Why Brett Kavanaugh Matters to Birthing Women in the UK

Photo of Brett Kavanaugh looking angry.

Guest Post by Emma Ashworth

Permission has been freely given by “Sarah” to include her experience in this article.

For those who are not following politics in the USA, there’s one of those slow car-crash moments happening which could have a huge and profound effect on the culture and law around women’s bodies not only across the pond, but here also in the UK and Europe.

Brett Kavanaugh is an American judge who President Trump wants to promote to fill one of only 9 positions on the US Supreme Court. These positions are life long, and filling a Supreme Court position is how Presidents leave a legacy which could last for many decades. Bizarrely, although judges are expected to be impartial, these judges are chosen very much on their partisan opinions, and Kavanaugh has shown over the years that he does not support women’s reproductive rights.

The process to finalise Kavanaugh’s escalation to the highest court in the United States hit a last minute bump in what had previously been a very smooth road when a woman called Christine Blasey Ford made an accusation that when she and Kavanaugh were both teenagers – he 17, she 15 – he attempted to rape her and held his hand over her mouth in such a way that she feared that he would kill her. Subsequently two more women have come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of serious charges of sexual abuse. In a climate where the US President has been accused of sexual assault and rape by at least 22 women (whom he has called liars), and has himself boasted that he can “grab them by the pussy”, the climate for women who confront those who assault them is unrelentingly hostile. The Republican senators have almost unanimously closed ranks around their frat boy, protecting their own and perhaps also themselves… if one of them can be accused, why not all?

While Dr Blasey Ford goes through a partisan process where she is systematically ripped apart (who helps to put her back together again?), where Trump mocks her testimony to a crowd of cheering men AND women and the media is undertaking a trial-by-opinion, underneath it all is the same relentless, persistent, ruthless misogyny which underlines the way that women are treated following all forms of assault, including obstetric assaults.

While watching and reading about Kavanaugh I was reminded of a senior midwife who once berated me for supporting a woman who was, in her opinion, “just out to get” the midwife that she was making a complaint about. The birthing woman, let’s call her Sarah, had never met the midwife before she came to her in labour. Sarah had no personal reason to be “out to get” this midwife outside of the assault that Sarah explains happened to her during her birth. Sarah went through the complaints process with the hospital and, like most women who complain, was told all the reasons why she was wrong about what happened to her. Like the Republican senators, the Trust closed ranks and rejected Sarah’s complaint with a combination of rebuffs right out of the rape defence textbook, including lack of evidence, arguing that she must be wrong or have misunderstood, and attacking Sarah herself as being aggressive and abusive, as though trying to escape from what Sarah experienced as a desperately dangerous situation was unreasonable behaviour.

Sarah’s experience is not at all unusual. Like Kavanaugh’s snarling, angry attacks on those who were trying to untangle the complexity of a sexual assault allegation, the shocking concept that a woman could deign to raise her head to say “you hurt me” to those who are actually supposed to care leads to aggressive denials from both trusts and health care providers who fight back with arguments about “policy” or “guidelines” but who actually mean “we know better than you, how dare you question our power”.

The satirical news site “News Thump” put it brilliantly with their headline, “Man ridiculing victim of sexual abuse on world stage asks ‘why didn’t she come forward sooner?’ We could just as easily say “HCPs telling women they’re wrong about their birth experiences ask why women don’t make complaints about obstetric violence”.

I do see a light, though, and it’s a light made up of flames. I see women who are no longer willing to stay silent, and for every woman who speaks out either to her peers or in a complaint she lights a flame. AIMS reminds us that “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness” and every flame that is lit shows the way for another, and another, and another. We will not be silenced and we will no longer be forced to be in the dark. Our flames are growing and our flames are joining. We are all the granddaughters of the witches that they did not burn, we are not going away and we are SHOUTING.



If you have experienced obstetric violence, or a birth which included an assault and would like help or support, you can contact the AIMS Helpline here.

Imposter Syndrome and the fear that we’re not quite good enough…

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?” 
Erin Hanson

Emma Ashworth talks about imposter syndrome in maternity services and why we should face the fear of not being good enough.

Years ago, I spoke to a midwife who had been hosting a weekend’s training course with the truly wonderful Sheila Kitzinger. I was really saddened to find that I’d missed the course, and said so to the midwife, saying that I was a huge fan of hers. He replied that yes, she is amazing, and yes, I’d missed a fabulous weekend, however he told me something that I’ve never forgotten. He said that we’re all amazing. We’re all doing amazing things, and to never, ever forget the impact that each and every one of us has on those who we support, and the changes that we make.

And yet – that feeling remained of being surrounded by giants whose shoes I will never even be able to step into, let alone fill. That fear that those around me know more than me; that I’ll say something silly or not understand something, and be “found out” remained. For a long time it meant that I didn’t always call out things that I knew to be wrong, such as some of the proclamations made by obstetricians who graced us with their presence at MSLC meetings. I was already one of the lowly lay, the only unpaid group of people in the room, the tick box attendees. How much worse if they realised that actually I didn’t know as much as they did about obstetrics!

Then one day, I discovered that there is an actual name for this. It’s called “imposter syndrome” and it is where we feel that we are less skilled, less knowledgeable and less valuable than we actually are.  It’s where we feel that we’ll get found out, discovered, seen to be fraudulently taking up a position that we have too little knowledge about. Suddenly, learning that this was a “thing” made me realise that in fact I was not alone in how I felt and therefore perhaps what I felt was simply wrong. Perhaps those in the room felt the same way. Perhaps the obstetricians don’t’ expect me to know what they know – because why would I – but perhaps I have knowledge that they have no idea about, and that is scary for them, too. And it’s true, I do. I know how women experience interactions with them, and what happens before and after those interactions. I know how the way that they speak to women can lead to peace or trauma. I know that their actions or words can impact on a life forever, and I know that they know that I know this!

When the Emperor has no clothes, and the trusts and CCGs try to push through blatantly unreasonable service changes or guidelines, it doesn’t need an expert to point out the naked truth about the damage that these changes often cause. We don’t need to be experts in anything to be the one to call out where the NHS is making damaging decisions. Even if we’re really new to working in maternity campaigning, we have our own experiences and our own innate knowledge which is the most powerful knowledge there is. None of us are imposters. Every one of us has value and every one of us can shake off the imposter syndrome niggles, and walk tall into our own area of campaigning. We may be worried that we will fall, but, oh, what if we fly?

I recently came across another blog on this very issue, by Dr Joanna Martin. She’s written a lovely piece which has some great ideas about what you can practically do to overcome imposter fears. Have a read of it here.