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/

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Beth's Story

I have had two pregnancy experiences. My miscarriage ten years ago brought tremendous emotional agonies and incest triggers. Since giving birth to my son six months ago I feel in some ways more vulnerable and in others more invincible and courageous. Perhaps that is not so uncommon for any new mother. But as an incest survivor it feels Especially So, as so much does when one is an incest survivor.

I remembered my childhood incest the year I graduated from college at 25 years old. The next two years were intense ones, full of fierce cycles of pain, anger, forgiveness efforts, relief at “all the pieces finally coming together” and round again. I felt pretty much ‘recovered’ and on top of things when I got married and pregnant for the first time at 28. I miscarried at about three months; the timing was especially painful in that I started to bleed at the wedding and miscarried at home two days later. This brought on the darkest time of my life, and even now I find it hard to untangle the threads of despair that knotted up in me then.

The aftereffects of the miscarriage were gruesome for me, and seemed to bring to life much of the symbology I had lived with. It catapulted me into the same black hole that I had once felt within me from the nighttime abuse. I had often felt that there was a large space of toxic, even poisonous darkness in my belly/uterus from the ejaculate of my abuser, and that if I had a baby all sorts of things ‘could happen’. On one hand I felt it was the only way to get “ It” out – that by opening up so big that a baby could get out, maybe the baby would “push out the darkness/poison” ahead of itself. But on the other hand, how could I possibly protect the innocent baby from such a toxic environment? This was a tremendous mental burden, since protecting my child from an abuse inheritance was an absolute priority. I have wanted to be a mother more than anything in my life and the idea that from the past He could contaminate even this most important being and present moment infuriated me.

It also profoundly depressed me. The month following the loss of the baby was numbing and awful. Even though I “knew better” it was hard not to feel that the miscarriage was my fault because of my mental images of inner darkness. Who would want to come into being in that atmosphere? Never mind that it wasn’t my fault to begin with – I felt responsible because it was as though I had allowed abuse to contaminate my baby. I was bleeding, the hormone swings were making me feel crazy, and I started having flashbacks that I’d never had before. My new husband had just made a vow of monogamy for the first time in his life, and we didn’t even have a wedding night. I was suddenly in true survivor mode, angry and weeping and not very articulate, and very celibate. I was frighteningly suicidal off and on for the next year and a half. Acupuncture helped stabilize me physically, and one-on-one counseling sessions saved my life and really helped me to develop the coping mechanisms that I have been using and building on ever since. I went through several therapists before I found a good match and although obviously worth it in the end, I found it torturous to interview strangers when my agonies were raw and I could barely function (eat, sleep, drive…). At my therapist’s suggestion I also attended a weekend group counseling session (somewhat helpful) and Incest Survivors Anonymous (ISA) meetings (which brought tremendous comfort for two years).

I eventually pulled back onto solid ground. Those two years gave back to me a much more whole self. The casualties were my marriage, my credit (years later bankruptcy has finally relieved a lot of the burden, though I owe the therapist even now), and lost years professionally and otherwise. Although I never would have believed it was possible then, I came through that emotionally violent time to a place of stability, calmness, and the ability and desire to define myself as something other than (or at least additional to that of) an Incest Survivor.

This year, eight years later, found me in a new marriage to a long-time friend who had shared much of my healing journey, and pregnant for the second time. I felt much more light-filled, although a little anxious about whether some surprise trigger would sabotage me again. My concerns centered more on something mentally holding up the birth than endangering the pregnancy. Eventually I arranged several counseling sessions with two friends who not only knew me well but were also professionals in the birth field and had experience with incest issues. It helped a lot to be able to voice the wide range of fears that were occasionally surfacing, such as feeling my body was ‘taken over’ by this other being and the resulting control issues. What if I felt aroused nursing the baby – did I need to protect it from my feelings? How much touching would be normal when changing its’ diaper? And what if the baby I was carrying was a boy? I found it strange to imagine a penis growing inside of me. I was surprised to need so much reassurance! I am a midwife myself and have reassured other mothers, but my professional experience seemed to offer nothing to the beginner mother within me. It was priceless to hear that many of my concerns were common to any new mom, and I was rather surprised to be in the ranks of “normal” although I had trouble believing it deep down.

Our decision to birth at home was very important to me from the perspective of a survivor. I knew from helping other women birth that home is where I would feel most safe, most able to control who was present and how I was handled, and most able to let down my guard to be vocal and move around as instinct dictated. It was, for me, the place that would most support trust in my own body and abilities. This was critical support since I secretly felt that if I could manage to get the baby out under my own power it would restore a lot of my own belief that that part of my body did indeed ‘work’.

My perception of the birth changes as it becomes farther in the past. Our nine pound eight ounce boy was born a few days before his due date after a 12 hour labor, most of which was spent in a large tub of water for pain management. I pushed for four hours, and he was born with an unusual and large head presentation – transverse (facing my leg instead of my spine) and asynclitic (head cocked and also not flexed). Pushing was blindingly painful, and I think it left me in a kind of shock for a few days. I did bleed significantly immediately after his birth and had a second to third degree tear.

During the first week, I felt negatively about the birth – wounded ‘down there’ again, swollen and ‘off-limits’, not wanting to see how it looked. I was proud of our healthy beautiful baby, but a little surprised to not ‘recognize’ him more, and to feel so much in a kind of survivor mode again – shutting down some while waiting for my physical shock to pass and some strength to return. Things perked up quite a bit when one of my birth attendants returned with photos she had taken during the labor and birth. The photos have played a major role in the softening of my memories. I really needed to see what happened in order to give it context. During the birth she kept reminding me…”Yes, it’s painful, But Nothing Is Wrong,” and that is what the photos did for me as well! Even though my memory was shimmering with pain, here was the documentation that while it was indeed very difficult, it was also ok. There were photos of me being graceful in the midst of intensity, being strong and courageous, of it being a genuinely difficult time, me smiling, and of helpful, loving people and most importantly, no one was ‘hurting me’.

As I write this I wonder what relationship my abuse history has to the baby’s birth position and the bleeding. I do feel that at some level it played a part in the slow healing of the tear. In spite of surgical mending at eight weeks postpartum, the physical pain has only started to abate recently. I definitely have felt like a survivor again sexually. I’ve felt the temptation to go numb and check out during sex, to avoid it altogether, that my vagina is wounded, and especially a psychic distress around the openness that I feel at my vaginal opening (that’s the big one which stimulates the others, I think). It’s draining to revisit this topic at every life stage, but I don’t chafe about it as vigorously as I once did. Perhaps this is because the triggers are gradually weakening, and I now have a supportive life context with which to deal with it. Mothering also leaves me unbelievably exhausted, which does double duty. The bad side- exhaustion makes me more prone to incest intrusion. The good side- mothering is so distracting that there isn’t time to dwell. To soften triggers I’ve found it helpful to take a Bach Flower remedy- “Rescue Remedy” (for shock/trauma) and the homeopathic remedy Arnica after sexual activity. I am now grateful that I didn’t end up raising a baby ten years ago while struggling through the foundations of recovery. I felt relatively whole and sexually content when I had this baby, and I have been alternately sad, defeated, and pissed off to have taken (however temporarily) a couple of steps ‘backwards’.

Before becoming a mother, if I started to feel overwhelmed one of my main coping mechanisms was to step back, allowing myself to take time off (an hour, or an evening) to regroup. The unrelenting nature of mothering has definitely eliminated that as a fluid response, even as I perhaps need it the most. I’m learning to substitute momentary “regroups”, but I really miss the opportunity to temporarily shutdown using a video or book. Now that my son is six months old and we are starting to get longer sleep cycles and some more regular napping, I am feeling some relief as well. Incest has affected my mothering less (during the birth) and more (post-partum) than I anticipated. I do feel that in the end I will be a better mom through being a survivor, because my awareness is so heightened and because it necessitated me doing so much work on my self – he’ll be able to reap benefits.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cindy's Story

1955, seven years old. I remember my mom and my stepfather of four years fighting after my sister and I went to bed. You’d hear yelling, struggling sounds (this was under the influence of alcohol) and furniture falling or being thrown around. They would come in to our room when they were finished to tell us not to worry that they were all right. My sister and I worried for our mom. When they came into tell us this they were both naked. That right there seemed wrong to me- at least enough to make it stand out in my mind all these years.

Then there were the times my stepfather would come into our room naked after dark and get in bed with me. He would reach over and take my hand and put it on his penis and show me what to do, how to move my hand to make him come. He also used to fondle me and kiss me on my pubic area. I didn’t like it, but he was my father, and I didn’t think of telling him not to do it. It was just something you had to endure. It’s all very hazy and I really don’t remember how many times he did it to me- I know it was many times because I remember when he came into the room naked that I dreaded it. I knew it wasn’t right because I never told anyone.

He always had this look on his face that he thought was “sexy”- I guess you’d call it a lewd expression, “sleazy” comes to mind. Sometimes when I was in the bathtub he would come into the bathroom to pee and he would make sure I was watching and he would have that expression on his face.

I’m not sure what this has done to me, how much it has effected my life. I do know that pornography repulses me and that I have very little self-esteem. I do not trust myself. I let myself down constantly.

When I was sixteen I got pregnant with a boy who really didn’t have any intention of committing to a relationship. We were both way too young and when my mom found out the first thing she said was “what do you want to do about it?” I really didn’t know what to do. I guess I was relieved that she knew so that now I didn’t have to be alone with it anymore. She decided that I should have an abortion. This was in 1964. It was illegal, and to make things worse, she had just remarried and had to tell her new husband about it. He arranged the abortion; I guess he had connections. He also paid for it, and never let my mom or me forget about it. They took me, in the middle of the night, to an apartment in a very rough part of the city. I remember walking up to the door. I don’t remember much else about the procedure except that it was very dark. There was only one light on, and it was pointed where the doctor was working. I don’t think there was much pain but I’ll never forget his “nurse”, a very kind black woman who warned me-”Honey don’t ever tell anyone about this-ever.”

Afterwards I find is not very clear. I do know that I continued to grow in spite of the abortion. It turned out that I was still pregnant because I had conceived twins and the second baby was still alive and growing. I kept getting bigger- I continued to go to school; who I thought I was fooling I don’t know. There was only one skirt I could wear, but I was ignorant and in total denial to what might have been happening to me.

The next part I don’t remember at all but was told that I was taken back for a second abortion. By now I was four and a half months pregnant. This time it worked. I went into labor and gave birth to a dead baby boy after a night in the basement on the hide- a -bed while the rest of the family was upstairs (my new stepfather and his kids- our newly acquired family). My mother and sister were with me- helping me with the contractions, and I’m pretty sure trying to keep me quiet.

Finally I had the urge to push- I think I thought I had to go to the bathroom so I ended up having him while I was on the john. I remember I was crying- for pain or remorse or guilt or sadness- whatever, I don’t know.

The baby was retrieved from the toilet and put in a shoe box- a four and a half month fetus. I didn’t look at him but later on I got a picture of what a four and a half-month fetus looked like from a magazine that had an article on amazing photos taken in utero. I kept that picture all my life and looked at it with wonder, curiosity, and sadness. And I’m sure some guilt, a lot of guilt.

My stepfather cremated the baby down in the valley behind our house. I spent the next week in bed; breasts bound with a sheet because they were bursting with milk that would never be used.

I went back to school after that and my mom told the school that I’d had a kidney problem, and again being young and ignorant I went back to my teenage life with only a secret. It feels like I’m telling a story about someone else when I write, but I know it had a profound effect on me in many different events in my life.

I am a needy person, and if anybody shows me any affection, I just suck it up like crazy. I went through a lot of guys, not sexually, but emotionally. Sex was fine, no inhibitions or anything like that. But I have a real problem with pornography. It makes me ill. I don’t see the need for it for anyone.

In terms of relationships, I have had a hard time. I find it hard to believe that people are sincerely my friends and that somehow I’ll ruin it and they’ll be gone.

It took me five years to get pregnant with our first child. And I had one miscarriage before he was born. I was very upset that I couldn’t get pregnant and was sure I was being punished because of the abortion. Our son was born in a hospital, a typical hospital birth. I had him “naturally” but went through 21 hours of labor (strapped down with a fetal monitor, pitocin, Demerol). Finally he came out-episiotomy. I was totally amazed by him; by the fact that I was able to have a baby -no- was ”given” a baby (low self-esteem). I was sure he was going to die when I took him home from the hospital. I was sure he would die when tiny or leave me when grown. The guilt and the unworthiness because of what I did.

Therefore I gave him everything I could afford financially and emotionally because I couldn’t possibly hurt him by saying no.

My daughter was born at home. Eight and a half pounds, I’m very proud of that. I had a little Demerol when pushing but nothing else. She was born in my bedroom at home in the dark except for one gooselamp. Her birth was hard but wonderful. She nursed immediately- never lost an ounce.

The thing about her birth is I had nightmares afterward about being in a dark tomb with very little light. I hadn’t had these nightmares after the birth of my son. I also had postpartum depression the third day - I couldn’t stop crying. I can see a connection between the abortion and my daughter’s birth at home because of the darkness with just one light. It was eerie- and I guess brought back memories I didn’t realize had affected me so deeply.

Growing up, my daughter too got pretty much everything I could give her, although she was different from my son in so many ways. You see, I think that in my insecurity I was afraid to say no because I was reluctant to hurt or discipline them because I was sure they would leave me. Because I wasn’t worthy of having them. I never wanted to hurt anyone and often we all paid for it.

I see that now, but I can’t change it. They’ve turned into really remarkable people, considering, but I’m hoping they will raise their kids differently than I did.

The things that happened to me, from my mother’s many divorces, our moving from house to house, living with different relatives (and in foster care for a short time), to the sexual abuse and the abortions, I guess had to have a negative effect on all sorts of aspects of my mental well-being.

My sister and I are amazed that we have made it through as well as we did!

When my mom died I decided I had to do SOMETHING, I didn’t know what... so I went to see my mom’s second husband, the one who had abused me. He had adopted us, and my real dad had allowed him. I tried to get my name back later, but the courts wouldn’t let us. Anyway, it was hard to find him, but I decided I was going to confront him. I just wanted to do something really drastic. There his name was in the phone book! I didn’t call ahead and tell him I was coming or anything. I had my best friend come with me; she stayed in the car, although I wish she had come in with me. I knocked on the front door, and the woman he was married to before my mom came to the door. He had remarried her. Also, I had forgot to mention that I had found out that he had pushed my mom down the stairs when she was seven and a half months pregnant with my brother. He was born premature and is also “slow’ and deaf. And there he was: my brother whom I hadn’t seen since I was six. So anyway, this woman invites me in, and says “oh my goodness, look who’s here, so nice to see you.” But I wasn’t there for a visit or anything happy like that. I go to the table and there he is sitting there eating dinner. He has this tracheotomy tube. I wasn’t expecting an old man with a trachea tube, but there he was. I started talking to him. He didn’t comprehend what I was saying, but his wife was having fits. She slammed her fist on the table and said, “That’s a lie! Your mother put you up to this.” I said, “ My mother’s dead” and repeated what I said to him: “You did some horrible things to my sister and I and I want you to know that we are aware of it, and that you didn’t get away with it...and we know about it.” “ Oh, its so nice to see you”, he says. His wife is of course fuming by now. My brother is in the living room, who I hadn’t seen for thirty years .So here I am having this very strange sensation, seeing this man I hadn’t seen for so long, who had been my father for four years, and I had this pulling from both sides, like I also wanted to tell him what I had been doing since I saw him last, you know? It was strange. He got up from the table and walked by me. I cringed, for effect, I think. Then I asked the woman if I could go talk to my brother. I assured her that I wouldn’t speak of the abuse to him. It was all so weird. I went up to him and told him who I was. I’m Cindy, your sister. He said, “I know,” with the voice of a deaf person. He was shorter than me, and looked like a little old man. He says, “I know the face...there was a big girl and a little girl.” I told him I was the little girl. And he remembered our mom. That was basically the end of it. But at least I got to say what I had to say, you know? It was disappointing that he didn’t understand me. I was glad my friend was in the car after, because I did break down. I wish she had been inside with me, because I would have loved to have a witness. I was glad that I did it, but I was sad. I later heard about his death on television. There was a morning show with these guys kibitzing back and forth, and they mentioned my stepfather’s passing because he had been a local celebrity playing the organ at baseball games. They went on and on about what a great guy he was. I couldn’t stand it, so I called the guy, the TV personality, and asked him why would he announce that man’s death over the TV, didn’t he know what an evil person he was? Of course he had no idea. I said, “you know, my mother died the beginning of this year, and they never announced her name on the television.” It was just so weird that I would be watching that morning, and that they would announce it...It was very strange.

I recently have gone through some difficult situations that have challenged me in every way. This is when I found out how profound an effect my past has had on me. I have got to be able to deal with all those issues and forgive the people involved, and myself, before I can even attempt to try to work on the new problems and forgive. I have found that I have this feeling that I’ve been taken advantage of, used, abused, and traumatized and I don’t want anybody to ever get away with that again. I have no feeling of worth or importance in this world. I need to feel that I am a good person, one that deserves to be respected and loved like everyone else. I need to feel that I am entitled to everything everyone else is, that I’m not the stupid pathetic and undeserving person I think I am.

It’s going to take a lot of work but I’m going to deal with all this old stuff before I can go on and take on all the challenges in my life that are sure to happen.

I tried to see a psychiatrist when my kids were young. The first session the first or second question was “how is your sex life?” And I was very put off by that. I thought, “am I exuding this thing that everyone thinks that’s all there is to me?” I went three or four more times, but that was it. I did go to group meetings, and finally got the courage up to say something, but it was the end of session, and it was like, “Whoops, time’s up.” I never went back. The second person I went to see was years later, a psychologist. When I told her I thought that my sexual abuse was a problem for me she said, “it made you feel dirty didn’t it?” But I thought, “why? I didn’t do it, they did! Why should I feel dirty?” Now why would that be the question they would ask me? So I saw a correlation there, and I didn’t want to go back to a psychologist. It was more damaging than helpful. But I finally did see a woman since then, and she said that that was a very inappropriate thing for her to say to me .She must have been new, and going by the book or something.

Something I have come to understand is that sexual abuse is about the abuser! He was so creepy, so slimy. It does make you think, “will this happen again, is there something about me, am I causing this to happen? I mean, I didn’t know it was wrong what he was doing, he was my father! And my parents were fighting all the time...one time he came to me with his tooth knocked out, and my sister and I were glad, thinking mom won that round...we were always rooting for her.

Speaking of my mother...about ten years ago, before my mother died, she came to my house. We had a wonderful relationship; I turned to her for help all the time. Somehow the subject of my stepfather came up-which had never come up with her before, EVER, and I said, “He was an evil man.” After all these years-about 30,I guess, I thought that we could finally talk about him. My mother just said, “Nobody understood him.” I was shocked, devastated-sent right back to being a little girl-she obviously chose her side, and after all these years and all we’d shared, she still chose him. I dropped it right there. I realized that this was going nowhere, that she probably wouldn’t admit to it, and that she still loved him, and that she felt that she had made this ultimate sacrifice by giving him up for us. That was hard to hear. She was such a good grandmother by then, and a good friend. I felt that a wall was put up then, that my sister and I were separate in her mind, which is why we spent a year with my dad, my grandparents, foster care, camp. We were always second in our mother’s life.

My kids’ upbringing was the opposite. We didn’t have much but I gave them everything physically and financially that I could do. They survived and they turned out to be some great people. My daughter is an excellent mother. Excellent mother. More patience than I ever had.
I never really shared my history of abuse with my kids, although I did tell my daughter about the abortion when she was going through her crazy stage. I think there is the danger in telling them of alienating them or making them think less of you. I was afraid of my kids. Afraid of telling them no, from making them eat their dinner when they were six to saying no as teens...they are both very loving to their dad and I, though. My son hangs up the phone with “I love you guys”.

I am also angry with my father for abandoning us to our stepfather and the whole situation. My sister and I both feel this terrible abandonment. It is hard to have no one standing up for you or taking care of you.

The healing from all that has happened to me is going to be a long process, but I’m going to sincerely work towards getting healthy because I need to live the rest of my life. Writing this down has been healing for me, more than anything else I’ve ever done, and sharing it with my sister has been important too. I am trying to build myself up, work on my self-esteem issue. I know that I have to deal with these ghosts in order to go on. I know that my children have grown up with love, and never experienced the abuse I did. I made sure they always felt loved and cherished-because they are.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Shakta's Story

I grew up in an extremely sexually repressive household. I never even had the language until I was quite old to describe things like breasts and genitals etc. I feel that had I had the language/knowledge to describe the things that were happening to me at the age of nine, I would have had an easier time stopping it. Although, even as I write this, I also know that nothing in the world I did could have stopped it.

My perpetrator was the least likely suspect-a sibling. It's interesting how abuse between sibs can be passed off as normal. I assumed that I felt icky and uncomfortable about the whole thing merely because I was "chicken". I was vaguely aware that sex caused pregnancies and the whole thing stopped when I was around 12 and started making noises about having had my period. It also corresponded to the first time I tried to kill myself. It chills me now that a seventh grader can be so serious about suicide, but this was not a gesture thing. I waited until my mom and dad were out for the evening (both my brothers were away from home at the time) and took every pill in the house that I thought wouldn't be missed. A few Valium, a couple painkillers, bottle of Tylenol, and a bottle of aspirin. I can still remember the way my ears rang. I spent the next day and a half throwing my guts up, but I never told anyone what I'd done. Only later did I find out just how toxic a cocktail I'd mixed up for myself. I can only think that I had either an unusually strong constitution or divine intervention was involved somehow.

This was the first of three serious suicide attempts. The third and last time was when I was 16-this is the one where I was actually caught in the attempt. People (teachers & shrink) decided I was attention seeking, so long term counseling was not really necessary. Of course, I never revealed the level of premeditation I put into the act-I said I was down, that it was an impulse thing, that I just saw the pills and swallowed them. In actuality, it had taken me months to fake the illness to get me the proper pills (antibiotics and Tylenol 3's).

I couldn't tell you what was going on with my brother at the time. Most likely, someone had molested him and he was only passing on a learned behavior. We have a distant relationship now; after my mother dies, it's very unlikely that I'll ever speak to him after that. In the mean time, I hope my mother is dead before he does something truly heinous as an adult.

Skipping ahead to my teen years, I was still clueless about sex. By that time I knew more or less the mechanics, but nothing about things like consent. I bought the idea that rape is only rape if it happens in a dark alley by a stranger. I also had no idea whether or not I was a virgin, if you can believe that. I didn't know if what had been done to me when I was younger "counted". I also wasn't quite sure if I'd actually been penetrated.

When I was 15, I was raped while drinking, the whole time I cried and said "nononononono". I eventually made him realize I wasn't kidding by biting into the tendon of his shoulder really hard. Ironically, this all happened in a graveyard.

It was six months before I confessed what happened to a friend of mine. She gave me the strangest look and said "Uh, there's a word for that." "Oh, yeah?" says I. "It's called rape."

Much of my life up to then had been a total blank. I was always spacey (some time later, I found that part of it had to do with having an undetected learning disability). In that year I became more so...to the point of complete dissociation. Most of the time I didn't know what day of the week it was. I failed most of my classes senior year because I honestly couldn't remember what I was taking. I knew that no one would have believed that, so I just let myself gain the reputation of being spacey and unreliable.

I had a few boyfriends and a girlfriend that I experimented sexually with. I had few friends and no social skills. I spent lots of time with the burnout crowd in high school because they were the most tolerant. I was very naïve, but put up a really good front as tough and streetwise. In my school that wasn't hard because it was a white upper-middle class suburb. Smoking cigarettes qualified one as "tough".

During my high school years, my parents had a truly evil divorce. My biggest regret about that is that my mom didn't dump my dad sooner.

In the years that followed, in no particular order, I started therapy, I left home, I became active in feminist groups, I went to speak-outs, I identified myself as a survivor, I had several horrible relationships, I discovered that I had pretty severe emotional problems, I told everyone who'd listen about my emotional problems, I became quite ill with a form of arthritis (a rather eloquent gesture on my bodies behalf I think), I took jobs, I quit them, I went to school till I ran out of money, I took self defense, I cried a lot.

After my last horrible relationship (a story in itself), I started dating my husband. In the previous year some profound experiences had caused some kind of change in me. Suddenly I wanted more than the meager existence I'd allowed myself up to that point. We were engaged for a year then we were married for a year before we decided we wanted a child.

I was still in therapy at that point and still a basket case. I was beginning to suspect that my therapist had more invested in my really interesting emotional problems than helping me get better. The more bizarre my behavior was when I came into her office, the better she seemed to like it.

I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous, not so much because I had a problem with drinking, but because I wanted to understand my own family better. I went to my first meeting under false pretenses-I made up some really light alcohol problems- I attended meetings weekly for a year because I liked being around people who were trying to be normal.

I found out I was pregnant in June of '94 and suddenly everything was different for me. It was as if I had a gun to my head; I had to get better RIGHT NOW. I was convinced that, if I didn't, I was going to be the worst mother on the planet.

I decided that I would have a home birth. My therapist was against the home birth-telling me horrible stories about incompetent midwives etc. Suddenly it became clear to me that this particular therapist was not going to support any decision I made that she was personally uncomfortable with. In fact, she appeared to be uncomfortable with any adult decision I made. I terminated my therapy and found a midwife.

I found myself less likely to talk about my experiences and my emotional problems than before. I let my midwives know that I was a survivor and that I had "some problems" emotionally, but I didn't tell them the whole story by any stretch.

All during that pregnancy I was a twitchy mess. I felt colonized and invaded. Even though the pregnancy was planned. The first time I saw the baby move I felt like "Aliens part VI". And I was horribly, desperately lonely.

I made some very difficult choices when I was pregnant. I found myself taking stock of my work and personal life and saw that my rescuer complex was completely out of control. My midwife was very clear that my responsibility right then was to care for myself and my baby. The rest of the world would happily spin on without me.

It’s a funny thing, but many people have told me how brave I was to have a homebirth. I actually wanted one out of fear; I was afraid of the loss of control and afraid of dying and afraid of pain and afraid of needles and afraid of a whole litany of other things. I figured that I had more of a chance to deal with my fears in my own environment than anywhere else. I had a lot of false labor, but I believe much of that was my need for “dress rehearsals”. I was terrified that I’d have to be taken to the hospital because I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in my body. My health issues seem to be perpetual and I think I’d always blamed my body for my abuse. I’d worked in various medical settings and knew I couldn’t have my baby there. I also had a horror of surgery—essentially I’d have to be dying to consent to a C-section.

I was in labor for 36 hours with my daughter. In retrospect, mentally, I needed it to go slowly so that I could ease into it. I was never afraid during the birth of my daughter. Although I started losing it when I was near the end. I couldn’t focus on where I was or why I was in so much pain. I remember babbling nonsensically a lot. People kept reminding me that I was here to have a baby and that helped.

The sensation of giving birth to my daughter was amazing. I use words like indescribable and I mean it. Physically it felt like rape feels; it hurts so badly that your mind goes away in a shower of sparks. Mentally it was an inversion of that experience. An initiation rather than a violation. When it was all over and the sparks coalesced into thought, I had a baby and the room was awash in sunlight.

My daughter’s birth was very healing, but I was still me, with my problems. I couldn’t say how being a sexual abuse survivor effects being a mom, but being a mom helps me heal as a survivor. I will do things on my children’s behalf that I would never do on my own. I hardly think about being a survivor most days. I give talks to freshman college students on safer sex and how to avoid date rape. My five-year-old knows all about birth and menstruation and genitals and has the words for them. My two-year-old knows that the words “go away” are to be heeded. We talk about personal space and how people must respect each other’s space. I hope nothing bad ever happens to my kids and I think about what I would do if it did. I live a long way away from my family and I like it like that. I have learned about boundaries and being afraid and being courageous and being safe and being wise.

If I were writing a novel, this would be the happy ending. Having said that, I feel vulnerable and jinxed. I can still never quite feel deserving or safe in good fortune. One consequence of being a survivor is that I know good times can never last and it all eventually ends in a hole in the ground. On the up side, bad times can never last either.