The UK’s first maternity clinic offering specialist support to rape survivors has started today at Barts Health NHS Trust, under a ground-breaking project begun by a student nurse.
The My Body Back maternity clinic, based at the Royal London Hospital, will provide clinical and psychological support as well as mental health advice.
“A number of the women told me how isolated they felt throughout pregnancy”
Antenatal classes and breastfeeding advice have been designed for women who have experienced sexual attacks, and the clinic will also offer specialist gynaecological exams and mental health support after labour.
It has been developed in direct response to comments made by women that they experienced flashbacks of attacks while undergoing routine maternity tests and during labour.
The clinic will be run by Pavan Amara, founder of the My Body Back project, with consultant midwife Inderjeet Kaur and obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Rehan Khan.
Ms Amara, currently studying to be a nurse in London, was herself raped as a teenager and set up the project in 2014.
Last August the My Body Back initiative and Barts jointly established the first NHS service offering women who have been sexually assaulted access to specialist support to undergo a cervical smear test and testing for sexual infections.
“I am proud and delighted to be working in collaboration with My Body Back to offer this new service”
It was at those clinics that women began revealing the difficulties that they had experienced during pregnancy and labour, even if the attack had happened many years beforehand.
Ms Amara said: “A number of the women told me how isolated they felt throughout pregnancy and labour and how it had triggered them into remembering their experience of being raped.
“They felt they couldn’t tell anyone how they were feeling and hospital staff didn’t understand why they were so upset when they had to be touched during pregnancy tests, or why they were crying and emotional throughout labour,” she said.
“Their experiences really affected them, and often meant that after birth they didn’t want to attend neonatal appointments so their health and their baby’s health suffered,” said Ms Amara.
“From hearing women tell me this, I thought there was a need for us to start a maternity clinic specifically designed for women who have experienced sexual violence,” she added.
Ms Kaur, consultant midwife in public health at Barts, said she was “proud and delighted” to be working in collaboration with My Body Back to offer the new service.
“As midwives we strongly believe that all women should have informed choice throughout their pregnancy and labour,” she said. “For women who have been sexually assaulted it is especially important that they feel in control and are offered seamless continuity of care.
“This will promote confidence and trust so they can be open with their midwife to ensure that their experience will not trigger painful memories, and help nurture a strong lasting bond between mother and baby,” she said.
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Louise Silverton, director of midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Specialist maternity care for women who have survived rape and sexual assaults is vital and the RCM is very pleased that such as service has now been launched in London.
“One in five women in England and Wales has experienced rape, sexual assault and also childhood sexual abuse,” she said.
“This service will not only provide care for this group of vulnerable women but also support increasing the skills of a wider group of professionals who may be called upon to provide care for women who may only disclose a past history or may exhibit reawakening of earlier trauma,” she added.