Welcome to the survivor moms speak out blog!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 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

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