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/

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.

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