For the past three years, ImprovingBirth has stood behind Kimberly Turbin, the California mother who received an unwanted, unconsented episiotomy (caught on video) while giving birth to her son in 2013. Kimberly’s story has received unprecedented attention in the American media, as well as a huge outpouring of support from ImprovingBirth’s community.
Kimberly’s original intent was to work with the hospital where she gave birth, helping to ensure that what she endured would never happen to another woman. But as time went on and the hospital failed to respond, it became clear that legal action was the only recourse Kimberly had in seeking justice for herself and other birthing people.
In 2015, before finding a lawyer to represent her, Kimberly bravely filed a landmark case against her doctor for assault and battery. After approaching over eighty lawyers and law firms in California, Kimberly finally found a human rights lawyer, Mark Merin of Sacramento, to represent her. In 2016, a judge ruled that her case was appropriate for a battery lawsuit. Later that year, she got a long-awaited medical diagnosis and treatment for the injuries she suffered during birth.
Four years after the birth of her son, Kimberly’s case has finally come to the just resolution she deserves via legal mediation. Dawn Thompson, the founder and president of ImprovingBirth, shares the story of Kimberly’s day in mediation:
“I wish I could share every detail about the day with you. You’ve all been faithfully following and sharing Kimberly’s story for almost three years, but I am bound by a nondisclosure agreement.
What I can tell you is that most of the day was filled with waiting. We were on the 21st floor of a high rise building in Los Angeles, in a small conference room with a large window. We could see the city below, mountains to the right and the ocean off in the distance.
They’d warned us that mediation usually takes all day. The mediator would move between two conference rooms. We never saw the ‘other side’ except for a moment with the doctor’s lawyer towards the end. I don’t think any of us expected that Kimberly would walk out of there with a settlement.
We were all nervous but none more than Kimberly. Jen Kamel of VBACFacts, human rights lawyer Hermine Hayes-Klein, and myself sat with her. We were doing our best to be a much-needed support system.
Kimberly had said many times that she wanted to make a serious impact. Her goal was to make it clear to the world who the real authority in the labor and delivery room is and should be—the person giving birth.
She wanted to make sure that abuse and violations of a patient’s rights to informed consent and right of refusal were brought to light. She wanted providers to get the message that no always means no, even during birth.
As the day progressed, Kimberly relaxed. Everyone agreed that Kimberly had a strong case. There was no reason to agree to a settlement—but then something happened.
As the lawyers began talking about what it would mean to move forward and go to trial, Kimberly broke down. Three more years. That’s the timeframe that was estimated for this type of case. Her face changed dramatically. Tears started rolling down her face.
She dropped her head and whispered, “I can’t do this for three more years.” Then she lifted her head, looking at all of us in a clear voice, “I can’t do this for three more years.”
For Kimberly, continuing to revisit the horrific moment when her perineum was cut twelves times against her very clear opposition was more than she could bear. And it was never about the money for her—it was about justice.
None of us could blame her for wanting this to be over. She’d done a damn good job and it was beyond time to move on.
Kimberly accomplished so much just by speaking out and sharing her story. The video has been viewed more than half a million times. Millions of people read her story in the many news articles written about the case. The doctor gave up his medical license and is no longer able to practice. Kimberly’s story has been shared with mothers, fathers, nurses, midwives, physicians, and more, even discussed during meetings of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
She had done exactly what she’d set out to do, leave a mark.”
Her strength and courage in speaking out and pursuing action against her doctor will continue to make a difference for birthing people in the United States. We can’t wait to see what this strong, brave woman will do next.
As an organization, ImprovingBirth will continue to publicize instances of obstetric violence and violation of informed consent during birth. We advocate for and with victims and survivors, strong in our belief that all people have the right to respect and autonomy in birth.
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On March 15, 2017, Kimberly joined us for a live update and interview about her case. Here is a recording of that update.