Welcome to the survivor moms speak out blog!

While practicing full-time as a community-based midwife, I had the opportunity to work with many women who were survivors, either of childhood sexual trauma, rape, or both. The experience of being their midwife, and witnessing their challenges and triumphs encouraged me to learn more about the effects of trauma on the body, and on the experience of childbearing specifically. So just as I felt "called" to practice midwifery, I felt "called" to shed light on issues that survivor moms face during the process of becoming a mother. That calling led me to begin the "Survivor Moms Speak Out" project. We surveyed many women who were both moms and survivors; and 81 of those women completed a narrative or contributed a poem for the book "Survivor Moms: Women's Stories of Birthing, Mothering, and Healing after Sexual Abuse."
Read more about the book, or order a copy, at http://www.midwiferytoday.com/books/survivormoms.asp.

Because of space constraints, not all of the narratives that women contributed to the book project were able to appear in full in the final version of the book. So I would like to take the opportunity to share some of the whole narratives in this blog, featuring a narrative at a time.
About reading survivor stories:
Although the stories are encouraging because they represent survivors’ triumphs over adversity, they can also to be hard to read, because of the intensity of the issues and events. I encourage you to check in with yourself while reading survivor stories, especially if you are a survivor of past trauma, and limit your exposure if you become “triggered”. Feeling triggered might take several different forms. You might start re-experiencing a past trauma you have had before, by not being able to stop thinking about it, or dreaming about, or just feeling like it is happening all over again. You may feel distress or have physical symptoms like feeling your heart race or sweating. If you start to experience these things, you may benefit from talking to someone who understands how trauma works and how to help you with post-traumatic symptoms.

To read more about trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder you can check out the National Center for PTSD website: http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/.

The Sidran Foundation offers an information and a referral resource on-line: http://www.sidran.org/

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cathleen's Story

A therapist once asked me, “Why don’t you feel any anger or resentment toward your parents?” I didn’t have an answer for her except to say, “I remember so little.” What I do remember is shrouded in dreams and impressions. I do recall the self-destructive behavior I had during adolescence. I used drugs and alcohol recklessly from age 17 until I married at age 21. Sometimes I mixed very dangerous combinations. Apparently I never worried about overdosing. I don’t think I really cared. I must have been hurting, and using drugs to escape and numb my pain.

As a teenager I had always been afraid of boys and men, not really understanding why. I was very lonely and dated only occasionally, until I met Matt at age 19. I thought I was in love. Matt was also a drug abuser. When he insisted our relationship become sexual or he would leave, I gave in. I did not enjoy sex, but it was something I endured in order that my starving heart could be fed through relationship. Within weeks Matt left me and I never saw him again. I had opened my heart only to have it crushed.

I had been raised with two younger brothers in rural Michigan. One was 8 years younger, the other, Rusty, was two years apart from me. Within weeks after Matt left, Rusty, the only male person in my life I had ever been close to, died suddenly in an auto accident. I fell into a deep depression. But God knew the desperate state my heart was in, for a time of refreshing was just around the corner…Exactly six months after my brother’s death I met my future husband, Chuck. He knew how to make me laugh and he was a wonderful companion. He treated me with respect and seemed to really care. The depression lifted as our friendship grew. Most puzzling to me early in our relationship was that he never made any advances. Could it be he was really interested in me as person? I began to trust. We married shortly after my 21st birthday. I stopped abusing drugs, determined to leave the past behind.
The first seven years if our marriage we tried to conceive. I loved children and desperately wanted to have a baby. Chuck and I never saw a doctor about this because during the exam I had for the marriage license the physician told me that he didn’t think I’d be able to have children because my uterus was immature. For some reason this didn’t upset me too much. I just had a feeling that children would be a part of my life.

We moved to Florida, and two years later I found that I was in fact pregnant with our first child. We were overjoyed with the news, and immediately made plans to return to Michigan. Because of the crime and drug problem where we had been living, we did not want to raise a family there. Neither of us had jobs, and unfortunately Michigan was one of the hardest hit states in terms of the countrywide recession that was taking place. As hard as we tried neither of us could find work.

Our baby was due the first week in July. As time approached I became more and more fearful. I just couldn’t understand why.

On July 4th, as we were preparing our holiday celebration, I realized I was bleeding slightly. I knew I was having contractions that day, but I didn’t think much of it because I had been having false contractions for two months. About nine pm I realized that I was experiencing real labor. Instead of leaving to view the fireworks, Chuck and I went to the hospital. Shaun Benjamin was born at 1:25 am on July 5th.

The nurse brought me my breakfast. I ate and began a conversation with the new mom in the bed beside me. At noon I still had not asked to see my baby. Truthfully, I was frightened. I didn’t understand at the time that I was emotionally a child myself. The responsibility seemed overwhelming; I had no confidence in my ability to be a good mother. Finally a nurse brought Shaun in. She was very helpful in getting me started on breastfeeding. After getting through the first few days when I was sore, I began to really enjoy the bonding that formed between Shaun and I and the extra closeness I felt while breastfeeding my baby.

Chuck finally found a part-time job, and we moved again to be closer to his place of employment. This time we rented the lower level of an old Victorian house. I began a licensed day care to try to help out. Chuck’s unemployment had run out. We got some food stamps to help with the groceries. I loved being a mother. I believe now that my self-worth became wrapped up in being a good mom.

The economy got worse and worse. When Shaun was 18 months old, our landlord discovered we were operating a day care and shut us down. That same month Chuck lost his job. We suddenly had no income at all. Our hearts sank. This is when I really began searching spiritually. I had always believed there was a God, but I didn’t KNOW Him and I wanted to. What was the truth about God? There were so many opinions and religions. I started by praying and asking God to reveal Himself to me. Then I picked up a bible translation that I could understand and read a chapter every night in the New Testament. After I had gotten thought it I had the opportunity to go to a bible-based church service, and afterwards asked to pray with the pastor. I told him I wanted to follow Jesus, and through Him know God, and he led me in prayer. I surrendered my heart and life that night in prayer. Immediately I felt a warm spiritual presence fill me up from head to toe. God knew that I needed this tangible touch to know that He heard.

During the next month Chuck also made a commitment to the Lord in prayer. We began to feel directed to sell everything except what could fit in the back of our Ford and go back to Florida. As we were preparing to do this I discovered I was pregnant with our second child. We reached Orlando and stayed with friends. Within two weeks Chuck had three job offers to choose from. Moving back was a big step of faith for me, because I didn’t want to live there. I was learning to trust God.

Chuck and I moved into an apartment shortly after he received his first check. It was difficult for me to find an obstetrician because we were not covered by health insurance. Finally I did. I went into labor November 1st at 3:00 am. By 10:00 am I decided it was time to phone my doctor. After examining me, he sent me straight to the hospital. I was already more than halfway dilated.

Leia Lorraine was born at ten minutes past noon. Unfortunately her birth was an unpleasant experience. My doctor seemed to be in a very big hurry. Even though I had only been pushing for about 15 minutes, he impatiently “helped” by pushing on the baby’s head through my rectum to speed the process. Then he pulled the placenta out by the cord instead of waiting for it to be birthed naturally. I felt violated at the time. Now I understand much more than I did why the experience traumatized me.

Within a few weeks of giving birth to Leia I began experiencing postpartum depression. This was much more severe than the normal blues moms get. I became physically weak with it to the point that I slept almost constantly and couldn’t function well enough to properly care for my children. By the time Leia was four months old someone from our church was coming over every day to care for the kids and me. My doctor could find nothing physically wrong. Our HMO would not refer me to any specialists. I had been having a loose green stool for almost two months. I was so weak I could barely stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. In addition I felt like I was losing my mind. I was frequently gripped by panic attacks. One morning I was determined to get up and dress the kids before the helper got to the house. I succeeded in doing that, and just as I finished the helper knocked on the door. I let her in with my last bit of strength and collapsed on the couch. Suddenly I felt very strange, like every ounce of energy in my body was leaving my limbs and rushing to my vital organs. I asked the lady who had come to help to call the paramedics. When they reached me I was unable to move from the neck down. After some time in the emergency room on an IV, I was able to move again. I was admitted to the hospital and spent a whole month there.

Leia had to be weaned immediately. I was crushed by this, and the necessary separation from Shaun and Leia. I was also very frightened because no one seemed to understand what was causing my symptoms. I saw many different specialists and had many tests. The neurologist thought I was suffering from a severe postpartum episode. My HMO doctor told me that if that was the problem then I’d “get over it” by myself. I was also diagnosed with an intestinal parasite and placed on medication for that. A whole year passed before I felt like myself again. I can’t really say how much of my ordeal was due to the effects of my sexual abuse, but I wonder… I was so frightened by what happened to both my mental and physical health after Leia was born that I chose not to have any more children, even though I wanted more.

When Leia was fifteen months old we made a move back to my beloved hometown in Michigan, and both found jobs shortly thereafter. Life went on, and seemed pretty normal to me. By late summer of 1988, I had been happily married (or so I thought) for 14 years. I was raising two children, whom I dearly loved. My son, Shaun, was age seven. He was a compliant child with (for the most part) an I-want-to-please-Mommy attitude and a brightness to his countenance so much of the time that his babysitters called him “Smiley.” Shaun did lack self-confidence in his ability to learn anything new and became frustrated very easily. His favorite words in his early years were “I can’t do it!” My number one family goal was keeping the peace. So more often than not, I would do it for him, rather than listen to his arguments or complaints. Little did I understand then, that my way of coping with the situation was adding to Shaun’s low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. We were soon to discover that part of Shaun’s problem was due to Attention Deficit Disorder, without hyperactivity, which made the problem less obvious.

My daughter Leia, age four, was definitely more of a challenge, with her strong-willed, take-charge personality. She was a beautiful child with an innocent melt-your-heart expression. She had plenty of kisses and “bear-hugs” for me to make up for the times of trial. There were many times I just could not let her have her way and the peaceful atmosphere I tried to build in our home was temporarily disrupted. Whenever possible, though, I would let her have her way, and at a very young age she learned that she could manipulate and control. Her dad reinforced this behavior, because he modeled it every day.

I had been operating a day care in our home for two years. It was a group daycare home, which allowed me to have up to twelve children, and required me to have at least one employee to help me when seven or more children were present. I was working from 5:30 am to 6:00 pm Monday through Friday, and much of my weekends were spent doing bookkeeping, cleaning, menu planning and grocery shopping for the daycare.

I had started my business so that I could be home with my own children. The irony was that I was there physically, but I had very little time or emotional energy fro them. My husband worked fulltime. Our finances were tight, but we were making ends meet.

No, I couldn’t complain about my life. We had moved three years prior back to my beloved hometown in rural Michigan from Florida. So why did I feel so fearful, depressed and exhausted? These feelings seemed to overtake me quite suddenly. I could find no obvious reason for the emotions I was experiencing.

Toward the end of that summer, I felt so stressed, I could no longer handle disciplining the children and left that up to my employee, while I did jobs like cleaning, diapers, outdoor supervision, and answering the phone.

I had always struggled with making friends. It seemed that no one outside my immediate family took an interest in getting to know me and my perception was I was not pleasant to be around or likeable. Consequently, it was very difficult to reach out to others, because I expected rejection. Deep inside I had always struggled with feelings of inferiority, shame, guilt, worthlessness, and fear. I remember feeling very lonely. I had no close friends, only acquaintances from the church we had been attending the last three years.

I did have a very strong faith. I prayed about an hour every day, just talking to God and reading scripture. In various ways He always seemed to answer my prayers. I knew God was there for me—He was, in fact, my best friend. If it weren’t for my relationship with Him I know without a doubt I would never have made it through the next six years, nor would I be here to tell my story today.

As autumn approached Shaun began first grade and Leia was starting a pre-K class three days a week. I still had plenty of daycare children to keep me busy.

Toward the end of September a lot of grief and deep emotional pain began surfacing. It felt like I had fallen off an emotional cliff. I would weep for hours at a time. This went on daily for three weeks. Then suddenly I felt numbness. Although there was an overall depression and heaviness, I couldn’t cry. I wasn’t sleeping much, either. It would take me at least an hour to fall asleep, then I would awaken about two or three hours later, unable to go back to sleep, though I would try. I’d lay awake until dawn. I was unable to nap during the day because of the daycare. My stomach began to hurt constantly. I couldn’t eat even small amounts of food without pain. My appetite became nearly non-existent.

I fasted, I prayed, and I hired more help for my daycare. But my symptoms persisted. I became withdrawn, making it only to church and back twice a week. I lost weight rapidly, returning to the weight I had been as a young teen, a mere waif. Every day I cried out to God, not understanding why I was in such pain.

I began having difficulty with my short-term memory and it became very difficult to concentrate on anything. Even comprehending what I read was hard. I would have to read a sentence several times before I understood. The things I usually enjoyed doing, such as gardening and spending special time with the kids, became joyless. The fatigue continued to the point that it was difficult to get through an ordinary day. I craved rest…and yet, I couldn’t sleep.

During all this Chuck, my husband, had never expressed concern over my depression or prayed for me. I felt hurt and rejected. One day I approached Chuck to talk. This was after many previous attempts to communicate my concerns about my emotional well-being and the poor health of our relationship. I told him I needed some time to share my thoughts and feelings. His response was one of irritation and putting me off as usual. I lost control, feeling suddenly in a rage. I picked up the phone and threw it across the room, and then stomped in the bedroom yelling, “I hate you!” I pounded my fist on the door until it hurt, and then fell into a heap on the floor, sobbing, “God, what am I going to do? There’s a monster inside of me!” I was shocked at the rage that surfaced. How could I not have known it was there? I felt fearful, and unworthy of my own husband’s time, care, and attention. I was completely unlovable and hopeless, I thought. I hated myself and I hated Chuck for not being there for me. At that moment I felt utterly alone. My mental and physical health, along with my marriage, was shattering all around me.

One morning after spending time in prayer I laid my head back down on the pillow. In less than a minute I felt totally paralyzed, unable to move or speak. Suddenly I heard voices, a lot of them talking to me all at once. I could not understand what they were saying, but one of them seemed to be shouting. During this time, I was struggling desperately to move, but could not. Then the voices stopped, and I was immediately able to sit up.

It was at this point that I realized it was critical that I get help. What ensued for the next seven years was very difficult. I was diagnosed with a bio-chemical depression and hospitalized for it for three weeks in the fall of 1989. I began regular therapy and was put on anti-depressant medication to help correct the neuro-chemical imbalance.

Chuck and I went into long-term marriage counseling to work on our relationship, which we came to realize was often emotionally abusive and controlling on his part, and co-dependant and enabling on my part.

A woman from the church I was attending reached out to me to befriend me and support me. With the help of my new friends and my pastor I made meaningful steps toward healing relationally and spiritually. For a time I began feeling better, but in 1992a torrent of emotions, hopelessness, despair, fear, worthlessness and self-hatred began surfacing. It so took over my mind, that my thinking was no longer rational. It was as if there were two wills/personalities inside of me. One was the Cathy I knew. The other was pushing for self-destruction. I was so weary from the internal battle that ensued, that three separate times a sense of giving up took hold of me. At these times I was suicidal, even going so far as making plans. However, each time God intervened to prevent me from carrying out those plans. This all led to my second hospitalization in 1992.

Through therapy, prayer, and a series of dreams, which I believe to be inspired by God, I came to an understanding of my history as a survivor of sexual abuse. The emotions and self-destructive thinking that was surfacing were the feelings I had locked up and repressed as an abused child.

My healing was strengthened and furthered by two very meaningful trips to Mexico and one to the Ukraine, all of which were made possible by God even though difficult financial times made it seem impossible.

Sexual abuse has affected every area of my life: physically through stress factors, emotionally, mentally (wrong-thinking), relationally (inability to trust or feel worthy of being loved), and spiritually. Healing had to be pursued in each area. It has been a long, painful journey. Frequently I was overwhelmed, and close to giving up. But my faith in the Lord, along with extensive counseling, has gotten me through.

I realized after piecing together my fragmented memories of my childhood that I had had several perpetrators, beginning with a babysitter in my preschool years. It seemed I was unable to protect myself throughout my life. When I was in my mid-twenties I was molested (touched inappropriately) during a job interview. I was absolutely frozen with fear. I could not move. Afterwards I couldn’t understand why I had been so completely unable to protect myself.

A very important insight discovered during counseling was that a picture I had chosen of myself to best represent my “inner child” was of me at age four and ten months old – the exact age (I was to discover later) that my daughter was when all of my symptoms of depression first surfaced in the fall of 1988. Somehow Leia reaching the age I had been when the abuse began was triggering for me.

I began to understand that the inner child, the part of me that was hurting so, was in fact my deepest inner being; the part of me that feels deeply, needs, and loves. It is not only my feelings, but in fact the creative part of me, the part where self-expression flows. As a child I had been hurting so much that I effectively cut off that part of my soul; numbing, repressing, and burying everything there. As a developing teen, I must have been so terrified of discovering memories that would have confirmed my degradation and vulnerability, that I subconsciously tried to put to death “Little Cathy,” numbing and silencing every part of my wounded heart in a desperate attempt to escape fear, to be “okay”, and to fit in. It was at this time of my life that denial and the locking-up and burying of my emotions/creative nature had been set in stone in order for me to survive the teen years and beyond. I remember reading a scripture that spoke to my heart like a command when I had been suicidal in 1992: “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Instead of guarding my heart I had been trying to destroy it.

As I healed, my creative expression emerged as a fine artist. I have always loved fine art, but never developed my talent, because of the creative block that was there. I was inspired to draw upon seeing a picture of a toddler from one of the mission trips to the Ukraine, and subsequently drew many images of the children I personally encountered while there. I was able to identify emotionally with them; the pain and need reflected in their expressions. My talent and love for fine art became unlocked through these drawings. Expressing myself in this way became an important part of my healing process.

Toward the end of therapy I had a very significant dream. I felt God was giving me a word picture of the inner-workings and influence of evil both in the world and in the hearts of men:

There was a war going on. I did not see anyone fighting or any weapons around, but I knew there were two sides battling, and one was very evil. It was not clear to me if this battle was taking place in the physical or spiritual realm – I think both. Anyway, the two sides lived among each other.

In the center of the town there was a lake. I found myself at the bottom of the lake and saw there the beautiful, innocent faces of very young children and babies. The “evil side” had anchored them there, and I realized these were the children of the side that was not evil. The children were alive, peering at me with big eyes and helpless-looking faces. I realized they would soon drown. (I could not help them – it was as if I was looking on the scene, but not actually there.) Then I saw one of them suddenly break loose from his anchor and shoot up to the surface. He gasped for air at the top, but I knew he was too young to swim and that he would soon drown.

After that I found myself on shore, gazing at a man who was in a small booth with an open window. He was the gatekeeper for the lake. Anyone wanting to use the lake or have access to it for any reason had to pay a fee. He was not evil. I approached him, perplexed, and asked, “Why are you allowing the evil ones to use this lake? Don’t you know they are using it to destroy the children of your own people?”

He responded, “If they pay the fee like everyone else, what can I do?” But I could tell he was distressed at my question.

Then a woman walked up. She was heavy-set, maybe about 40-50 years old and well dressed. She looked very harmless, but I knew she represented those who were on the side of evil. She came up to the booth’s window, wanting to pay the fee for access to the lake. The gatekeeper knew whom she was, and that she was intending to anchor more children at the bottom.

The gatekeeper decided to raise the fee to such a ridiculous price that he was sure she would not pay. He wrote the fee on his register – one million, six hundred thousand and some odd dollars. She pulled out a wad of money and began counting it out, as if to say, ‘No problem, money is no object.’

When the gatekeeper saw that she could and would pay the fee, he became very frightened and convicted to take a stand. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I can’t allow you to use the lake!”

“But you agreed to this amount,” the lady replied. “You’ve written it on the register beside my name! This is a legal contract – you can’t change the terms now!” She was very intimidating and persistent. Despite his convictions, the man gave in and allowed her to have her way with the lake and the children of his people.

The children represent the young, innocent, and vulnerable ones. We were all at this place when we first came into this world. There is evil in the world, which seeks destroy and corrupt each of us. Through exposure to evil (including abuse) we are anchored at a place (in our hearts) that will threaten to destroy each of us, if we do not seek help. As children we are helpless, but as adults WE ARE NOT, although we may still feel that way. However, we are still vulnerable, because our boundaries have been shattered by abuse. Boundaries are an individual’s gatekeeper, effectively keeping evil out, but opening up one’s life and heart to let good in, thereby allowing loving, nurturing relationships in one’s life. In this way, we “guard our hearts” without closing our hearts. We learn how to love and persevere through difficult times, but we also learn to discern evil (evil is very deceptive and persuasive, as was the lady in the dream) and protect our hearts from evil’s destruction and treachery. EVIL IS THE ENEMY, and works in the hearts of men and women. If we do not effectively battle it, we become like the gatekeeper in the dream – an enabler to evil.

How then can we help ourselves? First, admit that the damage done in our hearts by whatever abuse or evil that has impacted our lives and understand that we cannot heal without help. We have a choice; remain in the prison we have built around our hearts (which robs us of joy, love, and relationships, and finally our health and our very life), or break out of our denial and seek diligently for help and healing. Go to God, however you understand Him. See your doctor, a counselor, get involved in group therapy, all the while remain teachable (if you are prideful you will not be teachable) and seek God for direction. Above all seek a relationship with God, ask Him to purify your heart and be honest with yourself about the damage done in your heart and how it is currently affecting your life, health, and relationships.

LET YOURSELF FEEL AND GRIEVE. This is very healing. You suffered the loss of your innocence and childhood. The abuse was not your fault. Validating the cries of your heart being expressed through your grief will allow you to release the pain you have carried, in many cases since childhood. Make a choice to forgive yourself and those who’ve sinned against you, but only after you understand the scope of the damage done. Otherwise the forgiveness you offer will be cheap.
The road of healing can be very long, but persevere and you will find one day that you have become a new person, and you are free. Your relationships will change, you will be better able to love and allow yourself to be loved. Life will become an adventure of the heart, rich in growth and meaning. Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you, forever guiding you on your journey.

(Cathleen includes the following poem, written for her by her sister-in-law during a difficult time along her healing journey.)

The Little Girl

The little girl lay deep inside, hidden from all, from view.
The grown up girl that showed her face, that was the one that everyone knew.
For a long time she laid deep inside, too fearful to come out.
But through God’s healing power that change is coming about.
That change is hard – it hurts – it’s terrible.
Sometimes you think you can’t go on.
But God’s Son had given you the power.
Your victory is already won.
I see you in the future, standing straight and tall.
I see you strong and able – No longer weak and small.
I see the smile that once lay hidden, way deep down inside.
I see for you, a new awareness. A brand new sense of pride.
I see a confidence that once wasn’t there, that has banished all the old fears.
A confidence that has been fought long and hard for, at the expense of many tears.
But the victory – OH, SWEET VICTORY – will be there for you to claim.
Because the God of all Gods is reaching down to help you, as you call upon His name.
I see a time in the future when that little girl will find release.
At last she’ll know happiness – be strong – and know true peace.

May God bless you, Cathy, as you come to know and cherish the beautiful little girl that lies within.

NOTE: A limited edition of the print at the start if this post can be found on E-Bay under "Ukanian Baby" limited edition print or "Tribute to the Ukraine"
which is the title of the drawing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Karin's Story

I am a survivor of multiple traumas. I was sexually assaulted multiple times as a teenager starting at age 12. I told no one for 20 years…the healing has been slow. In college, I lived in the highlands of Guatemala and was there when an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale occurred. Over 3,500 people in the town where I was living, including all of my neighbors died. The village only had a population of 10,000. I stayed to help reconstruct the town. Several years later I returned to find the death squads “disappearing” people from their beds as they slept and taking people off buses never to be seen again. From my Mayan friends I learned how important it is to laugh, to dance and to cry together when all seems to be dark.

Birth. I stood in the shower shaking and crying and with each contraction there was an even greater release. It was as if the earthquake were passing through my entire body. I was not fearful, it was healing. The energy was so strong it was all I could do to hold back…to wait until it was time to push. Finally, I was ready. I found a calm place deep inside and with everyone gathered around I slowly and quietly birthed my sweet baby...life not death.

Post traumatic stress disorder… it comes and it goes. It taps my shoulder and sends shivers of fear throughout my being, making me want to run, to protect myself and my children. It comes at both expected, and unexpected times. My experiences have given me strength and a deep sense of purpose. I have faced my own death and know that I am still here for a reason; I have important work to do…a reason for living. My experiences have helped me to put things in perspective. I am quite tolerant of life’s little trials and tribulations because in the bigger picture they simply are not very important.

Mothering. I think my life’s experiences have made me a patient mother. I take time to really enjoy my children, my work, and my garden. My children are still young – ages 10 and 12. I try to involve my children in our community in ways that make them feel empowered. We have adopted a creek and have joined other families to create a children’s wet meadow. I hope that being with people who care about making the world a better place will balance the pain and violence that also exists and will help them be resilient, purposeful and joyful people.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holly’s Story

My husband and I chose to have a homebirth with a midwife and a doula. The labor was progressing quickly and my midwife explained that I was almost at 10 cm. I was excited that I would begin to push soon but then the contractions changed. The contractions became shorter and fewer. My midwife checked the dilation after about one hour and I had gone from almost 10 cm back to 6 cm. I did not realize this was even possible and I was upset by this. My midwife explained that this was most likely due to some fear I was experiencing and to try to let it go. I did not feel I was consciously aware of any fears I may be experiencing and the labor continued to slow down. My midwife appeared annoyed and she became persistent that the change in dilation was due to some fear inside of me. This was troubling to me because I felt she was blaming me for the change in the dilation, and I felt she was being pushy about her belief that this was due to fears inside me.

She seemed to be getting frustrated with me and said, “This most likely is due to the abuse from your past, you need to let it go.” This statement was extremely upsetting to me. The abuse I experienced had been told to my midwife in private and she said this comment in front of a doula whom I had chosen not to tell. Breaking this confidentiality made me feel even more vulnerable than I was already feeling. I was also very angry that the abuse I experienced was being discussed during the stress of labor. The reminder of the abuse added stress to an already stressful situation. It also seemed to be taking traumatic events in my life and making it into something casual, that I could just let go of so easily.

After the birth I began to notice many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which I have experienced in the past. I could not eat, I was having nightmares, I was hypervigilant, and very irritable. I would think often about my labor experience and would feel angry towards my midwife. I decided I needed to confront her on how I was feeling. I explained to her exactly how I was feeling and how I felt during the labor. She was very apologetic and explained to me why she was frustrated during my labor. Confronting my midwife helped with many of the post-traumatic stress symptoms I was having. I felt that I took control of a situation that was feeling out of control.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tina's Poems

Out of Clouded Waters

Water pools
where long have
hidden my truths.
Dusty fragments of past
gather there and settle.
I keep the pond still,
until calm is lost
under storm of day to day.

She rises from the water,
thread-bare and stained
Her child-eyes
knowing always too much
but never of herself.
Never knowing of her innocence, long stolen

I stare at her through watery eyes,
Mourn our unity,
our separateness.
Touch her with arms made strong from
past submersions of her
Past drownings.

But this time I pull her to me
our wet skins touch
we lay in the warmth
of our self.
And feel the rains crash down.

burn scars
are forever in healing
even under the coolest of touches.

On starry winter nights
when your cool hand rested on my face,
our delicious fever pitched

until my eyes closed, fleeing
the intensity
of us.

did you know I had been burned
by other fires long, long ago?
sacrificed on altars
of child-lust
bereft of all
but to burn and bleed innocence
onto cold ground.

Your cool hands ignited me
and together we were hotter than I could stand.

burn scars are forever in healing...
yours were not hands to heal me
but to set me afire
all the rest of my starry nights.

I re-enter resting body
eyes open wide
and he is there.

Grinning his toothy fascination
riding as on a forbidden rollercoaster
and I am the child-ride.
Panic rises
fear of the descending
contorted brow of

His red face swallows
squinting eyes
rolling inward
rolling upward
leaving only clenched teeth.
The ride is almost over
I once again retreat inward

Later, she shows her pinched-up
face (mad mother face)
to me. Eyes flee downward in shame.
Fear of discovery.

I anxiously await my escape into
The protection of my own silence
where anger and hatred
love and hope
Are returned to my ownership
and write themselves incomprehensibly
on my forehead.

Her lifetime was lived
while her mother lay sleeping
in Denial's arms

Girlhood whispers
and feather touches
could not wake her.
Scent of bitter-coffee
and still her mother dreamed.

Silently, resigned
she left for other warmth

When the sleep
became forever
she held tears inside
for warmth.
Rocked back and forth
back and forth
wrapped in her mother's solaces.

I live my life while
my mother lays

Beginning fresh
every day
to raise them up,

She brushes golden hair
in long strokes through
earthy smelling bristles.
Dips into white water fountains
to smooth their tangles
Breathes in deep,
the long-gone smell of
milky flannel.

She weaves her tapestry
with their sun spun hair
inserting beads of her
own soul;

a cloak of green and gold finery
in which to wrap them.

For one day, they will
walk the river’s shores alone

panning for her soul

And finding that pebble
of living green,

They will become
one with the river.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

tedi’s story

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16)

“You were so ugly the nurses in the hospital called you Monkey. I called you Peanut. I felt so sorry for you when you were born, you didn’t even weigh five pounds. I always felt responsible for that. I didn’t want to be pregnant. Your father and I were not getting along at the time and I was going to leave him. So much did I want to leave him that I even tried to abort you three times. Thank God it didn’t work though because as it turned out I loved you the best.”

This is how I was welcomed into the world. I do not know how old I was when I first became conscious and aware of what had been said to me all my time on this earth. I can tell you that when I figured out the meaning of those words (those words and so many others just like them) I felt pure rage for the woman who gave birth to me.

I was born in 1944 when my brother was four. I remember almost nothing of him until I was much older. My dad was in the navy and so he didn’t live with us on a regular basis until I had been alone with my mom much too long. All I can remember is being told how hard she had it, how everybody in dad’s family hated her because she was from the wrong side of the tracks. “They hate you too cause you’re a girl and girls don’t count in this family.” Dad’s brother had nine girls trying to have a boy baby because his brother did. He drank, and abused them all.

Mom would say to me over and over, “Don’t worry, I love you. Momma loves her sad unwanted little baby best. I’ll never let anybody hurt you, never! You’re mine and nobody else will ever have you or hurt you.” She told me she liked to call me her china doll. She told me my skin was so white and see-through that she could count the veins all over my body. My hair was also white and she said she used to love to wash it and keep me clean. She would keep me safe forever. She would keep me safe from men, from the world, from all things evil and bad. Nothing bad would ever happen to me, she wouldn’t let it. She kept me with her at all times after I was born and at the same time if she had had her way, I would have never been born. I can never remember being held lovingly or being loved.

As I have studied to understand what is wrong with me, I see what I am saying is true. Neither of my parents was capable of loving. As a child I had a saying in my head about my mom. It went, “Mothers eat their young.” Imagine my surprise when I grew up and learned that some species actually do!

My mom used to sit me down in a chair from time to time and tell me she hated me. She would say, “I hate you, tedi, I do all I can for you and it is still not enough. You hate me too. You must. You never want to help me. You are hateful, you are willful, and you have always been ungrateful. God, I don’t know what I am going to do with you, you never cooperate with anything, you fight everything I try to do for you. I really hate you.”

One day when she sat me in the chair, in order to stop her flow of words, as soon as she started with “I hate you tedi” I said with all my force, “Well momma I hate you too.” She never did that to me again, but it was too much for me. When I got to my room I beat and beat and beat on myself, my legs, my stomach, and then my head. I beat my head because it would not shut up. It kept saying over and over, “I hate you too momma, I hate you too momma.” Then I crawled into my closet with my pillow to be safe but instead I placed the pillow over my face and screamed and screamed while beating my head against the wall. When I was exhausted I crawled into bed and passed out.

I attempted suicide when I was ten by taking a bottle of thirty aspirins, expecting not to be able to ever wake up again. The intent to die was very definite then. The next morning I was very surprised to have to get up and get dressed to go to school. Not only was I still alive but also my ears rang for a week. It was as if my head was inside a seashell, with the sound of the sea in my ears and my head in a big barrel. I believe it was soon after I had told my mother I hated her. I could not stand having said that to her.

Once when my sister and I were much older, were doing the dishes together, dad was drunk and told us that he always liked to put his mouth on us between our legs when we were babies. He told us how he loved kissing on us there, we were so small, innocent and sweet smelling. I can tell you we were not when he finished with us.

My sister is the only other person I can remember trying to help and to love decently until I was able to have much healing in my spirit, mind, soul, and body. One time when we were kids I was told to watch her for a brief period of time between our parents coming and going. At some point I had told her to do something, and she gave me a sharp “no!” and I proceeded to chase her through the house with a hairbrush. When I rounded the corner into the kitchen chasing her, dad had her in his arms and she was clinging to him as if her life depended on it. I did not even know he was in the house. He was always there when you had no idea he was anywhere around. I remember looking at them and thinking, “Dear God, I’m just like my mother.” Nobody said anything, and I went into the bathroom and threw up. I don’t know what made me sicker, what I had wanted to do to my sister with that brush or seeing her in my dad’s arms. He was drunk and I was fearfully thinking, “Is he doing to her what he’s doing to me?”

I believe from that time on I knew I was not mother material. I began then and there asking God not to let me have any children. I meant it. Between the abuse I had taken and there never being enough of anything to go around, not food, not clothing, not things and especially not good love, I did not want to be responsible for bringing a child into this world. I didn’t think the world was a very safe place.

My dad only sexually abused me once while I was old enough to do anything about it. He treated me like his wife and my mother encouraged it. I can’t say which one of my parents I hated most. The incident was in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, the night before going back to school. The summer was over, and I had managed to stay out of trouble, but I was very lonely and could hardly wait to get back to school. After my dad molested me. What had been eagerness to return to school turned into a living nightmare. I could not break through that haziness, that heaviness, the black cloud that I had awakened to the first day of the eighth grade. I was at school, had no idea how I arrived there, stumbling around in the halls, trying to find my home room, being bumped and pushed by other kids trying to change classes and find their rooms. At school that year I just sat in class, did not even try to be there and was pretty much left alone as I recall. I went through two eighth grades, and almost two ninth grades that way, never being present.

I quit school at sixteen, halfway through the year. I really did try to keep house and be some kind of person, it didn’t work though. Dad was always there drinking, mom was never satisfied still. I couldn’t get anywhere this way, and I knew it. All I can ever remember wanting was a home of my own. I was more miserable than ever so when school started up the next year, I went back. There I was seventeen and in the ninth grade (starting school at the age I did I should have been a senior); but I couldn’t afford to care about that, at least I was out of the house. I never have finished school or gotten my GED.

About this time, my mom and I went to a Lutheran church in the neighborhood for a while. I sang in the choir and had a good time. I loved the lightness going and doing at church made in me. I loved taking communion. Mom received a letter with a red hand on it saying she needed to give more money, and she never went back. I went some more but soon ran away to get married. I had met a boy by the name of Keith while in the second ninth grade. He came over to the house a couple of times until dad forbade him to come back. I didn’t even know him, but he spoke to me a few times, I liked that. He also took me to choir practice a couple of times. It was getting close to the end of the school year and since dad had forbidden me to see him again and I wanted out, when Keith asked me to go to Georgia with him and get married I did. We certainly didn’t have to get married. I had never even been tempted to have sex with him or anybody for that matter. (My way to have sex was with myself and nobody else, that way I thought I had all my problems solved around my sexuality.) I did not know that way was a sin also. I did not know sex and sexual things were optional. After we were married I did go back to school and pick up my report card. I had passed, and that made me feel really good.

The first night Keith and I were married and together to have sex I told him, “I don’t care what you do to me, just don’t get me pregnant.” Within three months I went to the doctor for feeling sick to my stomach and he told me I was pregnant. I was honestly shocked and furious. I had never even been on a real date, and now I was going to have a baby. I remember telling the powers that be I would try to love and keep a girl, but if I had a boy, I would not even try to raise him. I would let Keith and his family raise him. I had a girl.

When I married him the uproar in the family was terrific. Finally it was decided, (by my mom, dad and brother sitting around the table discussing me as though I was not there) that they as well let the marriage stand. One of them said, “She will probably just run off and do it again if we tried to have the marriage annulled.” I sat on the couch in the front room wanting to say I didn’t really want to be married, but I didn’t know how to say this, so, I said nothing. Anyway, I had had sex, and that made me totally not any good now. When I was dismissed mom told me to get my things packed and get out, and dad told me I would never be welcomed in his house again. My brother said nothing, but I thought I saw pain in his eyes when our eyes met. I gathered my things and left. Keith was parked down the street and around the corner waiting for me. I cried all the way back to the apartment. This was the day after we had gotten married. It was a Sunday afternoon. As a parting shot that day dad had said, “I give you six months and you’ll be begging to come home.” Therefore I stayed in that marriage much longer than I would have if I had not been trying to show him I could stay married.

My pregnancy was awful. I threw up the whole nine months, couldn’t keep anything down. I even quit smoking cigarettes as they made me sick also. I finally just quit eating, and drank milk constantly. The only food I could keep down was packaged sugar food (sweet rolls, anything that was individually wrapped and didn’t cost more than a quarter.) I was using my cigarette money to buy the sweets with. I could also eat rice krispies without any sugar on them later in my pregnancy. We had a little neighborhood store right across the street from where we lived. I went there once a day. The apartment we could afford was so filthy I could not eat anything that came from that kitchen. I didn’t ever eat in that apartment, I ate outside. The apartment was $25 dollars a month, and we lived there until the baby was born. I didn’t go to a doctor again until the end of my pregnancy and then I went to a clinic someone at Keith’s job had told him about. We paid one hundred dollars to have the baby.

At first I had tried to clean the apartment, but I had never seen dirt that would not clean up. It was ground in or something, I could not get it to clean or to smell good. I finally just gave up even trying. I was too sick to care. Keith would come home from work and cook and eat out of that kitchen. I never understood how he could do that until I saw his parent’s house, where he grew up and what he had lived in. Dirt and alcohol. Both his parents were total alcoholics. They died from their alcoholism years after we divorced. One thing about my mom, she had kept a clean house. The old saying ‘you could eat off her floors,’ was true for her, you could. Even after she went to work, she had me keep her house that clean.

One weekend toward the end of my pregnancy I left the apartment, ran away really. Keith wanted sex and I said no, that I felt too sick, and he got a little pushy, so I got in the car and drove to a park in my area. It was raining. I stood at the railing; face up to the rain, it felt so good. I was very heavy with my child (although I couldn’t eat much I still gained forty pounds.) I looked down into the St. John’s River and wanted so much to fall in and sink to the bottom. It was twilight and very steamy, foggy even, as it was gently raining in the aftermath of a very hot July day. I was asking to die. I have asked for that most of my life because I didn’t know what living meant. I wasn’t violent or even angry, I was simply asking God to take me and my unborn baby to Himself. I had not officially met God at this time so I didn’t even know if he was listening. I looked to the right and out of the mist walked a man, coming toward me, dressed in khaki, even a khaki hat. At first I was frightened and then I was at peace. He smiled at me and then disappeared. When I got back in my car to drive home, many hours had passed and I was not aware of time passing at all!

My daughter was born at the end of July in St. Vincent’s hospital. I had wanted to try to nurse her although it made me feel squeamish, but unbeknownst to me my mother had told the nurses to give me the shot that makes your milk dry up. Keith had called them when he was waiting for the baby to be born. Also, when Keith was told he had a girl, he stomped his foot and left the hospital. I woke up to mom and dad. I was shocked and furious. Dad was drunk and mom would not shut up: she kept giving everybody orders, including the doctors. I did not want them there; I did not want them as part of my life again. They always brought total confusion to my life, and I did not want them in it.

The nurses would not let me go home with the baby until I had named her. I wanted out of there and away from my parents so I gave the sister standing there my mother’s name, my sister’s name, and my last name. I had not held my baby much while mom was there, which was all the time. I couldn’t wait to get home alone with her, without mom and dad’s interference. When I became pregnant I had weighed 98 pounds, and when I had the baby and left the hospital three days later I weighed 95 pounds and was so depressed I could hardly stand it. I had probably been depressed all my life, but now I was aware of it.

Now that I am supposed to be ‘of age’ I think I should have to apologize for some of the choices I have made. But I never realized I could maker choices until I was over 45 years of age, and now sometimes even at 50 I’m not sure it’s ok to make choices. People do not always believe this statement, but I assure you it’s true in the abused. They have no background for learning to make choices. They mostly copy behavior from others, hoping that something or someone will help them. Hoping desperately that they can make themselves understood, so that they can be helped, having no place to begin. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I am writing this. That was how I started being able to heal and find myself. Reading books and finding statements that were true for me, then, learning to pray about them and asking God to show me if they were indeed true for me. Nothing was ever true for me my whole life. Nothing was ever true for me. When I heard God’s word was truth, I went for it like a drowning man. It helped immediately. But I am getting ahead of myself.

For some reason, work I think, Keith was not able to take me home from the hospital, and my parents did. I saw very little of Keith in the hospital, I never knew why, and I didn’t ask. I did not want my parents to see the apartment. They took one look at it and said I could not take that baby to live in that squalor. They told me to get my things together (which was very little,) and took Lisa and me to their house. I was crazy inside but I thought they were right; I didn’t want my baby living in that apartment either. It was a long time until I got my baby to myself and by then I was afraid of the responsibility of her. Totally afraid that I would be totally responsible for her. I didn’t know about God and His help. Dad helped Keith and I to get into a house for a hundred dollars down and $97.00 a month. We stayed there until I finally left him. I was so sure that I was never going to have another baby that I wouldn’t have sex with him. He took a liking to a neighbor and I told him to do whatever he wanted. I truly knew that I would never be a part of bringing another child into this world. This world is not a safe place. I never asked what he did about his sexuality.

I probably never would have left him if he had not started correcting Lisa in a way I could not tolerate. Yelling too loud at her for something trivial, being on her about something all the time…and then one evening he hit her on her back over her right kidney and left a detailed handprint. I was in the kitchen cooking and I heard a pain-filled scream. I ran in and asked what had happened. He was sitting there drinking a beer and said, “ I told her twice to not touch the TV knobs and she did it anyway, so I spanked her.” I told him, “That is not how you spank a child, you are never to hit her on her skin, do you hear me?” By the time supper was ready her back was swelling from the blow. I said nothing more. I did not eat supper; I fed her, bathed her, and got her ready for bed. I thought all night long, “What should I do? What should I do?” The next morning right after Keith went to work I called dad and asked him if he would come and get us. I did not say why, and he didn’t ask. When Keith came home that night everything was gone accept what wasn’t paid for. We never had gotten much.

Lisa was sleeping in the same baby bed in which we had all slept. Keith drank a lot; in fact he became one of my father’s drinking buddies if we were around him at all. I had not started drinking yet. I drank on occasion, but was not an alcoholic at this time. I practically never saw Keith again, only once in court. He was told to pay child support; he never did. My dad turned him into the armed forces and he joined the Army. The government then sent alimony and child support payments to me. It was the first regular money I ever had. I was 21 years old, and Lisa was three. I tried to go to technical school at night for a while but I still could not learn anything so I quit. I was 21 years old, had a baby, had never held a job, and was living back in my parents’ house again. I did not feel divorced because I had never felt married. I did not legally divorce Keith until he was out of the Army.

Eventually I took a job at a soda fountain. That’s where my husband Joe and I met. He came in one morning for a cup of strong coffee and an alka-seltzer. I should have known right then but I didn’t know to look for the signs of being a drinker. Joe and I didn’t date for a year though we saw each other often because he boarded a horse at my family’s place. We did begin to take my daughter and a lot of the neighborhood kids to the drive-in movies in the back of his pick-up. While we always had beer around I do not think we were alcoholics yet. One statement I always say about Joe and I is, when we met we drank together, then we became full-fledged drunks together and the best part is, we sobered up together.

After about a year I moved out of mom and dad’s house and rented a place on my own. Joe asked me out, just the two of us. We started becoming more serious but he hadn’t filed for divorce although he had been away from his wife for over a year. I had been divorced for two years, away from my first husband for about five years. We had both said we never wanted to get married again when we met, so we really took our time. Finally he said we might as well marry as we were practically living together. Joe is the only man I have ever had sexual intercourse with outside of wedlock. Neither one of us thought very much of ourselves for behaving that way. I was never sober or present but I went though all the motions fairly effectively, I think. I do know I liked Joe from the first time I laid eyes on him. I had never met a man who knew how to take care of himself and his own living quarters. I was impressed. He kept his apartment spotless and cooked better than I did. We got married and we both started drinking more although I don’t know why. The disease of alcoholism I guess. Maybe we neither one knew how to do life or be adult. He worked swing shift and I was still at the drug store.

After about a year of not really getting anywhere, my brother and his wife were going to move to Denver, as she had grown up there, and they were both in their early thirties and not really getting anywhere either. They said, “Why don’t you go with us? There is nothing keeping you here.” After a lot of thought we decided to sell our mobile home and go. Joe and I had been married a little over a year.

We arrived in Denver with my daughter Lisa, about nine hundred dollars, no job, no place to stay, and thought for sure that we hated the big city. Somehow we made it but don’t ask me how. Just as the money was running out Joe got a job from an ad in the newspaper. It was cold and snowing and he had to work outside, but he didn’t care, at least he was working again. He stayed at that job nineteen years. He loves working outside. He found a little white house for rent at $110.00 a month through a guy at work. We thought that amount was outrageous but found out that for Denver that was cheap. Joe started working, I found a job in a drug store, and Lisa went to school. She was miserable, hated Denver, and was really homesick. I was scared but so relieved to really be away from my parents I could not believe my good fortune.

Later, mom and dad came out for a visit. I became very upset because they were coming out for a visit so soon. I had finally gotten away from them and here they came again. I made the bloodiest suicide attempt I have ever made. They were due in on Friday night or Saturday morning.

Friday night I drank all I could hold, and took a handful of Librium. It was late and everybody was asleep. Joe had gone to sleep on the couch in the front room (passed out from too much drink?) after complaining about having to buy Lisa some new school clothes. I filled the bathtub with hot water, cut my wrists, lay back, and hoped never to wake up. I woke up some hours later when the water turned cold. I let the water out of the tub, staggered into the bedroom with my arms throbbing, wrapped a sheet around me and passed out. My wrists started bleeding again when they warmed up. The water turning cold must’ve waked me and stopped the blood flow. In the morning Lisa found me early, she had gone to the bathroom and there was blood in the tub, blood all over the place. She woke Joe and they took me to the doctor. He cleaned my cuts, took a couple stitches, then the doctor tried to talk to me but I was having none of his talk. I told him I was going to be late for work. He did give me another prescription for Librium. I did not tell him I had taken a whole bottle to get the courage to do what I had done the night before, or that I had drunk all I could hold either.

I had called work and told them I was going to be late. I went in to work, and when I left I started drinking and stayed drunk until mom and dad left town, except for when I was at work.

The Sunday after mom and dad left Joe and Lisa were out in the garage working on Lisa’s bike. I could see them from where I stood doing the dishes, and knew I was going to try to kill myself again. I knew they would do better if I were out of the picture. I figured I had saved enough pills to do the job.

I looked to the left and on the wall above the phone there was a suicide prevention telephone number listed with the other emergency numbers. I dried my hands, and called the number. I told whoever answered the phone what I had done the week before and that I was pretty sure I was going to do it again. She said, “Hold on a minute, I’ll let you talk to a counselor.” I almost hung up, but I didn’t. A man came on the phone, sounded concerned, said he could help me, but said he also needed to get a little more information. I gave him details about what I had done to myself. He asked if I thought my husband would bring me in to see him that night and I said, “No, he’s not speaking to me.” He said, “I’ll come and get you.” I said I would walk instead, and he asked me to give him an hour to finish with the person he was seeing right then.

I finished the dishes, got dressed, told Joe I was going over to my sister’s and took my time walking there. When I got there I waited about forty-five minutes until this guy named Bob came out and asked me if I could please wait a little longer. I started to get up and go and he knelt down on one knee in front of me and begged me to wait just a little longer. “If it gets dark I’ll take you home,” he said. I was shocked that he would do such behavior, and embarrassed, but I said I would wait. Finally I saw him for about an hour. I didn’t have a lot to say since I had said most of what I had to say on the phone earlier. He said it would be good if he could see me a couple times a week to start and then we could slack off as I started to feel better. He drove me home. Joe and Lisa were sleeping. I felt honored and relieved that someone was finally going to listen to me at last. The second time I saw him, as I was leaving, he put his hand out to me. Nobody had ever done that to me before. I looked at it for quite a long time and then I took it. He said. “I’ll help you.” I did not know then what I now know about myself. I did not realize how unloved and un-loveable my life had left me, how totally outside my experiences I had learned to live.

During one of our early appointment times, Bob asked me if I wanted him to hold me at the end of a session. I jumped at the chance. I had been telling him of some of my abuse, although not crying or anything. He sat in this big wooden rocking chair, he was a big man and the idea of being held and rocked by him (by anybody) seemed wonderful. It happened a couple of times just like I had imagined, and then he touched my breast. I felt sick but I didn’t say anything. I thought, gees, even preachers do that sort of thing, is nothing sacred? I kept my appointments and now they were only once a week. Soon we graduated to the floor of his office and he started touching me between the legs, and said I could touch him too. I finally did, although I cannot say I wanted to, I felt obligated to. At first he kept telling me my touch was too hard, almost painful, so I lightened my touch. It was awful; I have almost no words for it.

I drank, and then drank some more. For years I never seemed drunk. I was never sober but never appeared drunk either. God, it was insane. After about a year of this “therapy” I told Bob, “I think my father molested me.” He said, “You probably asked for it.” I never brought the subject up again.

I eventually left Bob and the abusive relationship I was in, but the damage had been done. My daughter Lisa hated Bob and that place from the very beginning. By the time summer came Lisa was still very homesick and with all the upheaval in our lives when my parents called and asked if she could spend the summer with them, against my knowing better, and her begging to go, I said yes. I did tell her to stay away from ‘grandpa’ when he was drunk. I also told my mom to keep an eye on her and to not let dad be alone with her. Feeble, huh? I put her on the plane a fairly normal (we were none of us ever allowed to be normal, I only know that now) 10-year-old and when I picked her up three months later I did not recognize my own daughter. She had gained almost 25 pounds and had a cowered slump to her body that had never been there before. She was also very quiet, not normal for her.

A couple of weeks before her birthday in the summer I had sent her a doll. I called to wish her a happy birthday, and see if she liked her doll. At first everything sounded all right, and then she sounded strained and started crying, saying she was homesick for me. I said, “Well honey, don’t worry, that’s no problem, we’ll just get your ticket bumped up and bring you back her a little early.” She told them what I had said and got dad on the phone and then he talked it out of us, saying, “She’s just overcome hearing your voice, we’re doing just fine, she’ll be fine, she’ll be home in a couple weeks.” When we hung up Lisa was still crying. I told Joe I didn’t like the sound of that phone call. I cried myself to sleep that night knowing I should never have let her go to those people no matter what. Later, after she had been home for a while I asked her if grandpa had touched her wrong or anything while she was staying in Florida for the summer. She said “No.” She couldn’t trust me. Later when she was away from my home she told my sister some of what had happened to her. The part I can’t stand is that he had touched her before we had even moved away from Florida. He had also been sexual with her when she was a baby. I think I thought I had protected her.

Joe had gone to work for a week in Colorado Springs and Lisa and I took that week and completely repainted her bedroom, bought her new sheets, curtains, and spread to match. I still have a picture of her in her room when we were all finished with it. We both really liked it. The first night she begged me to sleep with her in her new room. I tried but couldn’t do it. For hours I cried in my room, trying to convince myself it would be ok to go into her room, lay on her bed with her and be close like that. I couldn’t do it. Finally the next night, I went into her room, lay down beside her, joked about some of the things we had done while getting the room painted, patted her, kissed her forehead, and told her I loved her. She wanted me to stay, but I couldn’t, so I went to my own room. I never did feel ok about not being able to stay with her, at least until she fell asleep.

We had moved into a better house by now with three bedrooms. One day while Joe was at work I moved him into the spare bedroom. At first he resented me for it, and then he started liking it, and we have been that way ever since. It’s like we now have the ‘rooms of our own’ that we never had. Joe and I have always needed our own space. I truly believe that is why we have managed to stay together all these years. He has really been there for me as I have been writing this down and seeing what I have really done in my life. I was afraid he might leave me after he read it. We had some adjustments to make and through the grace of God we are better than ever. He was willing to see his role in the mess of my life also. He, too, has been sexually abused and didn’t even realize that truth until later as I started coming to grips with my own abuse. We have always had trouble sharing feelings with one another, but we were so much alike we didn’t know we were not ok. We miss each other very much if we are not there but we don’t actually try to get our needs met through one another. We simply enjoy being with each other. This has taken years to happen. I realize now our way of being together is not for everyone. He has been committed to being there and taking care of me in the way a man’s role used to be. Since this has never happened before in my life it had taken me years to realize how important and valuable he is to me. At this writing we have been together over twenty-five years. If you have had trouble trying to have and maintain relationships like I have, then maybe you can appreciate this fact for the miracle it is.

Another time Joe’s ex-wife called to say his daughter had been sexually abused and could she some live with us? Joe and I had asked to have her before when we had first married and had been turned down. Her name was Lucille and she had begged to come and live with us before, and we had very much wanted her. Within two days I was on a plane on my way to go get her. At the airport, she said she had changed her mind, but I convinced her to give it a try. Well, it didn’t work out. She wanted from Joe what he didn’t have, and she kept telling me she loved me and thanking me for getting her out of Florida and all the while telling my daughter instead that she hated me. This situation broke Joe and I apart. She was sixteen when I went to get her and the day she turned eighteen she left my home. About 25 years later we learned that she killed herself when she was 35; that’s a whole other story. Joe and I had separated, Lucille stayed with Lisa and I. Joe left about three months before Lucille did. When there was only Lisa and I left she started acting out really bad, stealing my car and cigarettes, having boys in the apartment when I was at work. I gave her an ultimatum when she was fourteen and she chose to leave my home. Joe and I got back together after about a year apart, but we didn’t remarry until much later. When Lisa left my home I cannot even try to describe what I was like. One part of me knew it was best for her and another part of me died thinking about her all alone and with no protection. We had never had any, maybe she could do better alone. That’s when I started trying to learn to pray. For the first time in my life my head was quiet from time to time through learning how to pray.

I was working at a credit office, seeing Bob once a week, covering the suicide hotline nights and weekends and trying to get Lisa ready to take dance lessons, something she had always wanted to do. I had very little money but I knew it was important to try to give her something she liked to do. When she started acting out, I felt inside me a rage that my mother had always had toward me so I knew I was going to do anything I could to make her behave. Something in me knew I didn’t have the right to physically restrain her and that’s all I could think to do. I did get her to see a woman counselor a couple times, but it didn’t help. I was afraid of what I might do to her to try to get her to behave, to act right. Here I was, doing what I was doing and wanting her to act right. When Lisa left she stayed with her stepsister for a while (I did not know this at the time) and then she and another girl rode to Florida with truckers. She stayed with mom and dad for about a year. Mom had called me when she got to their house. She went to school, started losing weight and doing pretty good. After about a year she ran away from them. They called me to tell me to get the police to start looking for her from the Colorado end of the country, and to tell me that dad was looking for her from the Florida end. I said, “No.” Dad started cussing and ranting and raving, “What kind of fucking mother are you anyway?” I hung up on them. For two years I did not know where Lisa was, and all I could do was ask God to keep her safe, which I did. Then a week before Thanksgiving she called. I asked if she wanted to come over for dinner, and she did. It was strained and awful but that was the beginning of us trying to heal. It’s been incredible and IT HAS BEEN WORTH IT.

My ignorance has hurt my child. Has she paid for my sins? I believe she has. My lifestyle was all I knew but believe me it was not good enough. I am so very sorry now I did not really know who God was sooner. Satan used every trick in his book to keep me in darkness, blindness, and away from the love of my Everlasting Father and healthy, loving relationships. Although it worked for much of my life it had not really worked since I sobered up. Through His grace I have been ever walking toward the Light of His Love and His Will for me and my life. I have always been so afraid of touch that when Lisa was a baby and I had to bathe her I was terribly afraid to wash between her legs because I was afraid I would make her feel something she was not supposed to feel. MY daughter has problems today and at the same time she is healing also. I cannot ask for anything more for her or me. She has been water baptized and baptized with the Holy Spirit. She is married, second time, to a man who she is trying to love and allow herself to be loved by. I thank God for that for her. She has had a hysterectomy in the last year while trying to get pregnant. Is that a direct result of my asking that she not be able to have children when we were both as lot younger? I asked God to not let any of our offspring be able to have children because we were all so evil. Has he granted my request? I was not a “Christian” when I prayed that particular prayer. Was it more like a curse or a vow? I don’t know, I only know I asked that of God when I was very young out of a deep hatred for the ignorance and inadequacies in my family. I pray especially for the next generation now. I hope they have a chance with God in spite of who their parents are. I pray my prayers will be used to bring this about for the next generation.

I hope that my daughter and others will learn from my recovery. A few months ago Lisa asked to read my story as I am writing it. I did not know what to do, so I prayed and asked a good friend and mentor, and she thought it could be used by the Lord to help her. I don’t know yet if it will help or not. With all my relationships I’ve always known that my love was contaminated. I have always tried to have people in my life while not being part of the relationship personally because I was so contaminated. I have always been an object, even to myself. I have no way of knowing if what’s between my legs will ever be able to actually become connected to me. I know I have never shared myself sexually with another person physically; and at the same time I have probably shared myself sexually with everybody else I have ever met without even knowing it, by trying to live outside myself. I realize something very important to my healing: I DID NOT SIN BY SHARING MYSELF SEXUALLY WITH PEOPLE THAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN SEXUAL WITH ME TO BEGIN WITH. Nobody would let me say this truth of mine. Nobody!

In writing your own story you get a chance to get real to yourself. I remember when I could not even begin to see what my story or my life looked like. I could not put pen to paper when I sobered up thirteen years ago, nor did I want to. It was too overwhelming. Most of us are afraid to write our own stories; the truth is we know that nobody really wants to hear them. Write your story, see your own truth. Feeling feelings will not kill you. It’s how you will be able to claim your healing. God is the perfect gentleman; He will not flood your senses. If He does it will only be in total purity, nothing unwanted can get to you when He is being with you intimately, I promise. You can space, block, slide, checkout, disassociate, or whatever works for you as long as you need to sneak up on yourself. With each memory ask for the strength to take a little more of yourself into your own center. TO BE! I am certain, for myself, I would never have been able to exist if I had not allowed myself to become willing to look at what happened to me. Of course there is fear, please don’t let it stop you. All my life I have had to live a double life. Until I was healing and not hiding, this had been a disadvantage to me; now in healing it is the very gift that has enabled me to heal. I have been living a very simple looking life while going through the nightmare of my remembering and coming to what is true for me today. I am coming into being integrated, now. It has taken a full ten years. Little by little I have learned how to face my past, stand still, don’t run, and my Lord has stayed with me through it all.

The hook for me was because my innocence and sexuality were taken from me so early in life that it ‘set me up’ to ‘have to have it right’ in me, to be looking for that part of me all my life. I have been trying to be present and get this part of me ‘right’ ever since I can remember. I am sorry I have always been so ashamed of being a sexual being with sexual feelings. I hate that nobody could help me and at the same time knowing that many people have helped me, by being for me. I was so afraid of people I could not let anybody help me. I’m learning now I am OK. I also understand that I am a human being, and that too is OK. Being a human being today means to me that I have faults and I am able to make mistakes without having to think that the world will come to an end because of them, and more importantly I have the God-given ability for much joy and pleasure. Now I am grown-up enough and brave enough to believe it will be all right if I choose to share what I have discovered to be true about myself with others. What a miracle!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Joanna's Story

When I was two, my first abuser came into my life. He was soon to become my stepfather, and by all accounts, it was to be the worst thing that could have happened to us. He was physically abusive to my mother, beating her nearly every day. He beat us as often as he could find excuses for, which meant that if we left our shoes in the living room, even out of sight under the couch, we’d get a beating. The abuse wasn’t just physical, though.

He started molesting me very quickly, inserting his fingers in my vagina while I was in the tub, and then washing my privates with soap – leaving me burning and stinging for hours afterwards. He would lie on top of me at night, although I can’t say for sure what he did; those memories are still blocked, waiting for a day when I can cope with what was done.

My older brother began raping me when I was about 6, attempting penetration even while I was crying that it hurt, and telling him to stop. My brother also “loaned me out” to his friends when he told them what he was doing. I remember one time, when I was 12 – my brother had finally succeeded in actually penetrating me long before. He was in the act of raping me out in the tent we had set up in the yard. My stepfather stuck his head in, and watched, telling my brother, “Just don’t let your mother find out.” Clearly, there was no respite in sight.

I also had 3 uncles who molested me to a lesser extent; making me sit on their laps while they had erections, groping me whenever they got a clear shot at me…things like that. Between my stepfather, my brother and my uncles, I would be molested until I was 21 years old, although the memories were blocked as rapidly as they could form. It would be a while before I remembered what had happened to me while I was growing up.

When I was 19, I got married to an abusive man. At 23, I found out I was pregnant, which was all I ever wanted. I had dreams of being a mother to lots of children, breastfeeding and nurturing them closely while they grew into adults. My husband was not kind or helpful, although he took great pride in having “knocked me up.” He berated me and made me feel very uncomfortable, and hit me as well.

When I went into labor, things moved along very well, right up until my son passed my cervix. The doctor felt that I had overdone it on the Kegel exercises, because my muscles locked up and would not release, regardless of the effort on my doctor’s part - massage, coaching…. Nothing worked. He finally had to give up and give me an episiotomy. My belief is that my body was afraid to allow my son into the world, fighting to keep him inside, where it was safe. My body knew the world as a very painful and unsafe place. I think that as much as I wanted to hold him, I wanted to keep him away from the things I knew were out here.

After the birth, I remember being completely filled with joy that I had this beautiful son. I looked forward to the days, months and years of breastfeeding him. That dream never came true, though. I only managed to nurse him for 3 months, finally giving up because he wasn’t gaining weight even though he ate constantly. I couldn’t make enough milk to sustain him, and was forced to feed him formula. That was a blow I thought I’d never survive. My body was failing me yet again…. I couldn’t even feed my son.

It was when my son was 3 weeks old that the memories started coming back. They began slowly, but cascaded faster and faster into my life. My wonderful doctor handed me a card at one of our numerous visits, telling me that he thought these people could help me. Apparently, he realized that something was going on that I couldn't talk about with him… He saw the symptoms, yet I’d never told him a thing about my history, or what I was going through. I had no idea what he meant, but decided he might be right. It turned out that “these people” ran an organization for survivors of abuse. With their help, I joined a support group, and used the book, The Courage To Heal (Bass & Davis.)

I tried therapy, but chose the wrong person. I had always believed in God, and I wanted a therapist who would include those beliefs in my “treatment.” I found a counselor who was also a minister. I remember the day I tried to tell him what had happened to me. He asked me, “Is it in the past?” I answered that it was, and he told me, “Then it’s over. You have to move on.” That was it… the entire amount of help I would receive from him. I don’t blame God for this man’s refusal to help me –I think it’s just that some people can’t believe that our past affects us in such strong ways. I wrote to him a few years ago, telling him how hard it was for me to tell him my secret, and what damage his response did to me. He denied saying what he did.

I stayed with my friends in my support group, muddling through as best I could. It was difficult, at best, but I worked hard at becoming what should have been the most natural thing in the world: a mother to my child.

When my son was 1 year old, my husband and I divorced. I was raped about 3 months later. The man I met around the same time was wonderful, supportive, and loving. He stood by me through the entire ordeal, and helped me throughout my pregnancy. When I went into labor this time, I knew it would be easier, and that I would succeed in a drug- and intervention-free delivery, and I would be able to finally win out over the problems that kept me from breastfeeding my son.

The birth went faster and easier than my first, with no episiotomy, though I couldn’t relax and enjoy the birth of my second son, either. And as it turned out, once again I couldn’t breastfeed. I had the same struggles, the same heartache, and the same result: a son who was actually losing weight, and a painful decision to feed him formula at 6 weeks.

The man who stood by me throughout this time soon became my husband. I made another go at therapy, and this time, made some progress. My therapist worked with me for almost a year, and I dealt with my memories as best I could. I started having flashbacks regularly, and that was the worst part. At one of my support group meetings, however, I was told that my therapist had moved out of state. She hadn’t told me goodbye; she hadn’t even told me that there were plans to move. She just left without a word. I was devastated, and didn’t think I could trust anyone again.

When my kids were 5 and 7, I found another therapist. I believe God brings people into our lives who will make a huge impact. The first question I asked her after we sat down on her comfy cushions was, “You aren’t planning to move out of town, are you?” She got a funny look on her face, and said, “No, we won’t ever move. We love it here. Why?” I explained what the last therapist had done. Cathy promised that wouldn’t happen with her, and we began to forge a relationship that lasted professionally for 2 years. We’re still friends all these years later. God was wonderful, bringing her into my life. She has been a gift to me.

One of Cathy’s methods of therapy included EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. At first, I was nervous about trying it. I didn’t want to give up control of what I experienced, and it sounded to me like I might have to. As it turned out, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. This technique was so effective for me; I really was dealing with things for the first time. EMDR was the trick, for me, in bringing those memories out and letting me take the emphasis off of them.

Simply put, I was asked to concentrate on the worst part of a memory while moving my eyes rapidly from side to side. Cathy had a “stick” with a light on the end for my eyes to follow, to make the movement easier. After each 30 second set of eye movements, I would be asked, “What came up?” Usually, an image, thought, emotion, or physical sensation, all of which are common, would have come to me. If I said, "I'm really angry," Cathy suggested concentrating on the anger in the next set. We’d do this as many times as it took to “bring me down,” and leave me feeling no more anger, or whatever it was I had to deal with. It was a little scary, at times, but it was the single, most effective thing I tried. I would recommend it highly for anyone.

After 8 years of trying to have another baby, my husband and I gave up. We’d never used birth control; in fact, in all my life, I’ve never used it. I didn’t get pregnant easily, it was obvious. I went back to school, got a job, and seemed to be settling in with my new life. My sons were 8 and 10, and things were leveling out. And then I got pregnant.

This time, I decided that I wanted a midwife. My first doctor had joined the Peace Corps, and while I was thrilled he was helping so many people, I wasn’t happy he was gone. My second doctor was a jerk, and I knew I didn’t want to go back to him. Kim, however, was just what I needed. She listened to me; she made me feel like I knew what I was doing and talking about. She never once left me feeling like I had no clue what was happening. She would even let my husband deliver our baby. We were thrilled.

I had 2 hours and twenty minutes of labor this time, and although it was the worst pain of my entire life, I was so much more relaxed and in control than the last two times. I actually was able to enjoy this birth, and the videotape shows me smiling and happy throughout. My husband did, in fact, deliver our son, and it was a joyous day for both of us. This son was not, however, destined to be entirely breastfed, either. I had to give up and use formula, once again, at 3 weeks.

I went back for more EMDR, this time focusing on my feeling of failure. The end result is that I don’t feel as though I’m a complete loss as a mother simply because I couldn’t breastfeed my children. It helped a great deal in relieving the stress surrounding that part of my life.

Each of the births was easier than the one before it, but I still couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t making milk. With lots of soul searching and effort at getting to the bottom of the problem, I am reasonably sure it is related to the abuse I suffered as a child and young adult. I don’t know why I’m so sure of that, but my heart tells me that it’s true. I think that, because my breasts were seen as sexual items, my body couldn’t stand to let my sons use them, even if it was for the original, God-intended purpose. So they shut down, refusing to let me be hurt again. I can only hope that, if I were to have another baby, I could finally overcome whatever block is left in there, and be able to truly nurture my child the way I always wanted to…. freely, completely, and with no painful decision to make. Our bonding suffered, our lives together suffered… because of the things I experienced as a child.

Having God in my life, effective therapy, and the love of a kind and gentle man has helped me come to a place where I can at least feel free to love my children, and give them what they need: safety and a place where they’re free to be themselves.
Healing is possible – there is hope.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Erica's Story

My parents were ahead of their time. Though I am technically a Baby Boomer, I have always felt a greater kinship with those that are a few years younger than me. When the characteristics of Generation X are compared with the Boomers, I identify more with the former, and I never could quite figure out why until I looked at my parents’ lives. They were both artists, and the social revolution of the sixties and seventies, which blew through our culture leaving so many warped and wounded children in its wake, manifested itself just that much earlier in the art community and on the university campuses where they taught. I was acutely aware that there were quite a few behaviors and topics of discussion that were normal in my house that would shock my friends at school. It made me feel schizophrenic and frightened that I would do or say something way over the top without even realizing it. The atmosphere was wide open and sexually supercharged. I don’t remember not knowing about sex, and it seemed to be the entire goal of adult life. There was lots of alcohol and switching of partners and fighting about sex. It was overwhelming and exciting and I couldn’t wait to grow up and find out what it was that had such enormous power over the adults around me. If it could make grown-ups act so strangely, then clearly sex must be the most incredible thing in the world. Men wanted women’s bodies, and that gave women power.

Modesty was the only sin. Sexual reticence was a major character flaw, I was taught. That the vast majority of this “sexual experimentation” was indulged in by my father and various grad students and other professors’ wives didn’t strike me as imbalanced or unfair in any way, for I was also taught at home that my mother was either crazy or stupid. Looking at their marriage from my present vantage point, sixteen years married and the beneficiary of much therapy, I see that all the rhetoric about sexual freedom and finding the muse was a shabby cover-up for garden-variety adultery. Though I call it garden-variety, my feelings about this betrayal are anything but benign, because I live permanently with how it has distorted me as a woman, wife and mother. It cost me my girlhood, pleasure in my femininity, and the ability to trust my husband, among other things. And it set me up for the first sexual predator that came along.

My father was by far the most powerful person in our home, and, for survival, I adopted his view of the world. I learned to see my body as my currency. It was what I had to surrender to be wanted. My mother taught me to be careful of the tender feelings of men, but no one taught me that I had the right to say no to sexual advances, or that I might want to. When I look at the way young women are now encouraged to dress and express their sexuality, I am troubled. I’ve been there, and, rather than setting me free, it turned out to be a terrible prison that I’ve spent an enormous amount of energy freeing myself from. I want to run up to them and plead with them not to buy into the notion that their sexuality is a currency to be exchanged for a cheap and transitory power. Torn between wanting to preserve my integrity and privacy, and the desire to be valued by men, I began experimenting sexually when I was ten. My roadmap were the porno magazines my older brother gave me, and my partners were boys and girls my age or a little older, my parents’ friends’ kids.

I was twelve when I was seduced by an older man, a med student who was the son of some casual friends of my parents. Years later, he told me that it had taken him an hour to penetrate me, thought I don’t remember it. He also introduced me to oral sex and anal sex, afterwards telling me that the girls he dated wouldn’t let him do some of the things I had. It was all very antiseptic, very calculated, though I had no frame of reference to know if it should be different. I had my first pregnancy scare when I was thirteen. It took me quite a long time in therapy to see the relationship as anything other than my ‘first boyfriend’. It wasn’t until I began imagining my own children being treated this way that I began to see it differently. When I think about someone doing this to one of my kids, I think of how hard it would be to find the pieces of that guy when I got through with him.

In high school and college, I was obsessed with being wanted by men. My radar was finely tuned and always on: if a guy was attracted to me, I branded him a loser. If a guy was at all indifferent, I needed to find out why, to make him want me. And I had no protective barriers. Having a boyfriend eased the anxiety somewhat, but I was still always looking. Looking for the man who would make me feel wanted. My friendships with women were distorted, too. I saw them as dangerous competitors.

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I became pregnant. This was before single motherhood became fashionable, and I didn’t believe I had any other choice but abortion. I did not want to kill my baby, but I believed that once I had given birth I would no longer be desirable to men. After all, wasn’t that what had happened to my mother? My father had wanted her, pursued her, until she had his child, and then she was undesirable to him. Finding a man to love me (and my body was the only thing I believed I had to attract and hold him) was the overriding principle of my life. It felt like the difference between life and death. I dutifully marched myself down to Planned Parenthood and a doctor stuck a hose in me and sucked out my child.

The unexpected outcome of having an abortion was that I stopped caring so much if a man wanted me. I stopped caring about pretty much everything. A part of me that was young and hopeful died and, as winter’s darkness turned the midwestern landscape to gray, so did my interior garden fade. The ‘girl’ had been sucked out of me, too. Though I wouldn’t have told anyone at the time, I now saw human relationships almost entirely in economic terms. I had something men wanted, and I was going to parlay that into as much power as I could. I was not going to ever let myself be vulnerable again.

Given my mental state, it is not surprising that I didn’t give the next guy I met a lot of thought. Nor is it that difficult to understand why it took me years more of running to realize he was the man I wanted to marry. And it has taken me years of marriage to discover I was in love with him.

From the time I was thirteen, I wanted to be a mother. Even through the years of college and working after, when everything was supposed to be career and climbing some stupid ladder, it was what I dreamed about. Almost immediately after marrying Bill, the desire to get pregnant became overwhelming. I wanted a baby so badly, but he wasn’t ready. I bought every book I could find on pregnancy and watched Berry Brazelton’s parenting show on cable TV. When I finally did get accidentally pregnant, I was ecstatic. I thought I knew so much about pregnancy, but what I didn’t know was what was done to women in the name of modern medicine. I thought if I went into see a doctor and said I wanted natural childbirth, that’d be what I got. I wanted to deliver my own baby more than anything, to finally feel, perhaps, like I was a ‘real’ woman.

Four weeks before the end of a healthy pregnancy, my Dr. discovered that my baby had turned breech. A c-section was quickly scheduled. My protests were met with assurances that a vaginal birth would leave my baby dead or retarded and I must stop being so selfish by trying for what was, after all, window dressing. It was implied, and I believed it, that to feel bad about this would make my baby feel unloved and was proof of my selfishness. Once again, I dutifully climbed up on a table and let a Dr. cut my child out of me. I came home with this baby and a frozen heart. I couldn’t sleep, even when he did. I went through the motions, feeling raped, feeling defrauded, and feeling like I was not a real woman. Hidden deep in all this pain however, was a twinge of relief. Since I hadn’t given birth vaginally, that part of me was still unchanged. I had delayed making myself sexually undesirable to my husband, and he might still want me. In my thinking, men did not want women who were mothers. Mothers were used up. Yet, in a way, I was still “unspoiled”. My husband was completely unaware of all this, since I wouldn’t have dared to utter it to another person.

Then my father went nuts. Literally. He, at 67, had his first clinically significant psychotic episode from the undiagnosed manic depression that had shaped his whole life, unbeknownst to any of us. And it set me free. If he was nuts, then I no longer had to see the world through the lenses he’d given me. I got myself into therapy, and began the long, exhausting process of revisiting my past, of looking at my history with a sympathetic other. About this time, I also began to read about cesarean sections and the feelings women experience, and discovered that I was normal. As relief flooded through me, and I began to let the tears out, I took my first deep breath in months. And I set about planning the birth I had always dreamed of.

By the time I became pregnant with my second child, I had pretty much gotten up the courage to attempt a home birth. Actually, it was more out of fear that the hospital bureaucracy would again supercede my desires, and I’d be treated as an ”obstetrical cripple” because of my previous surgery. Twenty hours of active labor and four hours of pushing would have earned me another trip to the surgical suite under an MD’s care, but I had wonderful, caring midwives who believed in me, and I gave birth to my child. During the labor, my hidden fear about “overstretching” resurfaced. I had been pushing for so long, and I finally tried to speak about it, but all I could say was “I’m scared”. Then I looked around the room and realized that I only had two options: to throw in the towel and head to the hospital for another surgery, or forge ahead and risk losing my desirability by pushing the baby out. No one in that room was going to be able to rescue me, and I wanted so dearly to “give birth” rather than “be delivered.” A half hour later I was holding my sweet son and feeling a surge of something that I’d never felt before: true power. Power that comes from having done something difficult and important, not the false power that is conferred by some man wanting to use my body. It was the culmination of the months of uncertainty that had begun with my daring to act on the best information I could gather in deciding a home birth was a reasonable option, despite the doomsayers with advanced degrees. God used the birth of my first child and the loss of a lifetime of dreams to take away the walls of unreality I’d built to survive my childhood. He used the second to begin reconstruction. In the process He planted seeds of compassion and humility. I put off resuming sex with my husband as long as I could and did kegels like mad, but I never dared ask him if he liked sex with me less. I tried to drown out the constant, nagging fear that he would leave me because I no longer attracted him or pleased him. Even if I had, and he had reassured me, I would have believed that someday he was going to run off with someone younger.

My third labor and birth was the sort that women would forfeit body parts to experience. I had learned something from the previous two births. I had learned to relax into it, so much so that I was able to doze between contractions. I essentially woke up ready to deliver, and the midwife didn’t even get her coat off before my daughter slid into the world. I was the first to notice she was the daughter I had longed for, that I had wondered if I was too unworthy as a woman to deserve. Again, fear too deep to name dogged me, but each birth restored a damaged part of me. I sat in my rocker for a month with my daughter, so incredibly delighted I didn’t want to move.

When I was forty- two weeks pregnant with my fourth child, the midwife did a heavy-duty manual exam to see if we could get things going, and discovered that I was having another breech baby. We were living in Dallas at the time, and had no back-up doctor, and not much time to make any decisions. We decided to have another home-birth as planned, since we both thought this baby would be relatively small. I remember that labor as a time of song and being overwhelmed with a supernatural peace. While not quite as quick as the previous baby, the breech birth was in some ways less difficult. When it was all over and we weighed my “littlest” baby, she was a full pound heavier than my firstborn breech, the one who doctors said I could never have delivered myself. I laughed such a laugh of freedom, and of pleasure, and yes, of power. Each birth brought me a piece of myself that had been distorted by fear and shame. Other women are no longer competitors. I learned, in a way much deeper than just head-knowledge, that women are powerful, whether or not someone “wants” them.