For many women, pregnancy is a time when they are cared for and nurtured by their partner. Research and experience shows us that for some women, pregnancy is no protection against physical, verbal, emotional and sexual violence at the hands of their intimate partner. In fact domestic violence often begins in pregnancy and is more common than gestational diabetes or hypertension and poses a significant health risk for the mother and baby with increased risk of pregnancy loss, pre-term delivery, low birth weight and foetal injury. It is also associated with anxiety and depression and can lead to post natal depression. It is vital therefore that we are aware of those women who are at risk so that supports can be put in place for them.
We are aware that disclosure of abuse is difficult for a woman. Feelings of fear, shame, exhaustion and isolation prevent women from seeking help. In the maternity hospitals, we are ready and willing to listen, to offer non-judgemental support and to work with women to make their own decisions. We will in the near future, routinely ask all patients about their concerns regarding issues relating to domestic abuse.
As a society, we need to talk about these issues openly and confront abusers who use threats and physical violence to control their partners. Like other forms of abuse (eg clerical, child, institutional), exposure to the light of public debate will help reduce the isolation and stigma felt by those who are abused.
Click here to read “Expecting Abuse”, Fiona Gartland, featured in The Irish Times Health Supplement (Tuesday 1st December 2009)