The Link Between Domestic Violence & Pregnancy
May 2014: The Link Between Domestic Violence and Pregnancy
By Cynthia Amodeo, Director of Family Services, Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House Emergency Shelter.
Cynthia is a licensed mental health counselor who graduated Teachers College, Columbia University with her Master of Education and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. Cynthia has been working at Freedom House since 2008 first as the children’s counselor, then Coordinator and now Director of Family Services. Prior to Freedom House she worked with children and families impacted by the World Trade Center attack, children infected with HIV and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Pregnancy can be a very dangerous time for women in domestic violence relationships. According to the CDC intimate partner violence affects approximately 1.5 million women each year and affects as many as 324,000 pregnant women annually. In addition, According to the March of Dimes abuse often gets worse during pregnancy. Almost 1 in 6 pregnant women have been abused by their partner.
According to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center there are serious effects of domestic violence during pregnancy. If you are pregnant you can be at a higher risk of:
Injury to your uterus
Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature baby
Getting a dangerous vaginal infection from forced or unprotected sex with someone who has an infection
Increased first and second trimester bleeding
Violence also increases your baby’s risk of:
Weighing too little at birth
Having trouble nursing or taking a bottle
Having sleeping problems
Being harder to comfort than other babies
Having problems learning to walk, talk and learn normally
Experiencing lasting emotional trauma
Being physically and sexually abused
Being hurt during a fight
As the Director of Family Services at Freedom House Emergency Shelter, approximately 75% of mothers tell me that the abuse either started or got worse during pregnancy. Their experiences range from heated verbal arguments including put downs such as being called lazy or fat to severe physical beatings where woman have given birth early or even suffered a miscarriage. I often hear people tell me that their abuser gets upset with them when they are emotional or are too tired to make dinner. The woman I see are often told that it’s their fault that the abuser cheated because she won’t have sex with him. This results in many women blaming themselves for the abuse saying “well I was crying for no reason,” “I should have just gotten up and made dinner,” and “I have become so unattractive I understand why he found someone else.” The most common question I get is: “Why did it get worse when I got pregnant? It was so great before.” It is normal to become stressed and worry during pregnancy. However, some abusers have difficulty handling the stress and take it out on the pregnant woman. Some abusers get jealous that the attention is not on him anymore, others are fearful about the new responsibilities, and some are upset because the pregnancy may have been unplanned. However, no matter what the reason for the abuser being upset there is no excuse to abuse someone.
Domestic violence during pregnancy is a very serious issue and must be talked about. If you or someone you know is pregnant and being abused talk to them. It’s a difficult topic but one that cannot be ignored.
March of Dimes
UCFS Medical Center
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence “Pregnancy and Domestic Violence facts”