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/

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ann's Story

"Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten...” Joel 2:25
"...you meant evil against me, BUT God meant it for good...” Genesis 50:20

I must go way back to my birth to begin my story. I was born 24 months after my parents were married. They had my sister exactly 9 months after they were married. My father was finishing a college degree and working two jobs. My mom was newly married, living away from her family, and taking care of a toddler and an infant. Finances were tight. My family followed very strict and legalistic Roman Catholic rules and doctrine both before Vatican II and after. My mother had a nervous breakdown approximately nine months after I was born. She was hospitalized for a few weeks. She readily admits that she was not able to care for me as well as she would have liked. I spent a lot of time as a baby propped up on the couch, and when feeding time came, my bottle was propped up with a pillow as well. With the emotional condition she was in, my mom did the best she could, and when my dad was home, he helped out as well. My maternal grandmother also spent some time with us to help out. Regardless, the family situation, and perhaps even my genetics, created a little girl who felt insecure, afraid, alone, and unloved.
This was the perfect set up for a little girl to be sexually abused, and I was. Beginning around age four, my best friend's father, our next door neighbor, and a close friend of my parents, began to "set me up" by telling me how beautiful I was, how much he loved me, how precious I was, etc. He really made me feel special. Then came the subtle moves. First he began by showing me pornographic pictures of himself. Then he started physically molesting me and teaching me how to please him. I knew it was wrong, I knew I shouldn't talk about it... I felt ashamed, yet I was drawn back to him again and again, because he made me feel special. I remember the romantic feeling of being in his arms as he taught me how to ice skate. I remember the infatuation feelings, conflicting with the shame and fear I felt.

I was stuck in a state of ambiguity far beyond a four year olds' ability to comprehend. In fact, this continued until I was about 11 or 12 years old, when we moved. He came over for a visit, and wanted to take some pictures of me, in a dress, in none too modest positions. I finally said no. He quickly left our home and I never saw him again until my wedding day, when he shocked me by french kissing me as he went through the receiving line!

I never considered it sexual abuse because though only a child, I felt I was a willing participant. I never talked about it because of the shame. In fact, my sister had even warned me to stay away from him. I felt weak, confused, stupid and very guilty.

As a child, I was a good little catholic girl who went to a catholic school and followed all the rules. But the God I learned about was a harsh, judgmental God, who was not safe. I had to live a perfect, sin-free life to be worthy of any kind of love from Him, or relationship with Him.

Then when I was 15, I worked on Saturdays at our local rectory for the Priest of our church. There was a missionary priest on furlough also staying there. He and I became close friends. Even though I was overweight (and always had been, which contributed to my low self-esteem), he told me I was beautiful, that I was special, and that he loved me. Again, I fell prey to a perfect set up. He would ask me to come into his office for various projects. Originally, he showered me with presents and trinkets from his home country, India. From there, he progressed to fondling my body. When I resisted, he would say, "It's ok, I love you, I just want to feel your heart and soul. I want to feel Jesus in you." He also used the excuse that he wanted to see if American girls were anatomically like Indian girls. And it was ok, because he was a Priest, he wouldn't hurt me. I resisted somewhat, but again felt confused by all the mixed messages in my head, and how my body reacted. I remember at one point standing there while he fondled me, looking at a picture of Jesus on the wall, and thinking, "What are You looking at? What are You thinking?” “ Where are You?

I finally went home one day and told my mom about it, who reassured me a Priest would never do such a thing, and I must have misunderstood his touches. One Saturday I was in his office, and the regular parish Priest came in and turned towards me with a very stern voice, and said, "What are you doing in here?" I responded by saying I was working on a project for Fr. Frances. The parish Priest said, "You work for me, not him, and I don't ever want you coming back here again." I was ashamed. I knew that he knew what was going on, and it appeared it was my fault. Eventually I got another job, and the Priest left the area, and I was left feeling even more dirty and ashamed. Again, I didn't consider this as abuse, because apparently it was my fault. Again, I felt judgment from God too.

By age 12 I had learned many things. I had seen a lot of pornography, I had been sexually used by two adult males who told me wonderful things about myself, and was raised with a fairly liberal set of guidelines, as was typical in the 60's. I learned very young what I thought men valued women for. I learned at a very young age how to please a man. And I learned at a very young age; I was dirty, disgusting, and valueless, except for my sexuality. Eventually as I entered my teenage years I also learned how much control and power my sexuality gave me. It seemed that was the only valuable or powerful (perhaps dangerous)? thing I possessed as a female.

Life went on for me. I struggled with anxiety and depression when I went away to college. I started a lifestyle of "partying" which involved drinking, smoking marijuana, and being sexually promiscuous. Not surprisingly I fell away from the Catholic Church and God. I was desperately seeking love, affirmation, feelings of worthiness and acceptance. And now, I realize, I was also seeking revenge, control, and power over the males in my life. I thought sex was the answer to feeling acceptable to a man, but deep down I knew better.

I finally "crashed" emotionally. I knew I wasn't getting what I really needed, and that I couldn't continue living life this way. But the pain of reality was too much for me. I didn't know which way to turn, what to do, where to go (I had decided I did NOT want to stay in nursing school - it was too emotionally draining). I entered a period of major depression. Fortunately God had His hand on me.

I was befriended by a Christian family who took me into their home, to get me away from an apartment that had become a party center. This family was a living example of what Christianity SHOULD be. They didn't know me well, but knew I needed help. I still got involved with an abusive relationship, but God was at work. I started going to church with them, and finally was starting to feel someone loved me, someone cared. That someone was not only the people that surrounded me from that church, but God! It seems as my relationship with people went, so did my relationship with God. At the same time, I met a Christian man who for some reason was drawn to me. Our lifestyles had been entirely different. He had been raised conservative Baptist, he didn't drink, didn't dance, etc. When I asked him if he wanted to go out and "party", he said, "No, but would you like to go to Denny's for a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee?" This intrigued me, I had never had such an offer, I was used to a beer and a joint! I went and we developed a "friendship". We both decided we just wanted to be friends because we both were dealing with major issues in our lives. One year later he proposed to me. God's hands were definitely upon both of us.

So my life seemed to be getting on track, and God was now an important part of my life. I accepted God as Lord and Savior. I knew he forgave me for all I had done. I knew I was going to heaven, should I die. I got a taste of His love for me, by being cared for by all the Christians I was now hanging around. I got a taste of unconditional love and forgiveness from my husband.

Tom and I got married and all was well. The depression had lifted, I still struggled with anxiety, but given my family history, I just assumed it was all genetic, and I just had to grit my teeth and get through it. I found that if I could control the circumstances around me, I felt in control and did not have much anxiety. When circumstances reeled out of MY control, so did my anxiety. I prayed for God to take away the anxiety. But it didn't leave. It eased up, but left me with irritable bowel syndrome and a constant fear of having a panic attack, going crazy, and having to be hospitalized, as I had seen what had happened to my mother and constantly feared going down the same path. I had seen what happens to someone in isolation, I had seen a patient coming out of shock treatments; I had seen my share of mental hospitals and was terrified that would be my fate too.

Then we wanted to start a family. We went through 12 years of the pain of infertility. However, as an attempt to shut down my anxiety and pain, I had decided I was NOT going to let things like this affect me emotionally. I vowed I wasn't going to "feel" the ups and downs of infertility, and eventually even life! I learned to make jokes out of everything to help me stay numb. We went through testing, daily hormone shots, ultrasounds and artificial insemination. I got pregnant with twins, but ended up in the hospital for eight weeks with life-threatening symptoms, from a diagnosis of hyper-ovarian stimulation. Most of the fluid in my circulatory system went to my ovaries, which swelled up with fluid, and I looked as if I was 9 months pregnant. My fluids and electrolytes were totally erratic; my potassium levels were all over the place, which put my heart function at risk. I was in kidney failure and unable to pass any of the fluid. Finally they inserted a tube into my abdomen and drained out a majority of the fluid. Within a few days, it was back.

Finally, the Dr. said he would have to stop the hormone therapy I was getting to maintain the twins' pregnancy, but then I would certainly miscarry, but the pregnancies weren't normal any way. One fetus never developed much past fertilization, the other was underdeveloped for his/her gestational age, and was not implanted in the uterus correctly. Thus, the hormones were stopped, my abdomen was drained again, and I was sent home.

The remaining fluid started leaving my body, my kidneys started working and I miscarried the twins, about a month apart from each other, and I figured this was all the consequences of my sins when I was younger. I was well ingrained into a lifestyle of NOT FEELING, so I miscarried my two babies with no tears, head held high, and a toughness that showed my heart was surrounded by steel! You see, in my head, I was able to accept God forgave me, but not in my heart, and I could not forgive myself! I was still dealing with the consequences of a God who wasn't exactly the loving, Godly Father I needed and longed for.

The doctors said there was nothing more they could do for me, and would I consider adoption. Friends from church continued to pray for me and for the opening of my womb. But I knew it would never happen. You see during my period of promiscuousness I feared at one time I was pregnant and I went to church and prayed like crazy that my womb would be closed. Little did I realize I was in a sense, making a vow! Having learned to be emotionally numb, I never shed a tear over the trauma we had gone through, over the loss of my two children, or over the loss of the hope of ever having children. My mom was suicidal again, and as I tried to contain and control my life and my emotions, my anxiety turned into panic disorder. I was treated with medication, but I still struggled emotionally. I still felt like God had "lured me in, and then pulled the carpet out from under me, one more time, as punishment or consequences for my "sins".

I finally cracked enough that I had to stay home from work for a while, and started practicing anorexia and bulimia, until I lost around 100 pounds and started vomiting blood. I started Christian counseling as well. I thought that I was just under too much stress and had to learn how to deal with it. I never mentioned anything about sexual abuse to my counselor, because I never considered myself a victim. I considered myself the PERPETRATOR! During one session, however, I told my counselor about a phone call I had received from my mom. She called and said, "You'll never guess who got arrested for raping a four year old little girl." I said, "Oh, I bet I can. It was Mr. X." My mother was shocked, as they were still close friends. "How did you know?" she asked. I remained silent. She said, "Did he ever do anything to you?" I remained silent. "He did, didn't he? What did he do?" I said, "I don't want to talk about it." (At this time my mom was still struggling with depression, and I didn't want to add to her burden, nor was I sure she was a "safe" person to tell.) I told my counselor about this phone call from my mom, only because I felt guilty that if I had spoken up years ago, perhaps this little four-year-old NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR to Mr. X would have been spared being raped! My counselor calmly said, "What do you mean, spoken up?" I proceeded to tell him about my past. My denial was so thick he couldn't get me to accept I had been "sexually abused" (for some reason I hated that word - it sounded so disgustingly weak - like I had been used) - my toughness was trying it's hardest to keep its' shell on. My counselor tried to convince me it wasn't my fault, that I was only a four-year-old when it started! He suggested perhaps I could attend a Christian-based sexual abuse small group ministry called SALTS (Sexual Abuse Light To Survivors). I said, "No way, I don't even want to talk to you about it, let alone go to some kind of group of sobbing, wimpy women, living their life with a victim mentality, crying over things that happened to them years ago." He didn't push me to attend the group, but we spent a lot of time talking and praying about my abusive history.

In the mean time, my friends from church continued to pray for a child for us. I also received some healing prayer at a women's retreat from the leader of the retreat and her worship leader. But as part of the healing prayer, I had to repent of being angry with God, of being angry with my mother, and blaming God. In counseling with my Pastor, I also had to repent of the "vow" I had made for God to close my womb during those wild years. Exactly one month later I conceived our daughter, Laura Elizabeth!

I stopped all eating disorders, partly because I was pregnant, and partly because I was NOW attending the SALTS group and because the Christian counseling I had been receiving was very helpful in helping me cope with all the major issues in my life. The SALTS program provided a group of very STRONG women who were Christians and were willing to bare their hearts and souls in order to help others walk through their woundedness. Learning what "loving well and being loved well" looked like was modeled well at SALTS. I started learning what boundaries were and how to establish healthy boundaries. I learned how to tell my story to others, as a testimony and encouragement of how the Lord can heal us. The women in my group prayed with me and walked alongside me as I went through nine months of pregnancy. I was very fearful the first four months of my pregnancy, afraid that once again, I would be disappointed. But God's miracle was born on January 21, 1994.

She was a beautiful newborn baby girl, perfectly healthy, and all her parts were present. She didn't like to sleep much at night or for very long at all, any time, so fatigue was a constant state. She started losing weight, but was eating constantly, and we were at the Dr.'s office every other day getting her weighed. At 3 weeks, I asked the Dr. when her yellow eyes would turn white, and he immediately held her and said something like, "She's jaundiced, we need to get some lab work done." I thought yeah, well, a lot of newborns are jaundiced, no big deal. But he told me it was a big deal, because this wasn't typical newborn jaundiced, this was "late onset" jaundiced, and could indicate a problem.

To make a very long story short, after two weeks of all kinds of testing, and phone calls and visits to a specialist, she was diagnosed with a genetic enzyme deficiency, called alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency. She was in liver failure. There was no treatment at her age. There was a 50% chance she would die, and a 50% chance her liver would adjust to the missing enzyme and start functioning again. All we could do was wait. I was furious at God. How could he bless us with a miracle, only to "test" me again, by taking her away! Again, I assumed some blame. I was somehow having to live out the consequences of my past sins. I constantly needed assurance from the Dr. that her condition was genetic and not caused by anything I had done during or before my pregnancy. My emotions were off the charts. The emotional deadness I had learned to practice was gone, I was alive, felt emotions, and it felt terrible! My dam broke; tears came for hours at a time. My steel heart absolutely melted while I was "in the fire". I was given anti-anxiety medication and an antidepressant to cope. Obviously my emotional healing and relationship with God was tried again. I still wasn't trusting God as I should. I was still blaming myself, and thought I was being punished again.

God provided a second miracle, I believe, and answered many, many prayers, and Laura's liver finally adjusted to not having the enzymes and started functioning normally. Although to this day, she is followed by a pediatric gastroenterologist, her liver continues to function well. I was VERY thankful to God to say the least.

Because of my dysfunctional childhood, and now seeing all the affects it had on me as an adult, I had decided I wanted (actually needed) to think I was a perfect mother. This meant, I put a lot of pressure on myself and my anxieties continued. I hadn't truly turned her over to God. I just wasn't sure I could trust Him. After all, look what He allowed to happen to me?

I became a very controlling mom. I became very protective. I was also very affectionate. I held her constantly as an infant (I was NOT going to repeat a cycle!). I actually spent the night vomiting the first night I tried to leave her. Probably the healthiest choice I made was to go back to work and put her in day care at six months. It helped me to put things into perspective. There was a world outside of my daughter and my husband. (Actually even my husband got a lot less attention at this point.)

I continued to get good Christian counseling, continued in the SALTS program for two more years, and emotional and spiritual healing continued for me. I started to learn about God's grace. At SALTS, it was embedded in my brain that I WAS abused, that I was NOT responsible for it, and that it was OK to be angry with God, but that He does and DID love me. AND, most important, recovery is possible! My biggest question was "Where was God when I was abused?" I finally got my answer when the director of the SALTS program held me in her arms as I was sobbing and said, "Ann, He was standing right next to you crying for you!"

As a result of SALTS I learned how I had become emotionally DEAD and shutdown, so I didn't have to deal with my feelings. I also learned how to come alive again! I learned how to feel. I was forced to take a look at how controlling I was, and how I didn't trust God. I learned (and am STILL learning) how to let go of control, to realize, as much as I THOUGHT I was in control I wasn't. It was a facade! I learned how to feel the pain of living in a fallen world, and not take on blame or shame. I learned that God WAS a safe God after all. That He would never hurt me. That life is hard because we live in a fallen world; with people who are evil and who sin. I learned how to release my daughter to God's protection. I learned all this through the SALTS program, as well as having friends surround me that were also walking through the recovery process and provided encouragement, prayer and could speak truth to me, through their own experiences. I learned it was OK to cry! It did not mean I was going crazy, or that I was weak. God gave us tears for a reason. It's a release. It's ok. I'm ok when I cry.

I wish I could say life is wonderful now. I wish I could say I am fully recovered, and never struggle. I can't. Recovery is a life-long process. I will always be in the recovery mode. I will always live in a fallen world where there is illness, sin, death and sadness. I still have control issues, and try to deaden my negative feelings with over eating and over spending. I am still taking medication.

My past still affects the way I parent my daughter. I still do not like to leave my daughter alone for very long. I still am very careful about who I chose to baby-sit. I still am very protective and probably overly enthusiastic about teaching her about good touches and bad touches. I check her private parts on a regular basis by watching her take baths, etc. I have to admit I spoil her. I do not like to hear her cry, or say, "I hate you". I don't follow through on discipline, as I should. I indulge her too much, and often let her have her way. I give her too many choices and too much power.

BUT, I CAN say, "GOD IS GOOD". I can say I have a healthy personal relationship with a God I can cry out to. I can say, " I was sexually abused, but I have walked through the results of that and am in the healing process!” I have my eyes opened to how I am raising my daughter and though I can admit I am not a perfect parent, I am aware there are areas I need to work on with her. I am now able to teach my daughter about having a personal relationship with God - about having Jesus in her heart and how much he loves her. I believe the cycle has been broken, and she has earned what unconditional love is, from God, my husband, and I. I have learned to repent of my sinful patterns, which are a result of having been abused. I've learned how to repent of putting up walls and controlling relationships because of my issues and fears. I'm learning how to let my husband be the leader and initiator in our marriage. I'm learning how to establish authority over my daughter. (There's that healthy boundaries issue again.)

Ironic as it is, I am now a paid employee at the Open Hearts Ministry/SALTS office! I CAN offer an ear to others that are going through what I went through. I can offer hope to those who feel they will never smile again, never trust again, never love again, never see the sun shine again. I can tell people, "God IS good, He was right there crying for you!" I cannot make sense of what I went through as a child, BUT I am using my past to minister to others. I am aware that I still have imperfections and issues, but I am also aware that I can stand in front of God with all my faults and He still loves me, accepts me, DELIGHTS in me, and even SINGS over me! I am learning that to be whole before God means to stand before Him with my imperfections and virtues and to hear Him telling me I an acceptable. I am learning I don't need to be perfect.

I can truly say to Satan and my abusers, "...you meant evil against me, BUT God meant it for good...” (Genesis 50:20), and I can hear God saying to me, "I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

One of my favorite quotes now is from Joyce Meyers, "I am not where I want to be, but THANK GOD I am not where I was!"

To learn more, order Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Carrie's Story

I grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, a child of the ‘50’s. I am the youngest of three, with two older brothers. Being the only girl had its advantages and disadvantages, and I was always aware of being the only female child in my family. My parents are both alcoholics, and they drank throughout most of my childhood; they decided to get treatment and stop drinking during my last year in high school.

My mother was psychologically unstable and self-medicated with alcohol. She suffered from depression, was possibly bi-polar, and was hospitalized for a brief period when I was very young. It was around this period of time that she began to abuse me sexually. I was about two years old, I believe, when the sexual abuse began. It lasted until I was roughly five and started kindergarten. She mostly abused me in the bathroom: when I was on the toilet she would “wipe me,” which ended up in genital fondling, and I remember her coming up to me from behind at the sink as I washed or brushed my teeth, and she would touch or caress my bottom and reach around to handle my crotch.

More commonly, however, she would give me a bath, often getting into the tub with me. Not only did she “wash” me with her hands, she also had me “wash” her – putting my hands on her breasts, using my hands to rub her genitals. As strange and upsetting as this was, the most frightening thing was that during these episodes, she would seem to disappear, or dissociate: her eyes glazed over, her breathing changed, she was off in another world somewhere. It really seemed to me that she had fallen into a hole in her world somewhere, and as much as I hated what she made me do during these “baths,” I was even more terrified that she would disappear and never return.

My mother said that if I ever told anyone what we did the police would come and take her away, or else take me away. I didn’t like my father very much – he was unpredictable, violent, and often seemed uninterested in me – so I neither wanted to be left with him nor be shipped off to a big, unknown place. Once she even told me that if my father found out he would kill her. I had seen enough of his drunken behavior to find this plausible. So in spite of my terror of her, my love for my mother and my belief that I needed her in order to survive were paramount. In fact, at the age of 2 or 3, a child is truly dependent on her mother. Mom was indeed sick, and in her sickness she took advantage of my vulnerability and trust – as do all perpetrators.

I didn’t remember any of this until I was 30 years old. Up until that point, I just knew I continually had conflicting feelings about my mother. Because of her alcoholism, I didn’t need to look very far to see why I would have such mixed feelings, and so once I started school, I just buried the memories of the way she touched me as a preschooler. She didn’t actually ever try to touch me that way again, but there were plenty of covert and inappropriate episodes – especially as I entered puberty. She made numerous comments about my developing breasts, she showed me how to insert a tampon in a way that was extremely painful and humiliating (I didn’t want to do it and she forced me to try,) she made constant angry reference to my interest in boys, and so on. I can’t remember a time during my childhood that I didn’t feel embarrassed and disappointed in her; and yet my love for her and my hope that one day she would change never died.

The sexual abuse I always did remember, though, was inflicted on me by my brother Tom beginning at age 11. He would come into my bedroom late at night and ask to “cuddle” me. Our home was such a lonely, horrible battlefield from day to day that cuddling was a welcome change. I enjoyed and found comfort in my brother’s hugs and holding. It began as a safe refuge for me. Soon it became just another battleground as Tom started touching me, trying to kiss me, trying to get me to feel his erections (he was 13). I constantly denied him, pushed him away, said no. Eventually he would leave my bed, angry and frustrated, trying to make me feel as if there was something wrong with me for not wanting to “love” him, as he put it. I began locking my door at night, but the lock was pretty flimsy, and was easily sprung with just a toothpick, so he got in anyway. This continued off and on for about two years. I think the only reason he stopped was that he found regular sex partners and was getting his “needs” met. One of his lovers, as I later found out, was our high school music teacher. So, as one of my therapists said, my family of origin was “inappropriate all over the place.”

Since I never forgot this aspect of my history, when I began therapy many years later, it was one of the focal points. Tom and my other brother Ted both became drug addicts, and as part of Tom’s recovery process, I had the opportunity to confront him about his abuse of me. This helped me move forward, but I’m afraid the same cannot be said for my brother. Tom’s sexual addiction makes it impossible for me to have contact with him anymore. He is about to get married for the fourth time. I love him deeply, but I need to protect my family and myself.

Now, what I really want to say, the reason I’m writing this – my life has a very happy ending. My life is a series of miracles. Although I’ve been deeply wounded, I continue to experience a great deal of healing. Becoming a mother has been one of the best ways I’ve found to heal from this nightmare. My children, and the process of birthing and raising them, are the strongest, most positive gifts I’ve received. My work on earth as a mother is empowering and joyful.

Here’s how I got to that point: The initial psychotherapy I did was a good start, but there came a time when I realized how disconnected I was from my body. This was around the time I was preparing to get married – a happy but often scary time for an incest survivor. One day, while lunching with my friend Ryan, he began to tell me about taking lessons in the Alexander Technique (AT). I had heard about AT work for years, as my background is in the performing arts. I didn’t really know what it was, though it sounded fascinating and I knew it was helping Ryan with some of his vocal problems. The vague sensation that I wasn’t really in touch with my body rose up again during this conversation, and I decided to try Alexander lessons. I loved it immediately, and within the course of six months or less I began to recover my memories of what my mother had done to me. It was profoundly disturbing, but at the same time, a relief to remember – it explained so much about how I had always felt about myself and her, and the choices I had always made. I began working with a psychotherapist again, and I started attending a 12-step program called Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA). The combination of a good shrink, a peer support group, and most of all, my truly gifted, kind and compassionate AT teacher provided me with the resources I needed to heal. The Alexander work, in particular, was most effective, because I was working with my body – reclaiming it actually – and I learned how to let someone touch me deeply and intimately and not have it be abusive or manipulative. I learned about boundaries and self-respect.

Becoming a mother about two years into this process is what gave me the courage to confront my mother and father about what happened. There’s a kind of fierceness that only a mother possesses, and when I learned in 1991 that I was pregnant, I felt all my priorities shifting into protecting my unborn child and myself. Once my daughter was born, I could not fathom how anyone could sexually abuse his or her own child (or anyone else’s for that matter). The tenderness and trust, which my baby extended to me, made me even angrier with my own parents. It didn’t matter that my mother had been ill; she hurt me. It didn’t matter that she hid what she was doing from my father; he should have known and protected me. These basic feelings needed to resurface, and my daughter’s birth assured that they did.

My pregnancy gave me the opportunity to “call the shots” when it came to my well-being and the well being of my baby. I hired midwives instead of doctors, created a birth plan with my husband, felt some measure of control by taking childbirth preparation classes. As far as the birth experience goes, ironically, my history as an abuse survivor was helpful. I have a lot of experience “disappearing” into myself, so during contractions I did just that – I went really deep. Of course, two-plus years of AT lessons were a big help as well. But I also believe that having worked out a lot of my issues about my mother really prepared me well for the intensity of the birth experience. Compared to the intensity of re-experiencing my forgotten abuse, birthing a baby was easy!

Four years later I gave birth to another daughter. I had even more control this time, because I chose a homebirth, where I could have only friends and family with me. No impersonal hospital or strangers hovering around. My older daughter watched her baby sister come into the world, an exciting, powerful experience for her which I hope will prepare her in some way should she choose to have children.

In both birth experiences I yelled my head off – a positive antidote to years of enforced silence. It felt good to make noise, it felt like the vibrations of sound coming out of me were helping the baby to come out as well. And I think the part of me that wanted to scream when my mother or brother were molesting me was really satisfied by the sounds I made in this more positive context.

Breastfeeding was a big challenge for me, because I found it difficult to “force” my baby’s mouth onto my breast. It felt like what my mother had done to me, even though I knew there were no similarities. Once I got the hang of it, it was a nice experience, but my anxiety about it, coupled with a gross lack of information and support, led to a mastitis infection one week postpartum. The second time around, I hired a lactation consultant, who helped build my confidence. Still, this is probably the only area of motherhood that the incest affected negatively. I never enjoyed breastfeeding the way other mothers describe it; I never got that nursing “high” I’ve heard about. I appreciated being able to provide the food my babies needed, but when they weaned themselves I didn’t miss it much. I think it must have reminded me too much of the enmeshment my mother forced on me as a toddler.

Most importantly, perhaps, my children have shown me that, in spite of the damage done, I am basically okay. I learned that I have the capacity to love appropriately and sanely, unlike my parents. I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be capable, or that I would slide into some kind of dementia, but that is not the case. Of course I make mistakes – big ones, sometimes – but they are teaching me to be the best mother I can be. Their presence in my life reinforces the idea that I am good enough, that I am deserving of love. Mothering these two beautiful girls, in fact, teaches me what love is.

My experiences with healing from my childhood nightmare led me to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique myself. I now help others learn about how to live in their bodies with more ease and awareness; I use a gentle touch to guide my students in the way I was so beautifully guided. I am also completing my certification as a Childbirth Educator. I want more women to know what an empowering experience the birth process can be.

There were times when I wanted to give up; there still are, though not so many as before. What helps me go on is knowing this: even though so much was stolen from me – crucial moments of my childhood that I can never get back – I have also gained the most precious gifts of my adulthood as a result. I am a more compassionate mother, wife, teacher and human being because of what was done to me and because of my unwavering insistence upon healing it.

To learn more, order Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Judy's Story

My first memory of sexual abuse was when I was 6 years old and in the first grade in Missoula, Montana. My little sister and I had a baby-sitter that was a 13-year-old boy. I remember one night he told me to go upstairs to bed with my sister, wait until I was sure she was asleep and then come downstairs and he would have a surprise for me. Since he was in the position of authority, I had to obey him, right? And I didn’t know that sexual abuse even existed so I was very unprepared for what happened later that night and for many nights afterwards. I came downstairs later, after I was positive my little sister slept soundly, and Billy was sitting on the couch with his pants around his knees. Curiosity overcame my shyness at this point and I remember walking to the couch to see what he had in his hand. This was my first sight of an uncircumcised penis. I didn’t understand how he could pull the foreskin back and forth, hiding and revealing this new interesting piece of anatomy. He invited me to touch it, saying that if I did everything he told me he would give me candy and tell my mom that I had been a very good girl indeed, as opposed to disobeying him. I tentatively touched the head. He asked me to sit on his lap straddling him, after taking off my panties and pulling up my floor length little girl’s nightie. I did as he asked. I remember he scooted me up higher on his lap so the head of his penis fit snugly against my labia. After that, I remember very little. I remember crying and seeing blood on my nightgown. Billy changed my nightie and redressed me again. Next, I remember riding to the store on his bike to get the promised candy bought with money stolen out of my piggy bank, like my stolen virginity. My three-year-old sister was left behind, safely sleeping.

There were other instances such as this, which left a blur in my mind. Billy used to baby-sit a little boy a year older than I, along with my sister and me. Billy would lock us in the closet, directing us to have sex, while he watched through a peephole. He would put us unclothed in the washtub, and instruct us to have oral sex. I didn’t want to put it in my mouth and I didn’t want him to lick me “there” but what choice did I have? He was the boss, and I didn’t want to get into trouble with my mom for being a bad girl. So through my many tears and much begging, I did as I was told. And often there were candies or cookies waiting for us afterward. So, here I am at six years of age, having sexual relations with two members of the opposite sex. I watched out for my little sister, though. I hated her for escaping what I had endured, but at the same time I made sure she had no part in it. I remember my mom bringing home a new boyfriend and him giving my sister a bath. I sat there and watched his every move making sure he did no more than the essential bathing and that his touch was in no way sexual. Already, I didn’t trust men and was looking for abusers in every man. I don’t know how long this went on in terms of months or years, only that it went on through two residences and ended when I was in the second grade.

My next abuser was one of my stepfathers. I don’t want to minimize any abuse, but this abuse I suffered was more psychological than physical. There was no actual penetration, just touching through my clothes and lots of sexual innuendoes. I believe it started when I was 11, just 2 years into my mom’s new marriage. I needed a training bra and when my mom bought my first one I put it on with a shirt over it. I was taken into the living room to model it for my stepdad, turning in circles with my arms up to see if it was an improvement compared to my non-bra state. With my new bra came my period. I tried to hide it but my mom saw my bloodied panties and it became a family affair. Soon after, my stepdad was working on his truck and I was carrying out daiquiris for him, as it was warm outside. I was drinking half of what I took to him, much to his amusement and I remember the look on his face that I later realized was one of sexual interest. He would take me hunting in the woods, feel my budding breasts and make many comments about what went on between man and woman. He would come to my bed at night to kiss me awake and invite me into the other room to take off our clothes. I never took him up on his offer. When I wanted to buy Valentine’s cards to take to school he told me that I would have to give him many, many kisses and I said that I could do that. He told me that I’d have to do much more. I didn’t. This was the first time I got a taste of the sexual power a woman could have over a man. He came clean to my mother one day, telling her that he’d fathered his own niece/daughter and did not want to repeat that with me. He told my mother he had fallen in love with me. So, as a family and individually we started counseling instead of sending him to jail.

From then on things changed. He was so angry with me, and I didn’t know why. The only thing I could think of was that I hadn’t done what he had wanted me to do. I was regularly getting my ass beat, with a belt that I thought would go on and on forever. One day he kicked me so hard that I flew off the floor into another room and injured my back requiring many years of chiropractic visits and many trips to the emergency room. I still have problems relating to that injury today. He would smack me across the face for every imagined wrong, knocking me to the floor. He was a big man, 6 foot 4 inches. One night, my mother and stepfather paid me $10 to drink a bottle of Sake’. I was so drunk that my mother had to tell me what happened the rest of the night. I drank champagne and mad dog 20/20. I went to the store for my mom to try to buy a fifth, unsuccessfully. I woke up the next morning with bruises covering most of my body and 2 dents in my forehead from my stepfather “dropping” me on the edge of the waterbed. I remember almost nothing from that night, but suspect that I was as close to alcohol poisoning as a 13 year old could get, and still live. One of my teachers asked me the next day if I was beat at home, after seeing some of the bruises on my arms and face. I said no. Finally, after moving with this man to Florida from Oklahoma my mother left him for a younger man.

By age 13 I was having unprotected sex regularly. I think I even had a miscarriage at one point after an overdose of aspirin. I had been getting sick for a few days, enough so that my mother asked me if I was pregnant. I said I wasn’t with as much innocence as I could muster. Self -mutilation had become my best friend. I took half a bottle of aspirin one day, while my sister looked on, and was very sick for days after. I thought I had gotten my period but it was so heavy and so clotty that as I look back I consider miscarriage or heavy bleeding as a result of so much aspirin.

My mother moved me back to Oklahoma where she locked me up in a treatment facility for 9 months, which was awful. From there I went into a “Youth Home” where I resumed my sexual activities with multiple partners. The funny thing is that I never enjoyed sex. I had it all the time, whenever my partner would ask, but never achieved orgasm. I was afraid that if I didn’t do as I was asked or told that I would lose the only affection I had learned how to get. At least I was getting help for the abuse I had endured.

Then I met a man on the Riverwalk with his two sons, fishing. His name was Randy and he had that look that I recognized as sexual interest. I felt power. I agreed to go out with him even though he was the same age as my father. 35. I told him I was 17, almost 18. The first time he picked me up, I had a friend covering for me so I wouldn’t get caught, and we went parking. I was angry. I didn’t want to have to perform for him. I didn’t want to have sex right away. He pulled me onto his lap, straddling his hips and undid his pants. I said “No”. He said he just wanted to hold me close to him and feel my skin against his. I let him take off my panties. When he started to put himself inside of me I said No again but this time he didn’t even pretend he wasn’t going to penetrate me. I tried to resist but I couldn’t so I just let him finish. After that I told him I was only fifteen. Still he wanted to see me again. I let him. Who cares anyway? The next time he put his finger inside of me and was hurting me, scratching my delicate flesh so I was squirming trying to get away from his hand. After that he dumped me, which was fine with me. By now I had less than no self-esteem and was on medication for depression. From the group home I went to various shelters and foster homes. I had been put in the state’s custody at 15 but by 17, I wanted to go home. So I moved back in with my mother and her new husband in Florida. Her new husband was only 5 years older than I and was always telling me what a whore I was. So, I lived up to his expectations.

I met a man in the British Navy while I was working at the Navy Exchange who was 26. I was 16. I went on “holiday” with my British sailor, from Florida to the Everglades to Mexico, doing everything he wanted me to do. I performed oral sex going down the highway and made his every wish come true, because he was paying for this trip and I was having fun, seeing things and doing things I never could’ve done without him. I didn’t want to do these things but felt like I had to or I would be returned home for not obeying his every suggestion. In a hotel room in New Orleans, after a night of heavy drinking he wanted to have anal sex. I began to cry heavily, and he didn’t understand. I told him that I didn’t want to do that but if he wanted me to, I would. He was incredulous! Insulted! I didn’t have to do anything with him that I didn’t want to do! This was the first time I had heard that! He returned to England soon after with promises of marriage, that he would come back to me.

It was then that I met my husband. We married soon after I turned 18 and I was pregnant immediately. I wanted many children and didn’t see any reason to wait. Our first son was born in 1991. Suddenly, I was an overprotective mother, looking for abusers everywhere. If my son would cry in the arms of his father I demanded to know what he did to my baby. But I was safe now, and with safety came feelings and thoughts that needed to be worked out. I was heavily depressed, suicidal even. I was obsessed with my past and all the abuse. My past dominated my every waking hour. I was hospitalized many times for treatment for depression and sexual abuse. My husband remained my rock during these times; giving me the space and time I needed to work out these thoughts and feelings.

Finally, after many unsuccessful attempts to have a normal life, and many hundreds of therapy sessions later, I realized, I had to just let it go. I came to the conclusion that the abuse was never my fault, that I had no control and I was not a bad person and had not been a bad child and I deserved none of it. I made the decision not to let my past rule the life I now had with my husband and my son. It was a difficult choice to make, to keep the abuse close to me or to let it go, and even now sometimes it comes creeping back to cloud my judgement. I see abusers everywhere I go. In the mall I wonder if that man walking by is a pedophile. I get angry to see daughters sitting on the laps of their fathers. One time in a restaurant, I saw a little girl sitting on the lap of her grandfather giving him a peck on the cheek and I was angry, feeling that I knew that man was molesting his granddaughter.

A second pregnancy resulted in a second son, born by c-section. My body had failed me. I had a hard time nursing him and was angry with him for this. Even though I nursed him for almost a year, until he weaned himself, I was repulsed every time I offered him my breast. My breasts have no feeling in them, even now. To touch the skin of my breasts I can’t feel it. I can feel pressure and when my nipples cracked in the beginning I could feel the pain. So, in another way I was robbed. Where so many women have pleasure when their breasts are stimulated I feel abhorrence, I feel dirty. Does this stem from my abuse? I think so. I don’t know how to get past that. I have learned to live with it.

With my third pregnancy it was horrid from the beginning. I was told that my baby was not viable. I was spotting and had a low-grade fever so I went to the doctor on the Navy Base. Hmph! If you could call an intern with his name written on typing paper and taped to the exam room door a doctor. His exam was a painful one. I know he couldn’t have done many, or maybe he liked to hurt women. He put his fingers inside of me and pressed very hard on my fundus. So hard that I remember thinking “If I’m not miscarrying he will force the baby out of my body”. I told him he was hurting me. I told him to stop. He said he was almost done. He inserted a finger in my rectum to “check the back of my uterus” and hurt me some more. Then he wanted to do an immediate D&C. He told me my life depended on it. I told him where he could go. I was crying and shaking and he told me that if I left now I would be doing so against medical advice. I told him I was leaving anyway, that he wouldn’t touch me again. I had to sign papers just to get out of the door. Before I left, the corpsman that was present in the room during the exam told me that if I had been nicer to the doctor maybe he would’ve been gentler with me.
Weeks later, still pregnant, still spotting, my husband urged me to file a complaint against the Navy hospital because they wouldn’t give me the necessary forms for me to seek obstetrical care somewhere other than the Navy. I called the hospital and spoke to someone whom I assumed had authority over the doctors. When I tearfully explained what had happened and that I wanted to file as many grievances as I could against the hospital, the doctor and the corpsman, the man I was talking to asked if I would settle for the non-availability form to get care elsewhere. I settled and several months later had a 9.72-pound baby boy. This delivery was a bad one. I have always sought out medical care with women doctors but the doctor on call was a man. I got to the hospital less than one hour before my son was born by vacuum extraction. The hospital personnel forced me to lie down on the bed while various lines were attached to my body, both inside and out. Blood was drawn, IV’s were inserted and the whole time I was BEGGING for them to let me up, I didn’t want to lie down. The doctor came in and said he would have to perform an extraction or it was another c-section for me. I was screaming with the pain and for my loss of control of my body, at being held down and all the wires and gloved fingers being inserted into my vagina. I said stop, I said no, I said let me sit up, let me get up. I was ignored. I screamed with every contraction and finally the doctor yelled in my face, “Mrs. B, you’re going to have to be quiet! I can’t even think!” The whole room got quiet; the nurses even stopped what they were doing to look at him. But I was angry, here was another man taking my control, taking my birth away from me. I screamed some more. He did yet another exam and said I was dilated to 9 so I could go ahead and push. I said I don’t want to push yet. He gave me a huge episiotomy. He inserted the vacuum and began to pull mightily yelling at me to push hard now!

My son was born through much pain and blood. I didn’t even want to look at him. I didn’t want to hold him. Through the pushing combined with the vacuum extraction I had massive hemorrhoids, as big as my fist. My doctor said he had to check the back of my uterus now and I told him clearly, “NO”. He said it had to be done and inserted his finger in my rectum through the hemorrhoids. Here was another rape, forced upon me by his position over me as my doctor, that position of authority. I had thought, and rightfully so, that as an adult and master of my own body that I could control what was done to me, but I learned I wasn’t right. I was so full of anger and resentment; I didn’t want to hold my son for the first hour of his birth. It wasn’t his fault, I knew that even then, but with no one but the two of us I felt angry with us both. The doctor had left as soon as he stitched me up. Once I held my son and began to bond with him I was angry for him instead of at him. He was my miracle baby, the one the doctor at the Navy hospital tried to force me to abort. What a life he had led in his short time here on earth, both in my womb and in this hospital room.

How has my abuse affected me as a mother? In addition to seeing molesters at every turn, I wonder about my own boys. Will they grow up to be abusers themselves? What can I do to prevent that? Will I know if they are abusers? A year ago my middle son and a neighbor child, a little girl, came to me and told me that they had been comparing the differences in their bodies. They were completely innocent and did not realize that looking at each other was something that was not OK for them to do. I did not know what sort of punishment, if any, was appropriate. I wondered if this was a sign of things to come. I wondered if I was overreacting to something normal or if this wasn’t normal. Did I do something wrong, something to provoke this? How much of my past was ruling my thinking? I run into problems like this almost every day. I have to make a conscious effort not to let my abuse as a child influence the lives of my children. I have tried to make them comfortable with their own bodies and answer any questions about their bodies or mine that they may have. I don’t want them to find shame in their bodies, or feel that anything they have should be hidden in embarrassment. Am I successful? I don’t know. Ask my children when they are grown.

I think as I mature with age, the past and the abuse I suffered looses its importance. I am no longer a child. I am a strong woman. There is no longer any need to go back to a time when I was a victim.

To learn more, order Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse