What is the definition of “bully”? According to Webster’s dictionary, a bully is “A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.”

Usually when we think of a bully we think of a rather large boy on a playground of an elementary school….at least, that’s what we think of first. Let the word linger longer and you’ll start to form other images: a group of teenage girls surrounding a meek looking girl poking at her and calling her names? Let the word linger longer….and you might think about the overbearing man you met once who intimidated everyone he met, or the father who constantly pushed around and degraded his son.

What about people that abuse their situation of power? What about the policeman who uses more force than would truly be necessary, or who threatens a speeder he has pulled over that they’d better do what he says or he will take them in to the station…is he a bully? What about your boss who makes the employee do things outside of the scope of their job (washing his car, running his errands, etc) while saying that they will be rewarded if they comply, but if they don’t then their job may be threatened…is that a bully?

And what about an obstetrician or midwife who routinely uses threats and their position of power to get patients to comply to things they would not otherwise consent to….are they a bully?

I recently wrote a piece on the “Monday morning care provider” in which I state that we are all doing the best we can…and I will still hold to that notion and believe it to be true! I believe that the schoolyard bully is doing the best he can with his insecurities to get through the school year in the only way he feels he can. I believe that the cop that is pushing people around probably feels that what he is doing is in the public’s best interest and that he’s only punishing criminals and protecting law-abiding citizens. And I believe that the OB/midwife truly does believe that doing that procedure (internal exam, episiotomy, cesarean section, etc) is in the best interest of their patient(s) and that they are doing what is best for everyone….

…This is what I choose to believe because to think otherwise is too painful to my heart. I refuse to believe that there are THAT MANY care providers out there that just get off on their own power and feelings of superiority. I don’t want to believe that the prevalence of coercion and intimidation that I’ve seen over the last 14 years is due to misogyny and power tripping.

That’s what I choose to believe. But a bully with good intentions is still a bully. The dad who roughs up his son to toughen him up for life because he believes in his heart that if his son is tough he will succeed better in life and have less heartbreak is no less a bully. The cop who makes the offender get down on his knees on the side of the road and say, “I am sorry officer…I will not speed again” is no less a bully. And an OB/midwife who insults, demeans, threatens…is no less a bully.

And as scary as it may be…they might become even more than just a bully. I’ve personally witnessed women in labor being forcibly held down while an internal exam was performed while they screamed NO – OUCH – STOP!   I’ve personally been witness to episiotomies in which the woman had yelled, “No episiotomy!” before being cut. (I have, unfortunately, see this more than once)

Rape is defined at as “nonconsensual sexual penetration of an individual, obtained by force or threat, or in cases in which the victim is not capable of consent”

Assault is defined by Webster as, “1. a violent physical or verbal attack 2. a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person”

Battery is defined as, “an offensive touching or use of force on a person without the person’s consent”

So I ask you – the woman who was held down by the nurse while the doctor performed an internal exam while the woman screamed, “NO!”….was she raped? Was that assault? Battery? Or is it none of the above…just a good physician doing what he feels is best for this mom and baby? The mother who was told that they could call CPS if she didn’t consent to a cesarean – was she bullied? Or were they just protecting that baby?

Just because I’m a midwife doesn’t mean that the families that hire me hand over their power to consent or that they give up their right to make choices for their family. How much risk someone assumes…shouldn’t that be up to them? I give full informed consent, giving my clients the risks/benefits as I know them…FULL CONSENT….and then believe that the parents should have the right to assume whatever level of risk is within their comfort level. I will tell someone if they are making choices that go outside of MY comfort level as I believe that I shouldn’t allow someone to put me into a position I feel is unsafe…but that is not to force them to comply with my wishes or bully them, it is so that I can remove myself from a situation in which I am no longer comfortable. The parents can continue along their chosen path…I just will choose not to go with them down that path and will wish them luck (rather than try and force them to comply with my wishes).

The last definition I would like to share is, I think, the most important one…
1. To feel or show deferential regard for; esteem.
2. To avoid violation of or interference with
3. To relate or refer to; concern.

Let that word linger as long as you need…..


  1. Jennifer Weston wrote:

    Every time you write, i want to just sit at your feet and LEARN!! If (When?) I go down that path, my goal will be to be the best me I can be, and the best Stephanie I can copy.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  2. lauren curleyhair wrote:

    I think that people justify bullying all the time in a lot of situations, this really opened my eyes. Thanks for another amazing post.

    BTW- I told my in-law family that when I have my baby, I am not going to a hospital enless I absolutely have to. I intend to choose what I feel is right, and not be “bullied” into feeling that I am doing something wrong. People just don’t get gut feelings sometimes.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Linsay Scott Smith wrote:

    I love this post, but it came at a good time for me. While our experience with Porter and the pediatrician is not something I would call abusive, I would for sure cite that particular doctor as being on a power trip and in a way we felt bullied. Being first time parents, or parents at all I suppose, I am quickly learning that when it comes to … See Moreyour children, it is easy to be “bullied” by those that seem to have a position of power. The notion that you could be “harming” your child by not consenting to doctors wishes, almost sends me right back to being 10 yrs old and scared to disappoint my mother. Its sad because I am not a fundamentalist or anti establishment or however we were made to feel, in the end i just want the best for my son and family. This topic is super important and one to continue to revisit in the circumstances of daily life. Even taking a stand on something that is not a life threatening situation, but more on a smaller scale, can help empower you and further solidify your convictions. At the end of the day you have to be comfortable with the choices you make for your body and family. I’ve also learned to ask (you!) for help when something in me doesn’t sit right. By learning to trust ourselves, instincts and surrounding our world with helpful people, makes it easier to not allow ourselves to be bullied…. seeking those peopleto help get to that spot is the first step!

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  4. Kelli wrote:

    I went to a conference in D.C in Oct. about improving maternity care, needless to say there had to be a presentation on abuse in maternity care. There was a heart wrenching article written in Good Housekeeping in the ’50s on this topic and yet you could write nearly the same things today, nothing much has changed. When discussing the solution it was suggested we look to the domestic violence movement. DV occured frequently in the ’50s, was widely known about and silently accepted. It was no secret but when the campaign launched to say this is unacceptable it eventually became just that, socially and culturally unacceptable. I think we should copy the DV movement with a hotline. Imagine the effect of a huge billboard reading “Obstetric Abuse Hotline” or ” Abuse in Maternity Care Hotline”. The abused will see it and think “That IS abuse, I don’t have to take that crap again” The abusers may think “Uh-oh I better change what I do.” How much does our society need those hotline counselors to educate them, to comfort and counsel them, to assist them in taking action to prevent the abuse cycle from continuing? We need it all too much unfortunately.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  5. Heather wrote:

    This makes so much sense. I felt the same trauma when I was guilted into being induced early, had my water broken without consent or discussion with the doctor that I felt when I was sexually assaulted. The shame, dissapointment, anger and disconnection. Rape and Battery is the appropriate term what happens.

    Monday, May 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

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