Grief was different.  I admitted my grief.  While the PTSD was like blunt force trauma that I dreaded reliving in flashbacks, the grief was sadness… the grief was missing her.  I could admit that and even honour it.  Long walks were a good way to cope, and they helped me work out some sorrow.  The walks kept me connected with her, and with spirit.  I was walking through the grief.  As the summer drew near, my long walks changed to more intense work outs.  This didn’t last long; the problem was that my body was so depleted by the anger I still carried that there weren’t any reserves of strength to draw from.  Expending energy just made me sleep more.  I was sick all the time.  The anger was consuming me, both mentally and physically.  I was still trying to walk around the anger and trauma, instead of through it.

Nearly a year had gone by.

Chronic infections and pain were giving me no choice.  If nothing else, humans obey pain.  I began eating better quality foods, I cut out alcohol and coffee, I wandered into nature as much as possible.  I began feeling better.  Stronger.  Time was moving.  Almost all of the “firsts” of everything had passed.  Christmas, her birthday, special events that we had planned but would now never come to be.  I told myself I just needed to get through the first year, then it would be easier.

It was February 2017.  A year and 3 months had gone by.  It was still tough, but by now I had joined a gym and was showing up regularly to cycle classes.  In class there were times when I could hardly breathe, and I was literally spinning my wheels.  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  I recognized that it seemed like a mirror to my life.  I didn’t care, I needed to move my body and this worked just fine.  I had tried a few yoga classes’ years earlier but they had bored me.  Too slow.  But when I walked in one day to see my cycle class was cancelled, I looked over at the women entering the yoga room and decided to give it another try.

In the warm, dimly lit room I went through the motions, holding the poses, quieting the mind.  I realized, surprisingly, that it was nice.  The pace was much slower compared to the loud music and the constant encouraging shouting of the cycle teacher, but this time I moved comfortably in the deliberate and slow pace.

It was in the third class that I attended that it happened.  Half an hour in, lying on the mat, the instructor was giving us time to simply stretch and focus on our breathing.  In the nearly blackened room, above the whisper of music, she repeated, “Surrender.  Soften.”  Over and over I could hear her, and then something happened.  Without consciously trying, my body softened… and my heart surrendered.   As I was laying still, I could feel my armour crack and the heaviness lifted from my body, all that was left was the steady weight of my heart beat.  From the ground up, a wave of water rushed through me.  It rose quietly up through my skin, my bones, my spirit, reaching my eyes where it began rolling down my cheeks. I surrendered.

I finally surrendered.


maddieMaddie Laberge is the mastermind behind The Wicked Step-Mom – a 30-something year old woman who has been a Certified Holistic Nutritionist for nearly ten years (more recently a Certified Herbalist), and a full time step-mom for over three. So what does a woman who chased a career do once three kids get handed to her? She shifts gears and begins a new journey. Her blog is about life and how she gets through her days by holding on to the values of eating good food and living a simple life.

In this episode, Emily explores her evolution in understanding about why Muslim women wear the hijab – what it means, how they feel when they wear it and how it stands in opposition to consumer capitalist culture. She also talks about her own personal expression of womanhood in light of these realizations and how these have changed from caring about the male-gaze to feeling confident and body-positive with herself, irrespective of what everyone else is thinking or doing.

Mona Ismaeil is the think-tank behind a brand new podcast to hit the airwaves called The Modern Hijabi. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to discuss this exciting new adventure and her plans for Muslimah activism and community-building in the future.

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Fast Facts:

Favourite Qur’anic Verse at the moment: A verse that governs my life and how I view life’s challenges and obstacles is: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear” (Al Baqarah, 286). I’ve been through a number of obstacles from health related issues and doctors telling me I was infertile to having a spouse who’s work takes him away from our family for long periods of time.  I try to remind myself that this is all Allah’s plan for me and that I can handle it because he will never give me more than I can handle.

Woman from Islamic history you are “feeling” right now: I absolutely adore Khadija bint Khuwaylid (May Allah be pleased with her). She was the “Mother of the believers”. I admire that she was strong, confident, successful and devoted to her work, her community and most importantly her husband. She was the ideal Muslimah and an amazing example for all Muslimahs.

Women who professionally inspire you: I love to draw inspiration from my friends and sisters who I know very well. I feel that it is important to choose people to look up to and make our role models that are “real people”! I am not inspired by celebrities or generally high profile people because I feel that sometimes we end up chasing a dream or a life that is out of reach. When we look up to or draw inspiration from sisters around us we can help ourselves to have more realistic goals and judgments on our successes and accomplishments. So with that said, I have two friends and sisters in Islam whom inspire me professionally and they would be Nakita Valerio; Owner of The Drawing Board and Wedad Amiri; Owner of Afflatus Hijab.  They both are doing what they love, and not holding back. They are both taking their lives and careers by the horns and I respect that. Also, both sisters are taking what they love and finding a way to give back to the community and to be active in a humanitarian way. Furthermore, both sisters are striving to make the world better for women which excites me.  Each sister has her own direction, method and niche but in the end, the goal is the same.

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Can you tell us about yourself and your role with the podcast? What are you trying to accomplish by creating space for the modern hijabi’s voice?

I suppose it is important to tell you about Modern Hejab first as that is where The Modern Hijabi stemmed from. My husband and I opened Modern Hejab in 2010. My goal was not to sell millions of hijabs but it was more to make a connection with young Muslim girls. I just used Modern Hejab as a platform, a way in. I started to wear hijab at 23years old. I struggled with the decision for a long time and it really came from the fact that I could not find enough good role models to get me excited about wearing hijab.  The women I saw around me were too meek, reserved, frumpy, and just not who I wanted to be. At 23 I was somewhat vein and the idea of covering my big curly hair was just out of the question. And for what? Was it even worth it? I craved that connection with God and after some soul searching I realized, hijab would fill this hole in my spiritual heart. From the day I wore the hijab, I fell in love with it and everything about it. The way it looked and felt and everything, just made me sure I had made the right decision. I often wish I had worn it sooner but only Allah knows when the right time is.

From there I decided that I needed to help other young women struggling with that decision. I wanted to show to Muslims and Non- Muslims that hijab is beautiful and that there is a way to make if fun, fashionable and still true to the Deen.

Now, The Modern Hijabi. I am a teacher by profession and once a teacher, always a teacher. I wanted to use the Modern Hijabi to start conversations with Muslim sisters and even Non-Muslims about women and hijab. I wanted to use it as a platform for showing the beauty of Islam. I want to break down barriers and diminish stereotypes about Women and Islam. Even Muslim women have misconceptions about Islam believe it or not!  I want to create a space where sisters can come to learn about Hijab, Islam, Tips and Tricks for being a hijabi and general girl talk.

What do you mean by “modern” and “Hijabi”?

Hijabi is a term used to describe a women who dons the hijab (Islamic head covering). Now the “Modern” aspect of it is about taking a traditional practice and bringing it into the modern world. This can be difficult sometimes but it is about balance. It’s about following the latest trends while still remaining modest. It’s about being outgoing and enjoying life while still remembering the values and guidelines that we live by.

What are some of the subjects covered in your podcast series thus far?

My first podcast was about the Burkini Ban. Although it had already been overturned, I wanted to share my thoughts on the idea as that whole issue just blew my mind.

Next, I started a series called the “Journey to Hijab”. This series will cover 8 steps to starting to wear hijab. I had little guidance when I started wearing hijab as I think many sisters go through the same thing. I mean what is there to guide? Just put it on, and presto an instant hijabi! No! There is a process as it is a life changing choice and if rushed into, can have negative consequences. I know I am making it seem like a big thing but really when you take that step on your “journey”, you are changing your life forever. Through this series I want to help make the journey more meaningful, seamless and more enjoyable.

Can you give us a sneak peek into some future topics you will be exploring?

I will be sharing all things hijab. For example, styling tips, storage tips, my story of when I started wearing hijab and so much more hijab related topics. Also, I want to extend my podcasts to speak about different issues with women in Islam. I want to address stereotypes and misconceptions. Finally, I am a mom and the world of mothers is never boring! I will also be talking about parenting Muslim children and teaching our children about different Islamic topics including how to be proud of who they are as Muslims.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of podcasting?

Well, I am new to the podcasting world but so far it is being able to put out information to help others. I love that we can reach so many people so easily.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of podcasting?

Getting people to listen. I’m still learning how to convince people I have something important to say.

What led you to adopting this technological medium to get your voice out there?

As much as I love blogging, I felt that podcasting and speaking to people unedited felt more raw and authentic. I want to have a conversation. When I blog, I can edit and re-edit what I want to say, while with podcasting it is more natural. It’s like we’re sitting down to have a cup of coffee or for me a latte together.

How do you plan what you are going to do shows about?

I really look at what moves me and I try to go from there. Honestly, I do not plan that much. I think about the different points I wish to cover but I don’t write anything down. I don’t read from cue cards or notes. Like I said, I want it to be raw and authentic and natural.

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What do you like to do in your personal time?

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend the majority of my time with my two children; Manessa (3.5 years) and Malik (8 months). I love to take them out to parks, playgrounds, anywhere I can help them learn about the world. I also enjoy surrounding myself with strong and like-minded women who can fuel the different parts of my life. My husband and I love being fit and active so I go to the gym often and really work towards a healthy lifestyle. My family always has the travel bug and we’ve been blessed to see many places in the world. I love writing, blogging and speaking to people about Islam. I also love to learn about other cultures and religions. Finally I love spending time with my family and friends. They bring me so much joy and just make life worth living.

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

I trained as an amateur boxer for 5 years. I trained at Panther Gym (the greatest gym in Edmonton). I turned to boxing to help me through some tough times. The sport itself as well as the family I gained from being at Panther gym really made the obstacles I was facing much easier. Boxing gave me and outlet for my anger and frustration and the people there gave me so much love.  Although I no longer box, Panther Gym will always have a special place in my heart.

If your podcast had one take-home message for listeners, what would it be?

I think the specific messages will change with each segment depending on the topic but the general idea is that Women in Islam are more than what people think we are. We are more than we think we are. I want to show that Islam is a faith of love, respect, acceptance, peace and so much more.

To sign up for The Modern Hijabi, click here.

This past weekend, I completed a 5km run in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp at the University of Alberta. The cultural immersion camp recently lost its corporate sponsorship and is scrambling to find ways to finance their endeavours for creating safe spaces of empowerment and cultural reclamation for young Indigenous women. The run is but one of the many ways I am joining forces with organizers to get this cause back on its feet.

The run was easy, as was setting up the Go Fund Me page to garner donations from friends and family online. It is amazing how building a narrative about something online doesn’t seem real though, until your feet actually start hitting the pavement. It was at that point, when I could hear the crunch of my sneakers on the icy pavement, that I realized what I was doing.

So much of our current cultural climate is based around literacy – we live in a word-saturated universe of tweets, articles, diatribes and likes. So what happens when words turn into action? I could have easily just set up the Go Fund Me campaign and watched the money roll in without having to get up off my couch. What significance does running hold for this cause?

Running is a ritual of being-present, reflecting on one’s self and one’s presence in their temporal-spatial reality. I used to run all the time; I even used to call myself a runner. However, the combination of PTSD following birth trauma and a sedentary academic lifestyle in completing my Masters has put the brakes on my once-regular running ritual. When I got out there on the weekend, the pavement was covered with freshly fallen snow and my breath clouded in the space in front of my face. It felt like coming home again.

I realized that completing the action of running for my sisters was just as important as raising the money itself. In the process of moving my body through space in solidarity with my Indigenous sisters, I was engaging with my own relationship with reconciliation by contemplating the presence of my body in this space, on this land, on Treaty 6 territory, on a day when most people are celebrating the colonization (Thanksgiving). I was committing more than just my thoughts and vocabulary (albeit important things too!) to the narrative and cause of reconciliation. I was also committing my physical body and time to it. I was working for it.

For the next run on December 8th, I have 9 women who have pledged to join me in working for a better future together. We will run as a sisterhood for the cause of sisterhood, bringing about reconciliation through our actions one step at a time.

Join us: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Last night at the AMPAC Women’s Safety Class, Strong Orange Violence Prevention instructor (and writer at The Drawing Board), Rachael Heffernan was putting forms of violence on a spectrum from “bothering” to “life-threatening”. Certain types of violence could fit on multiple places in the spectrum depending on a number of factors, including who is perpetrating the violence. She then brought up the subject of a perpetrator that is all-too-often forgotten: ourselves.

Whenever people take self-defense training or women’s empowerment classes, they are often taught about what to do when you experience violence or harassment from strangers (especially) and, less often, from people you know. Of course, the occurrences of violence (both physical and sexual) are statistically lopsided, meaning that you are much more likely to be violated by someone you know (family, friends, colleagues, mentors), but it still stands that all too many violence prevention courses focus on outward violence and neglect what happens when we internalize violence and direct it at ourselves. Statistics about self-violence (including negative self-talk) simply do not exist.

Before we go there, I want to talk about something else that Rachael brought up because it is an important factor in all of this, especially in “getting home safe” which is the mantra of the class. Very often, our ability to be assertive and stand our ground in the face of external oppression or violence is directly connected to how we value ourselves. Rachael put it best on the car ride home when she said that conceding to anothers’ whims (even if they violate our rights) because we don’t want to “upset them” or because “we can bear the brunt of the pain” is fundamentally flawed logic because it causes or is rooted in self-devaluation. The other person’s worth is deemed to be more than your own.

This is the first instance in which negative self-talk can harm you: in how you deal with harmful situations perpetuated by others. If you are constantly down on yourself, feeling you aren’t worth the time of day for anyone, you are much more likely to put yourself last, even when in life-threatening or dangerous situations. This is a common narrative we hear among victims of sexual assault, particularly when the aggressor is someone they know. Victims can admit that they swallow their pain and just want the whole incident over with, fearing they weren’t “assertive enough” so something like being raped is inherently their fault.

It is never your fault.

And the anxiety and self-rage that comes from feeling like you made a mistake in being assaulted can lead to further self-devaluing and the potential for future vulnerabilities in the face of both external and internal aggressors. This is what we are talking about when we say that people get caught in the cycle of abuse and do not know how to break out.

One place you can start is by stopping violence against yourself first. The way to do this is to recognize it as violence. If you view yourself as an aggressor, you can start to see how violence against yourself also appears on the spectrum from “bothering” to life-threatening. Some specialists recommend viewing your aggressor voice as an adult and your inner self, which it chastises, as a small child. This can help illuminate just how much we bully ourselves.

Bothersome violence might be how you look at yourself in the mirror. Thinking that you have parts that sag or have too much cellulite, or that the body you were given just doesn’t look like every airbrushed magazine or filtered Instagram pic you see online. It could be in how you hear yourself speak in a room full of peers. They are hearing the words flowing out of your mouth and all you hear is how many “ums” and pauses and poor word choices you make and if only you wouldn’t open your mouth in the first place, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Or it might be thinking about everything you said and did hours later, or days, or years. At the heart of these ruthless criticisms (which, by the way, we would be very unlikely to accept from anyone but ourselves) is anger.

And anger leads to rage.

And rage leads to more violence.

So much so that you might move along the spectrum from being bothersome to downright dangerous. Negative self-talk gives way to destructive behaviours. It can lead to eating disorders, to binge drinking, to excessive drug use, it can lead to self-medicating with food, it can lead to sex addiction or self-harm like cutting or burning. All of these things are dangerous behaviours that stem from self-rage, that stem from a feeling of anger directed inwards. It might be (and usually is) exacerbated by social isolation – but thinking we aren’t good enough might also cause us to retreat and vice versa.

Dangerous to life-threatening is a slippery slope. These behaviours can easily turn to suicidal ideation or attempts. The slow simmering burn of anger feeds the fires of depression, anxiety and trauma like nothing else.

So, what puts those fires out? How can we stop the violence against ourselves once we recognize it for what it is?

Firstly, realize that this is not intrinsically how your brain works. It has been trained to think this way and it can be trained not to. It is not an easy road, but it is possible and it has to be undertaken to interrupt those negative thoughts and actions while learning to replace them with positive and beneficial ones. It can be an uphill battle with poor self-image messages in society inundating us day after day, but by learning to dampen their voice and raising your own, among other powerful women, we can start to replace those messages.

Getting help is important. Seek out counseling or other mental health-care providers, and do not stop if they tell you that you are fine but you know you still hurt yourself. At my first session on University campus, I told my counselor that I had suicidal ideation in moments of rage which stem from a birth trauma I experienced and she concluded the session by saying that she won’t be seeing me again because I “seem to have it all together”. Another counselor I saw told me I am the highest functioning patient she has ever met and she didn’t know why I needed to see her, even though symptoms of PTSD regularly inhibit my personal joy and daily existence. Do not stop looking for someone to help you. There are problems with the system and how people access it, but continuing to ask for help is a sign that you are healing and removing the obstacle of isolation.

Be holistic in your approach and put your mental health first. Yes, before anything else. Before your family, before your kids, before your job, before your career. None of that matters if you are suffering daily violence and are at risk of hurting yourself. Everything else can wait. Yes, ladies, even your children. Lean on family, on friends, on childcare providers. Get to your appointments, get to the gym, make time to eat well and sleep well. Be shameless about this. These things are just as important for you as they are for your family. Stable mental health creates stable home environments and stability means that your children and spouses won’t ever have to face a day without you on this earth. Do not listen to the lies in your head that everyone is better off without you. That you always screw things up. Your family never, ever, ever wants to see a day on this earth without you. Ever. Just ask them: they will testify to that truth. And if they don’t, or your spouse tells you to jump off a bridge, walk out. You are worth walking out for. You are worth your own safety.

Even though it seems like I am just getting started, I want to conclude with this: be gentle with yourself. Perfection is not an ideal anyone should strive for. Fail and try again. Succeed and try again. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a kind, loving parent (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a child. Be gentle with yourself as you would expect a respectful spouse (whom you may have never had) to be with you as a lover. Be gentle with yourself as a child intuitively is with their own parents. Be gentle with yourself.

This earth is vast. Its history is long. Its space is immense. Take up your rightful place on this journey and work towards being well. I am with you on that path and I know you are with me too.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.

If this is an emergency, please get help by calling 911 or medical professional immediately.

This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and head writer at The Drawing Board.

Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic information related to assault, rape and birth trauma that may be upsetting to some readers. Prepare yourself for what you are about to read, or abstain until you are able to continue.

Recently, there has been an online movement from survivors of birth trauma in which they are sharing their stories of disempowerment and assault at the hands of members of the medical establishment. These stories are extremely horrific and very graphic in their descriptions. Reading them leaves you with an unsettled feeling in your stomach and an aching heart as you empathize with their pain.

Clicking on these images will reveal highly graphic descriptions. Please be mindful.

I find these stories particularly relevant and powerful for me, as a survivor of birth trauma myself – and as someone who survives the effects of PTSD from that trauma daily. I am proud of these individuals, putting their stories up there for all to see, witness, read, digest… for everyone to stop for a moment and think about a continuing horrific phenomena which knows no global boundaries and has no face, is largely (if not completely) unreported and is all wrapped up in the politics of medical authority and the control over women’s bodies in particular.

There are few other times in an individual’s life which are more vulnerable than pregnancy and birthing. It is not an indicator of weakness to be vulnerable; rather, vulnerability is signified externally by the fact that their bodies go through enormous transformations during this period and the process of birthing happens in such a way that they are more likely to be marginalized in their voice, body and preferences than they would in regular circumstances. A birthing person may have their voice, preferences and body submitted to authorities who use their position to take over the natural process. I want to be clear when I say that in emergency instances, this is critical because intervention can mean the difference between the deaths of the mother and the baby or their lives.

However, such instances also offer the opportunity for serious abuses, particularly because the line between medical necessity and abuse of authority is highly ambiguous and can involve the collision of paradigms, worldviews and approaches to birthing that are highly incompatible. Without getting into that discussion because it tends to be too binary for me (either villainizing mothers or villainizing medical professionals), I want to talk about some of the terminology used in the campaigns for Birth Trauma survivors.

One such term that stands out is “Birth Rape” and it is often red-flagged as a term whose appropriate use is highly contested and may be considered inappropriate in birth-related contexts or others.  These issues can be found in discussion of (more) conventional rape as well and fit into general trends where victims are mistrusted despite the rarity of false allegations (dwarfed by the number of unreported assaults) and the paucity of cases that go to charges and then trial (not always resulting in a conviction). *Breathe* The testimony of women or queer individuals is often disproportionately disbelieved against that of their assaulters or rapists,  with some reserving “I believe you” status for specific demographics who may have been victims of rape.  This skepticism often takes the form of ethnic bias with white people being believed more than people of colour and even less belief being reserved for our indigenous brothers, sisters and two-spirited individuals.

There isn’t enough time in the world to go into the multiple historical narratives that are being enacted as tropes of rape culture in the criticisms of these skeptics and that is not my subject here today. I want to focus on why I accept the term “rape” to describe birth trauma arising from medical assault.

The main reason that I feel people reject this term is because they don’t understand the term rape. Rape does not mean “non-consensual sex.” Rape is a form of sexual assault which involves the penetration of various parts of one’s body against one’s will and without one’s consent. This penetration does not need to occur with an assailant’s genitals to constitute rape.  It can be carried out by violent force, coercion or abuse of authority. It is not “non-consensual sex”. It is not sex.

When stories are told about:

  • doctors who inject women with unnecessary drugs against their will thereby making them less in control, less coherent and more submissive
  • doctors who uttered violent words or performed violent acts on them including swearing at them, berating them, hitting them, jumping on them,
  • doctors who threaten women with C-sections unless they “shut up” (or perform them when they don’t!)
  • or doctors who violently and unnecessarily penetrate women’s bodies with their hands, arms or medical instruments

they are met with reactions that this isn’t rape or that rape is “too serious” an allegation to be related to birthing. I just shake my head. This lack of comprehension hinges on the idea that rape is still somehow about sex. And since birthing is supposedly not a sexual experience, then it can’t be called rape when things go awry, right? These people fail to realize that: non-consensual penetration is rape. There are only sex and birthing on one side, and rape on the other side. There is no in-between.

A contingent reason this is such an issue is because of the stigma attached to challenging medical authorities. The decision about medical necessity is placed entirely in the hands of doctors. And while this is not without some good reason (since they are highly specialized and trained professionals after all), the possibility (and often reality) of transferring total authority over one’s body to other people is deeply problematic. There are a myriad of factors that go into how a medical doctor treats a birthing woman including: personal history, personality, their own abused/abusive pasts, misogyny, ego complexes and much more. Doctors (like all scientists) are not impartial observers as narratives about them would have us believe. They are humans too and they must be humanized – for it is the dehumanized who will perpetuate actions that, in turn, dehumanize others. Doctors carry themselves with them everywhere they go and how they treat someone in such a position as birthing says a lot about their own ethos and attitude.

Do they want to just get the job done or are they willing to spend as long as it takes to ensure a healthy and just birth? Do they not care about the lasting formation of memories that are created for the woman (and her child) in these unique moments? Are they sensitive to the power that they wield and therefore approach such a position with due sensitivities and adequate communications?

Skeptics about birth rape also tend to question if such allegations can actually be brought to criminal charges. Ideally, this would be the case. However, with the current state of affairs, where victims of “typical” sexual assault are rarely believed and therefore rarely report, the added dimension of placing doctors above their patients in terms of authority makes the possibility for criminal proceedings unlikely. Unlikely doesn’t mean impossible. We have a long way to go and the first step towards this is in normalizing these important narratives, in listening to the people they happen to, in believing them first and foremost.

My best friend is an OB/GYN in Cairo. He told me that he had a patient once who came into her birthing experience with a plan and a support team. Internally, he was annoyed because he felt that she was stepping on the toes of his authority and that she might make things difficult for him if things went awry by making too many demands. This friend has an ethos of non-attachment and ego-slaying that I strive to emulate daily. He swallowed those thoughts and gave the woman the space to explain her desires and preferences in a calm manner, without having to make demands that might put someone else’s (ie. his) ego up in arms automatically. The entire time, he continued to check in with her about her plan, letting her know gently where things would have to be altered and changed, leaving her with her power: to digest and understand that these changes were necessary. In other words, he established trust.

This is what is lacking in birth rape. Trust is never formed in such cases. It is annihilated and this is the deepest trauma one can experience. It is the same trauma felt by survivors of rape, by survivors of sexual abuse, by survivors of any form of abuse. For what is being abused but one’s trust? One’s trust that their personhood and dignity will not be violated whether by violence, by penetration, by words or by all three. What is trust but a piece of love placed into the world, sometimes horribly violated?

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I applaud these individuals for sharing their stories and have been inspired to share my own story publicly as a result. In the end, this experience is just as authentic as anything else and by speaking out about what happened, we might connect the many, many others who have lived through it and are resilient survivors as well. There are a lot of us. May our strength light our paths to a more compassionate and safe future together, and may we strive to respond to the violation of our love placed in the world, the violation of our trust, with justice and more love.