Fighting to Stay Together: The forceful separation of mothers and their newborns — Sabina Jankovičová

As told to Stephanie Bowen, edited by Caroline Kinsella, as part of the Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast

My name is Sabina Jankovičová, I am a 43-year-old woman from Slovakia, and I have two children. Here in Slovakia, it is not possible to have anyone in the hospital with you during childbirth except during the last few hours of labor. Sometimes women stay isolated in the hospital for days. When my first child was born premature, my husband was not allowed to stay with me in the hospital for 48 hours. The hospital only let him visit me twice, for two hours each, during visiting hours. The rest of the time I was alone, after having given birth for the first time, and it was very challenging.

Despite objections from me and my husband, I underwent an unnecessary episiotomy, which is a surgical cut at the opening of the vagina used to create more space for the baby or to facilitate a quicker delivery. This forced, botched episiotomy would go on to cause years of pain and complications. During my seven-day recovery, I was separated from my newborn son — I was in one part of the hospital and he was in another. I had to walk the very long corridors to the other part of the hospital just to breastfeed him. Due to the pain from the episiotomy, that walk was torture. When I got there, the pain was unbearable, and I could not sit to breastfeed him.

That first week of my recovery, my child was in the hands of the hospital staff at night. I did not complain about my pain, because I knew my child was in their care and I felt powerless. Still, one really bad nurse was very aggressive toward my child before my own eyes. She forced a bottle of formula violently into his mouth, and I feared how she and others treated him when I wasn’t there as a witness.

In the premature baby part of the hospital, there were only two rooms and four beds for mothers and their children. When space became available after one week, the hospital staff finally put me in a room with my child. I stayed there for 10 days with my baby but continued to have difficulty breastfeeding. It was also challenging and hurt so much to get on and off the bed with my episiotomy wounds, because Slovakian hospitals have very high beds.

For my second pregnancy I went to Austria, a country I held in high esteem, where again I was separated from my newborn child. Like the Slovakian hospital where I first have birth, I also found no respect in Austria. I wanted bonding time with my child, but a nurse came and immediately demanded I hand over my baby to be weighed, before the hospital’s computer system closed. When I repeatedly objected because I was breastfeeding my child, she said “No, you have to obey.” My experiences in Austria were traumatizing, even though I had only gone there seeking respect and dignity in childbirth.

Every woman has her own unique life experience, and she knows what is best for herself and her baby. Doctors, nurses, midwives, and any caregivers of women must respect the individual choices of all women.

In Slovakia, Austria, and around the world, respect and communication are some of the most important parts of giving birth. No woman should ever have to go through the physical and emotional pain that I did during childbirth. More women and their communities must be informed about maternal and newborn rights so that they can stand up and demand change.

Read the rest of Sabina’s story: Article 1: Violence in the Labor Ward: Sabina Jankovičová

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns

Article 8 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter:

8. Every child has the right to be with their parents or guardians.

No one is allowed to separate you from your newborn without your consent. You and your newborn have the right to remain together at all times, even if your newborn is born small, premature or with medical conditions that require extra care.

Legal authority
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 17
Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990, Article 9, 16
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006, Article 22

Regional legal authority
American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, Article 11
European Convention on Human Rights, 1950, Article 8

Learn more about the universal rights of women and newborns at https://www.whiteribbonalliance.org/rmcresources/

Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.