October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It's estimated that 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of physical abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), and each year more than 320,000 women experience violence during pregnancy (CDC). Women who are in an abusive relationship prior to pregnancy can expect the abuse to continue and sometimes worsen, and for some women, intimate partner violence (IPV) begins during or as a result of pregnancy. Do you believe you are in an abusive relationship? Domestic violence isn't always physical, but it is still abuse, and the affects can be just as devastating. Take a look at the following list to understand what domestic violence can look like.
- Physical violence - hitting, slapping, pushing, shaking, choking, etc.; any intentional use of force made against you with the potential to hurt you
- Sexual violence - using physical force to make you engage in any sexual act against your will or committing a sexual act upon you without your permission
- Threat of violence - physical or sexual threats made against you -- even if they are not carried out
- Using others to commit physical or sexual violence against you
- Verbal and emotional abuse - verbal insults, name calling, shaming and embarrassment, manipulating situations and resources to exert control over you, isolation from your family and friends
All of the above examples of domestic violence are true even if it happened one time, even if it was something that seemed minor ("just" a push), even if it was something you believe was "your fault," even if your partner had a bad day, even if your partner hasn't done anything in a while because you are being "good" (giving up your rights to avoid abuse).
Risk of Domestic Violence During Pregnancy
Domestic violence at any time in life is dangerous and potentially fatal. Abuse during pregnancy carries added risks to mother and baby, as well as continued harm after baby is born, if the domestic violence situation continues. These risks include:
- Low birth weight
- Injury to baby
- Uterine rupture, which requires emergency treatment and carries major risks to mother and baby
- High levels of stress and anxiety, both of which can have adverse affects on baby
- Increased risk for future child abuse
If you are experiencing any of the following, it's important to seek help as soon as possible.
- Feeling afraid of your partner most of the time
- Avoiding conversations/topics for fear of making your partner angry
- Feeling like you can't do anything right in your relationship
- Belief that you deserve the abuse you're receiving
- Believe you might be the one who is causing the anger or abuse
- Feel "numb" emotionally
- Feel helpless or hopeless
How to Get Help
The good news is that help for domestic violence is widely available. While it may be hard to finally admit that the person you love is causing you pain, it's important to take the first and most important step toward you and your baby's health and safety. Your situation and experience of domestic violence is not your fault, and you do have the power to seek help and find safety -- you deserve to live free from fear and abuse. The following list will help you find reliable ways to find safety in an abusive relationship.
- Call 911
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
- If you attend prenatal appointments alone, talk to your care provider. If your partner attends appointments, try and find a way to speak to your care provider alone.
- For immediate safety from violence, find a "safe room" in your house that has locks and can protect you until your partner leaves or the moment of anger blows over. If involved in a physical assault, try to take a fetal position (curled up in a ball) to help protect your abdomen from injury. When possible, avoid being on the second floor of your house.
How to Help if You Suspect a Friend is Experiencing Domestic Violence
If you suspect (or know) that a friend or family member is pregnant and involved in a domestic violence situation, it's important to speak up - you may be saving her life and her baby's! Speak to her in private, ask her if she's ok, let her know your concerns and what you've noticed, validate her concerns and fears, offer your help, and assure her you will use utmost discretion (no gossiping).
For additional resources, visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website.