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Abused and Pregnant

A Matter of Jealousy

The Consequences of Violence

When a woman is the victim of violence, the consequences for both her and the fetus can be serious, if not fatal. The March of Dimes cites a study that found pregnant women who are physically abused are at an increased risk for poor weight gain, infection, bleeding, anemia, smoking, and alcohol use. The organization also points to another report that found newborns of abused women average 133 grams less in birth weight compared to newborns born to women who were not abused. And an article in the May 1997 American Journal of Preventive Medicine that reviewed several studies on the subject indicated that consequences of physical violence during pregnancy can include preterm labor and delivery, skull fractures, intracranial hemorrhage, and other injuries to the fetus.

Domestic violence has garnered enough attention in recent years that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended a year ago that physicians screen all patients for sexual and physical abuse at every visit. It's a sensitive subject few women will bring up on their own.

"I always sought medical help after every abusive situation, and if someone would have just seen through my excuses, I could have been saved sooner," Mary says.

Why Not Just Leave?

Many people ask, "Why not just leave the relationship?" Carll says. But women in abusive relationships typically were physically or sexually abused as children, she says -- and for them, an abusive relationship is familiar ground. Mary was sexually abused by her grandfather when she was a little girl, and she comes from a family in which physical violence was passed from generation to generation.

After five years, she got herself out of her violent marriage and into a good one, and has since had two children. Her past experiences, however, still haunt her.

"I love my children dearly, but I remember being terrified to tell my husband of the pregnancy, even though we planned it and he is far from abusive," she says. "It still set off a lot of old feelings."

Elaine Marshall is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev. She also reports for Time magazine and teaches at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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