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, August 29, 2008

Kelly's Story

My parents met at a funeral, and married when mom was 15 and dad was 17. They had my older brother, Doug, and then three years later, I was born. They were married till I was 9. My parents were hippie-biker people. They grew, sold and smoked marijuana a lot. We had a lot of family secrets and that is one reason I didn’t think much of the secrets between my dad and me.

He molested me from before I had memory. I was touched almost everywhere that I could be by his sickness. I thought it was normal, although I struggled with feelings of shame and excitement. I was having a sexual awakening way before my time.

He tried to make me very dependent on him. He wanted to have control of everything. My dad is a sex addict, I believe. He went out on my mom a lot, was with prostitutes, and he molested other children. I was like his wife and confidant all through junior high and high school. We did not have intercourse, but he did everything else. He stopped the physical abuse when I started my period. When he stopped, my mom’s boyfriend George took his place. To bridge the gap was a friend of my brother named Paul.

George would grab at me, try to kiss me with an open mouth. He used to come to my doorway at night and stare at me while he thought I was sleeping. One night he got into bed with me and wouldn’t let me go. He pressed his body up against mine and slobbered all over my ear and side of my face. I got away but the memory is foggy still. I just remember going to sleep by my brother and George following me in there, and staring at me from the doorway. I was terrified and never could really sleep at night. I would tuck the blankets all around me when I would go to bed. I would eventually fall asleep after staring at the crack of light under the door for hours looking for his footsteps.

I also had to deal with the neglect that went on when we were living with my mom. We didn’t have any clean clothes, very little food, if any, and it was the dead of winter living in this broken down farmhouse. Mom was on heavier drugs and was no help whatsoever to my brother and I. George hit my brother.

Paul would sneak into my bedroom at night, crawling on the floor, and the next thing I would know I would wake up to his hand being in my underwear. He was so sneaky. I could hardly sleep at night when he stayed the night. I hated it at first and then had mixed feelings about all his attention. I was about 12 or 13. He had a bad family situation and when I lived with my dad after the abuse with my dad had stopped, Paul moved in with us. He didn’t molest me when he lived with us, but I could hardly fall to sleep at night. One night my dad’s second wife came into the room to close my window because it was raining. As she reached across the bed to close the window, I shouted, “Paul, get out!” I was half-asleep. The next day he moved out.

Meanwhile my dad continued to verbally abuse me by talking about my breasts or period to his friends, sometimes right in front of me. He continued with the dirty jokes and comments about my body and sexuality. He’d tell stories about prostitutes, etc. I remember, “cruising” around with he and my brother, as he would yell catcalls to women walking on the street or bark at them.

When I was 20 I had a huge breakdown. I had many different kinds of flashbacks, panic/anxiety attacks, hysterical crying and moaning. I had voices in my head of abused children and many different people. I wanted to die very much. I thought my life was over. My poor roommate Liz took care of me and I couldn’t get off the couch for a long time. She hired me at the farm market next door and let me go home anytime that I had an attack. It got pretty bad. Sometimes I would venture to church where there always seemed to be a message of hope for me. Many times a pastor would come up to me and say something they believed to be a word from God to me. Other times they would say things from up front like if there were a person who felt a burning in their chest to come up and be prayed over. It would be me. This happened a few times at different churches. One time I was at a church and the pastor in the middle of praying opened his eyes right at me and started prophesying about me and my hard life and God healing the relationship with my dad. It was as though God was reassuring me of His plan and his love for me.

Since then, I have read many books, been in group therapy, individual therapy and I am also part of an online support group that is really cool, too. I have confronted my dad, but not George or Paul. I have reported my dad and am trying to get the DA to pursue a case against him in the town he abused me in. I have told my dad he cannot see his granddaughter. I have told him to get help and he has been given referrals to pursue, but I doubt he is getting any help. He admits what he has done but minimizes it. I think this is the most horrible form of denial. It’s like saying, I know what I did and it’s not so bad, get over it. He is not allowed to call, email, visit or write unless he is writing about his journey in recovery. Otherwise I am going to charge him with harassment or get a restraining order or something like that.

Through my relationship with Jesus I have been shown unconditional love and how a true father ought to be. I am still very battered. I am so grieved at the loss of my father and a grandfather to my little Chloe. My husband has obviously suffered because of the abuse too. It taints so much. We are trying to break the cycle in every place we can. We know that my dad’s sin will have repercussions we all are singed by. We are very open about what has happened wherever we feel safe to share. It has helped our family to heal and make a difference in other peoples lives.

I used to want to die. I had out of control behavior. Panic and anxiety ruled me for a long time. I suffered with being split apart in my mind and soul. I had people in my head who wanted to be heard all at once sometimes. With a lot of perseverance and mostly the great love of God through Christ available to anyone on earth, I have made it. I have made it so far, and if you are reading and think you might not make it, just hold on and know that there is life. You can and will smile again and be restored if you keep looking and pursue truth and healing.

My daughter has been a huge gift! She has given me much purpose and hope. I feel that as I raise her in a safe, loving environment, I too will get the benefits from it that I missed out on. I get to be a kid again too in some ways. I can play and sing and hold her the way I should have been held. Some things have been hard though and I know it is just the beginning of more healing in my life.

With breastfeeding I’ve had to consider the difference between my sexuality and sex. What I mean is the difference with who I am as a functioning mother and who I am sexually as a wife. The first attempts at breastfeeding were stressful because of my daughter’s low birth weight and that was mostly on my mind. Once our breastfeeding relationship was established, I started getting confused and had feelings of shame sometimes. While breastfeeding when she would lick and root around at the beginning of the feeding, and I would feel embarrassed. The sensations while nursing can be wonderful and exhilarating. I have a very strong let down reflex that I am even experiencing now as I write about it! These great experiences have been hard for me to put into context because of being sexually abused. I was taught that my body was an object. A sexual tool. My breasts were spoken of in the context of sex.

My husband loves my breasts, as much as the next healthy guy does. Then here is this tiny little girl who’s gotta eat and I want her to have the best and that comes from a sex organ? No, my breasts were probably foremost made for her survival. That is more important than the sexual enjoyment I have with James. I am realizing more and more that we are eating and yes bonding but not in a shameful way. Yes, it may even be sort of sexual but not in the shameful way either. I can’t deny that I am a woman who enjoys the wonderful feelings when my baby looks up at me so dependently nursing. I think that is a good thing! So what if it has to do with my breasts. If milk came out of my fingers that would be fine too! I have taken flak for breastfeeding and that has been hard and gets confusing too, but I have been strong and forged ahead with Chloe. We are very close and it does involve our bodies...but it is in a way that is redeeming. It’s like I am being given a chance to use my body for what it was made for when for so long it was not being used and respected in the way it should have.

I have been worried at times that I will someday abuse Chloe, because so many people say that if you were abused you will abuse too. I believe that since I am aware of the damage that sexual abuse causes, and that since I have assertively confronted the abuse, have support and have grown and healed so much, that it is not going to happen. I am not that person. I am a woman full of hope and desire to break the chain of abuse here and now. I helped break it when I finally got help. I broke it confronting my main abuser, trying to protect others who are hurt and by helping write this book. I break the cycle every day that I am a good wife and mother and I am proud of it. I do know I need a lot more help and healing and that this is not at all the end of the journey.

You, Reader Mom or Mom to be, are SO important. You are the only person who knows just what you want to keep from happening to your baby. You are strong to have made it through your life. Ask God to help you and to show you what to do when you are in doubt. Make sure you have support and resources and USE them. It is hard to go through pregnancy, childbirth and mothering even for “normal” women! Find an outlet. Read, write, and paint, bang on drums or rock out with your guitar. Exercise regularly (I am still attempting this one!) Take great care of yourself. The better shape you are in the better mom you can be. You are a gift to this child. You are so experienced in life and have so much more wisdom and love to give than many moms who don’t have the emotional depth or wisdom as you. The skills you developed in surviving growing up can be so creatively and healthily used with your kiddo! What a rich upbringing you can offer. As I write this to you I realize I am speaking of myself and am thankful for the opportunity to encourage both you and me. I wish us the very best.

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tara's Story

I firmly believe that my faith has helped me in the healing process; it has made all of the difference in the world, because without God, I am nothing. This may at first seem as though I have zero self-confidence, but it is God Who makes me strong. There is no way on earth that I could have survived by myself the things that I went through as a child, and the things that I am going through now as an adult as a result. Only God could have given me the strength to endure. Many would ask, "Where was God when you were going through all of that?" I reply to that, "He was right next to me crying because someone that He created was being hurt by someone else that He created." God did not create the human race as robots. He gave each of us a free will. We have the right to choose what we do and do not do. Many of us, however, live as though we are alone. As though what we do has no effect on those around us. When we do anything, good or evil, it will have an effect on someone else. We do not always have a say in what happens to us in life. Sometimes we are hurt or suffer because we do foolish things. On the other hand, there are times that we suffer because of the thoughtlessness, selfishness, or sin of someone else. We can't control that. We live in this world, and there are many evil people in it, unfortunately. We do, however, have control over our reactions to what happens to us in life.

This is where my faith in God comes into the picture. I am a born-again Christian. I have a personal relationship with God. I don't just know ABOUT Him; I know HIM. He is my Father. I can go to Him at any time with anything and He understands. He will never turn me away, nor will He ever hurt me. I find in Him true love. He never disappoints me.

When I was fourteen years old I was molested several times by my stepfather. Compared to some of the things that you have read, my abuse was 'mild.' I don't say this to excuse the attacker or to downplay what happened, but in true thankfulness that it was not worse than it was. I know there are many women and girls who have lived through much worse, and my heart breaks for them. This put in me a fear and a mistrust, only I didn't really know it at the time. I had accepted Jesus as my personal Savior when I was only five, so I already had a relationship with Him when all of this was going on. I would pray for His help and protection. I learned ways of not being alone with my dad. Yet at the same time, I desperately needed someone who would take his place. The Lord provided that in my junior high teacher. I never told him what had happened. It never really occurred to me TO tell. But he took me under his wing, and he unknowingly became a surrogate father. I would go to him for advice about all kinds of things, and somehow I knew that he would understand. Of course, having four daughters of his own helped. I would talk to him about boys and school and home. Everything that daughters should be able to say to their dads. He helped me to realize that not all men are bad and
hurtful. There are good men in the world.

The way that things were for me was not God's perfect will for my life, that I know. It was not his will that I had need to find a father figure. His will was for my own dad to do that. Since this was not the case, He lovingly provided someone to fill those shoes. And there were other men. When I went to Bible college, I had good professors who were godly men that loved God and their families. I could see that they too were what God expected men to be. I began to grow and flourish while there. However, I still was not aware of the scars that I bore because of the abuse. My abuse was not something that lasted over years. I was molested maybe five times. I am able to recall in vivid detail what took place. I remember finally telling my mom. So I thought that it was over. Although I can remember, it was not something that was always in my mind. I can remember, but I forget too, if that makes sense. God just helps me not to think about it.

While in Bible college, I met the man who is now my husband. We became friends his first year of college, and began dating three years after that. In November of 1996 we were married. There is nothing that I have kept from my husband. He knows all that has happened to me, and all that I have ever done. Our early-married life was great. We had no problems and were madly in love. However, after four months of marriage, I began having problems having orgasms. This was unusual. It had never been a problem for us. But because I still enjoyed sex, I didn't really think it was that big of a deal. After all, most women have problem with that some time or other. I became pregnant two months after that, and we waited happily for the baby to arrive. He was born in February 1998, and I loved motherhood. The birth experience itself made me feel powerful and womanly, and I was proud of my body. But a couple of months later I went to a ladies' retreat at the church I attended while in college, and one of the sessions was about abuse.

My husband and I were still having problems sexually, but I really didn't think it was because of the abuse. I didn't think about any of that when we were together. But during the retreat, my eyes were opened to what had really happened and how that now affected me. I cried for the first time about the abuse. I cried for the childhood that I had lost and the joy that I was missing in my marriage as a result. But this was the beginning of my time to heal.

That was two years ago now, and we now have another son. Both were conceived in times of passion in spite of the problems. Beautiful signs from God that life is still a gift. That there can be blessings in the pain. The first year, my husband and I almost never had sex. I began to relive things and even holding hands made me want to throw up. Anything that even whispered of sex repulsed me. It was a slow climb up. I was advised by a therapist who 'specializes' in sexual abuse to not have sex for as long as it took. But how do you tell a 23 year old newly married man that sex is off limits? She had been horribly abused as a child. I only spoke to her twice, and though I did not really agree, it aided the healing to speak aloud what had happened to me. I was not the guilty party. She also reinforced forgiveness, which is so important.

I know God wants me to forgive, and with his help I have. Some days I have to forgive all over again. It is an ongoing process. I was also not too keen on not having sex for the rest of my married life. I refused to accept that something that God had made to be a beautiful expression of love between a man and his wife could not be wonderful for us again. And so we began praying. And praying. And praying. I prayed that God would give me even the slightest desire or pleasure for and from my husband. I also had to accept that God commanded me in His Word to fulfill my husband’s needs. We may want to deny it, but men are sexual beings. And so I decided to be obedient to God and asked for Him to bless me as a result. Any time I felt the least bit turned on, I would pounce on my husband, because he was too afraid to hurt me. God blessed me with a wonderfully caring and patient husband. I could not have gotten through this without him. He put my need of NO sex before his need OF sex. There are not many men like him. Interestingly, it seemed that the more I talked about it, the more I began to heal.

To me, my faith in the Lord includes trusting that if I am obedient to Him, He will bless me. I was obedient in forgiving my attacker, and I was obedient in meeting the needs of my husband, physical or otherwise. We have in two years gone from no sex, to having very passionate sex. I believed God when He said that sex was beautiful. No one is going to steal that from my husband and me. We still have a ways to go. It seems that my libido rises and falls with my cycle, but this seems normal to me. I praise the Lord that now it is not a chore, nor is it repulsive, but is instead the beautiful act that God intended for it to be. If we do anything out of God's will, we will have problems. That is why sex in marriage is blessed. Sex outside of marriage always causes problems.

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

Friday, August 22, 2008

Kathy's Story

I can't remember a time when I wasn't...you know I use the term “abused,” but I don't know if that's correct. I was always fondled inappropriately, and my father was always exposing himself to me, and that to me is abuse. There was never, ever any intercourse – although it was attempted when I was older. There was never a time I can remember that I wasn't touched inappropriately. My father always had his hands on me or something. One of my few but very vivid memories is when my father had some back surgery and one of us kids would have to stay home with him every day. To this day I can't even identify what would go on...strong feeling about that...not wanting to be home with Dad, "don't let it be my turn...”

Let me back up a little bit... I protected myself by becoming really shy and fat. I was so pathologically shy that I didn't speak. We lived in a little farming community where everybody knew everybody else. I lived there my whole childhood. My mother had had to move 27 times when she was a kid and she swore that her kids would never have to do that. So we were stuck. I must have been in 1st or 2nd grade when people started saying that I was just “trainable.” That reinforced what my father said to me, “You don’t have any brains!”

I have very few early memories of my childhood, and they're all bad. Probably the earliest was when I was five or six. The big deal was when we would walk into town. Once we were coming home and my oldest brother was riding his bike. He must have been about 8. He took off ahead of me, and a car stopped. A man gave me quarters and exposed himself. But the unusual thing about this memory is that it wasn't unusual. Looking back I think, “oh my God”, but you know, that was a behavior that I was used to. I don't have any memories before that. Except there was... there was ...a feeling. Through therapy, and the process of doing a lot of imagery and stuff... I find that I don't remember a time when I ever felt loved...except for once, and actually my mom remembered this too when we were talking about it... She had sewed me an Easter dress and it was made of yellow dotted Swiss and I remember my mother looking at me and there was love and affection in her eyes, and she told me “You look good in yellow” and that became a trigger phrase for me. That same trigger phrase came up once recently when my son Adam had a yellow tee-shirt on and my husband Phil turned to him and said, 'Gosh Adam, you really look good in yellow" and I started crying... And I told my husband I was struck by the fact that our son has love all the time and he doesn't have to deal with all that other crap. To this day though I don't wear yellow. I make excuses, like I don't look good in it or... I don't like it... I think I don't feel deserving of it.

We all have our dragons. Once in a while I get glimmers and flashes of the past but no real memory until I was a senior in high school.

Well I was really fat...when I was sick I couldn't get away and I needed some space. My room was on the first floor and to this day I can't sleep with the door shut because my father would shut the door and then something would happen. And that's when I put on the weight ... and then these teachers came and encouraged me to apply myself... and then I discovered that I couldn’t be accepted to LPN school because they don't take fat nurses and will only accept you if you lose weight. I went to the family doctor and he put me on speed. It was the sixties and it was an acceptable way to lose weight and I lost 60 pounds in 3 months and I was accepted into LPN school.

And it got really scary. It got really scary at home because I had started dating and my father was extremely possessive. I dated arrogant, strong young men. These were guys who had gotten out of the war and they were kind of my protectors. I became engaged in LPN school. I was going to get married and get the hell out of there, leave as quickly as I could. I talked to my mom about it and I don't remember exactly what she or I said, but I broke off the engagement, and moved. And my mom said, "This is the only way you're going to survive this", meaning my childhood I guess. Maybe she was conscious on some level of what had been going on, I don’t know. She really hasn't said very much of anything concerning her own relationship with my father. I know that my mother was date raped before she was married to my father. She was engaged to someone and things got out of hand, and she broke off the engagement. She stuck around for a month to make sure she wasn't pregnant... so now my mother perceived herself as damaged goods, and she's told me that my father has used that against her their whole marriage. Gives you a hint of what he's like.

I don’t remember being abused after the age of 16. I do remember standing up and starting to fight back, and him screaming at me. So I remember that. He never hit me, but he was very verbally on the attack. And I would argue back with great force, just to survive. And I still was in denial about anything going on sexually. It wasn’t until I had been living on my own with the roommates that I started to realize the extent of the abuse. My roommates were incredibly protective of me. Also, I happened to walk into some really good relationships with men as well. One time I had come back home to visit. My parents were still together. Dad and I were going out someplace. We used to go to bars, like I was his girlfriend. I look at that now and I go "How sick!” And I remember we'd been out, both of us had been drinking, and we were driving home. We were going down some dark, dirt roads, and he became very passionate, and tried to rape me again. I screamed. I fought. It's the first time I'd ever really fought back physically. He just looked at me, shocked, and I remember his saying, "Well, we're not going to tell your mother about this.” And we drove home, and that was it. But I knew that this had happened before, even though I didn’t have the actual memories. The healing had begun, I guess. Since I had at that point in my life lost my virginity in a very sensitive way, I then knew that this incident was different, that this was sick, this was really sick, and that this was really disgusting, and that he wasn't going to do that to me anymore. And I immediately put on about 75 pounds.

Now, even through the period of time of gaining weight again, those sensitive men still hung around. It didn't start right away, but the beginning of an idea had begun, that they didn't like my physical body; they liked me, who my being is. At that point, things started happening with my father. After this I just didn't go home. My parents split when I was 25. I cut off contact with my father. Things got so bad my mother was calling me all the time. The divorce took years. She kind of put up a shell after that.

It was still years until I was consciously aware that my father had sexually abused me, after I was married for the first time. People are so stupid. I hit 30. I had been living with Dick, about 4 years, in a mobile home in a community neighboring the one he grew up in. I felt it was real important to get him back to his hometown. The only way to get a loan for a house at the time was to get married. Things weren't great, but I wasn't feeling really good about myself either, and Dick had a drinking problem. He was verbally abusing me at that time, but we got our paperwork together to be married anyway. He turned to me right after that, moments after that, and said "I got you now, you're trapped.” He laughed, and I thought “Whoa.” And that's when he started drinking heavily again. And he got real affectionate, and once when we had sex he came up to me and threw his check at me and said "here, ...paid for.” And I'm sitting here and thinking, "Oh, my God, what is this?” And thinking that, “oh, well, maybe this is what marriage is about, too.”

I started reading every self-help book you can imagine. I don’t know when the conscious moment was, but at some point I said to myself, “I can't continue like this. I have to do something.” In that moment I thought I was either going to kill myself, or I was going to get some help, some professional help. During that period of time too was when I had my tubal ligation done, because he didn't want to have kids, and because I was thinking, “your going to be a really shitty mom, you know.” And at that time I would have been. I didn't want any kid of mine to have to ever go through that. I didn't want to be responsible for that. I couldn't put that hurt on anybody. Like I said, I was doing those self-help kinds of readings...some of which suggested to me that if you come from an abusive household, you're going to become an abusive person, and I couldn't do that. And my God, what happens if I have a little girl? So, the tubal ligation was done...

At first I had a really good sense of humor about having the tubal, and I just kind of blew it off. “I don’t want any kids,” I told myself. To the outside it was kind of like, “ah, there are too many bad moms in my family...I don't need to have a child to be complete...I’m too old, whatever.” I felt so hollow inside, though, so incredibly hollow. My parents had been divorced about 5 years at that point, and when my mom heard about the tubal she was so sad. She said that despite all the things that her kids had gone through, she thought that having a kid was one of the greatest joys in the world. I felt really hollow then.

My whole marriage, my suicidal feelings, my divorce, it all happened in 2 years. Dick and I had gotten married in March, and got the house. I think I had the tubal in May. ...It was all very quick. I started in therapy right after the tubal was done. The whole scenario was incredibly bizarre, too. Dick and my best friend wound up having an affair. They sat down and talked to me in an attempt to justify what they were doing, and they were so convincing! Here are the 2 people who were supposed to love me, and I 'm sitting there looking at them and going, “what?” With the help of my therapist I thought, “these 2 people who love and care about me wouldn't do this, you know?” So what I ended up doing was flying out to California at the invitation of my girlfriend. She and her psychologist husband at the time helped me to see that what I needed to do was get my butt back home and kick Dick out!

When Dick picked me up at the airport, he had expected things to be just hunky-dory, thinking I had just needed a break, and we got home, expected to have sex. I said "no way" and told him he was moving out. He said I didn't really mean that. I called my brother Dennis. I said, “Dick's moving out, will you help him move?

I remained in therapy through the breakup of my marriage. Started off dealing with the alcoholism in my family. Then the abuse started slowly coming out. I allowed myself to remember and feel bad, and told myself that it was ok to feel bad, and then to start feeling good. My father's mother died during the time I was in therapy. I did go to the funeral, but I arranged it so my brother Dennis was my protector, and he escorted me into the church. I didn't sit with the family. I saw my father and walked out. Then I went through the whole agony...

I had kicked Dick out in December. I met Phil New Year's Eve. It took about a year before we started dating. Lawsuit at work, credit card debts. After I testified, I called a friend and went to her house. Phil was there. He was very kind and sympathetic. We arranged to get together. My family had been so sweet. I had no money. Gotten very skinny. Had lots of chicken my family had brought. He brought a bottle of wine. He was somebody I could tell my story to.

He knew when he moved in that I couldn't have kids. He knew from the first date. His family didn't know the particulars, they knew I couldn't have kids but they didn't know why. We moved in together in April. We went on a cross-country trip, and stopped in to see his brother in Texas. He asked if we were going to get married. I wasn't even sure if I could say yes to Phil, because of my background and the fact that I couldn't have any children.

We got married in November. In January I was going to kick him out and find him somebody that could have kids. I loved him so desperately. I was in tears all the time. He was really cool. He said he didn't need children. But he said if I really wanted children, there are things we can do. He was very optimistic. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a mother. My whole focus was that he needed to be a dad. It didn’t realize I wanted to be a mother until I had Adam. I was doing it for Phil. He suggested we think about doing something medical, so I talked to infertility specialists. They said they could reverse the tubal with a 90% success rate.

So from the time I saw the specialist until the time of the surgery was 2 weeks! “It costs $20,000,” I said to Phil. He said, “ It's only money.” And we didn’t have money! I still was doing this for Phil. So, I had the surgery. Rounds of drugs, shots, husband giving me injections. Hysterical every month, couldn't get pregnant. I was 36 years old at this point. I had surgery in '88, and got pregnant in '89. It took a year.

I felt kind of like this was what I deserved - all the pain. Like I was punishing myself for having had the tubal. I had all the tests. When we started running out of money, that was when I started getting my migraine headaches back.

I had had migraines hit really big time when I was with Dick. I took drugs to try to get rid of them. I was a head nurse. I had this alcoholic husband that would call me at work - so I was getting hammered with horrendous headaches about once a week. I finally realized I should do something about this. I saw a specialist, took lots of drugs. They worked. I got rid of Dick; I got rid of the headaches. The migraines started coming back when I was doing all the fertility stuff so I went to a homeopathic physician, and started taking massive doses of the homeopathic remedy Arnica. Within 6 weeks I got pregnant.

We had already started looking for potential adoptions. At that point we had gone through $27,000 dollars that we couldn't afford... And then Phil and I started working on the house. At which point I finally decided that my husband loves me, he's not going to leave me, and if I can't give him a child, we'll still be together.

I bargained so much with God at that point. If someone's going to die let it be me so that Phil can have this child. 37 years old, first child, it's ok, whatever you want to give me it's ok. Do my penance.

I was able to experience my womanliness. Not that that's the only thing women are made for. I felt I could really take care of this person, I could make it better. Bring out the best. I would talk to this child. It was incredible. People would touch my belly.

Then I had to have a C-section. I couldn't even have a child the normal way. Then I couldn't nurse him. I had a hell of a time keeping up with him. I thought that I wasn't good enough, because if I couldn't have him the normal way, and couldn't feed him like he should be fed, maybe I wasn't going to be good enough to be a mom.

Breastfeeding was difficult because the baby wanted to be fed every hour, and I didn’t have enough milk, so it was frustrating. And then Phil was helpful in some aspects, but in other ways he wasn't. Adam nursed until he was 12 weeks old, with supplementing. It was difficult for me to breastfeed. Everybody wants to watch. I felt very protective, holding this little creature in my arms. Breastfeeding was hard but the overwhelming love overcame that difficulty. “I can tolerate this,” I told myself, because I was doing it for the sake of my child, even though it wasn’t comfortable to me.

In terms of how I feel about myself as a mother, it's only been since Adam has been verbal, and able to express himself, that I feel ok about it. Sometimes now I actually feel good at it.

I took 16 weeks maternity leave. Then put him in daycare. We did everything we were supposed to do. Checked it out. He was in daycare Sept. until mid-December. Then I picked him up one day and he was dirty. One time he looked like he had been in the crib screaming. The second time they said I have to understand that they were short-staffed. Part of me was like, "Oh my God, look what I'm doing to my kid, he is being physically abused.” I called Phil at work. We went out and had this conversation. We looked at what we could do. One of us could stay home. I worked because I had the benefits.

It was hard. Families didn't understand about Phil letting his wife support him. I don't know if I could have done as good a job. We planned for Phil to stay home with him until he went to school, but eventually realized he needed some interaction with other kids, and so when he turned 4 we sent him to a wonderful preschool. It cost more than our house payment! Phil got this job a block and a half away. Kept an eye on him. Phil’s whole salary went to childcare.

When Adam was 2, I became pregnant, but it was an ectopic pregnancy, and my tube ruptured. I thought I had caused it, that it was my fault, from having had the tubal ligation. I know that was my daughter. I felt responsible. Phil’s parents didn't help any. They called us to say, "We've decided you shouldn't try to have more children, it’s much too dangerous.”

We didn't do anything either way in terms of fertility. Our attitude was if it happens it happens, still thinking I could get pregnant. But the ectopic was scary. Phil was terrified afterwards. He wanted the whole picture. He had the son he always wanted, but he wanted me too. I realized that I fit in that equation.

I have not been in therapy since the breakup of my first marriage. Sometimes Phil will do stuff that triggers the past for me, but I can identify that that's coming from behind, from the past. I ask myself, ”What do you need right now?” It allows me that time to back up.

I think that my child is good. He's a bit spoiled. I howled at him the other day, and he asked, "Why didn't you do that when I was a little tyke?” I guess I finally realized that it's ok to yell at him. He was being disrespectful. I'm finally at a point that I can discipline him. I’ve always been afraid of over-doing it. My son had an incident with another kid where they were exposing themselves to each other. It was probably a normal kid thing, but I lost it. I told Phil that he would have to deal with that one, that I could not. All I could think was “I've raised an abuser.” Talking to other parents really helped. Boys will be boys...

So there's still issues I have to deal with. I’m very cautious about dealing with discipline. I have the idea that because it was done to me, I could do that to my child. I couldn’t survive that. I tried so desperately to stop it. He's a good kid. That makes it easier.

It's important for me for my child to have good memories. I get into over-decorating for the holidays. I love to hear “Remember when we did this, mom?” It's been a riot to watch a childhood through his eyes. It really pisses me off that I don't have that. So I tend to go overboard.

God forbid, I could die tomorrow, and at least he knows he's loved. He'll just walk up and throw his arms around us and say I love you. I feel good that I could pass this on to him. That's ok.

I'm a survivor. If I can survive my past, I can survive just about anything. If I can take those horrendous experiences and I can grow from them, then I can be a better person, even if all I have done is not continued the abuse. It’s good being able to look at my brothers, still in so much pain, saying, “I survived it.” I have this bizarre sense of humor, but there are a lot of worse things than that!

I have learned how important it is to visualize. Deciding what you want to be, how you want to be, working through it, allowing yourself to accept that you could be that. I’ve found that it’s also important to be realistic. When I started, the biggest thing I wanted was my father to say, “I'm sorry.” Well, that's not going to happen. Then I thought I could get him to just acknowledge what he had done. Well, that's not going to happen either. Finally I started realizing that by still wanting those things I let him have the power.

He doesn't have the power anymore. There are still little things that trigger me. But the power is mine.

Other things that have been important to me: talking to people, especially other survivors, and reading. But if I had to give another advice, I would say, “ Take your power back. Don't let him have it. By being a victim, you let him have it.” Avoid the language of the victim. ‘Survivor’ is such a better term than ‘victim.’ The fact that we survive is so much more important than the fact of being a victim.

One thing I have had to survive recently is meeting up with my father at my brother’s wedding. He is the one that was still in contact with my father when he got married. I knew my father would be there. Phil said we would not bring Adam. He knew what I needed. It took the guilt out of my hands. I knew it was ok to lean on Phil. That took a lot of time.

We went to the church. Didn't see my father at the wedding. At the reception, however, he was sitting there with his wife. And he motioned for me to come over. I saw Phil and I saw my brother Dennis. I was thinking, “There's nothing he can do to me.” But he still had the power at that point. I still let him have control. I thought, this demon is going away. I'm going to go deal with this.

I sat down and talked to him. The first thing he said was "I’ve missed you, honey.” Pats me on the knee, too. And all this stuff is flashing through my brain, and I am thinking, “ how dare he?” But I knew that once I started getting angry and emotional, I would be lost, and I wouldn’t be able to stand up to him. So I looked at him and I said, "You know, I can honestly say I haven't missed you.” And he moved back. He decided not to validate it, not say anything about it. And he said, "I understand you have a son. I want to meet him.” I said, “ No. When he gets old enough, if he wants to meet you, and if you're still around, that will be his choice. He said, "No, it’s my right to meet my grandson.” And I looked at him and I said, "You have no rights when it comes to my son.” This mother lioness came out in me and I continued, “No, if I have anything to say about it, you will never meet my son.” Then he looked at me and said, “I'm really disappointed in you.” And I said, "You'll get over it.” And I walked away. And he left shortly after. And I thought, "It's your right? You are not going to fuck up my kid like you fucked me up.” I know that I could not have been that strong and that powerful if I hadn’t had Phil and Dennis right there. I wrote my brother a long letter explaining what had happened and telling him that I could not have stood up to our father if he had not been there. I told him it was time for me to let go of this burden. I probably would still have been having the same conversation with my father if he had not brought up my son. I remember thinking; "It stopped here. It's not going to continue. That genetic part of it, it's not going to go on.”

My son is pretty astute. He knows his grandfather is alive and that if he wants to meet him he can. He knows that he wasn't very nice to me and to grandma, and that that's why he and grandma are divorced. We have told him that his grandfather just wasn't a real nice person to be around at that time. And he knows that when he is old enough he can make his own choice about him. And when I told him about this, he looked at me and he said, "You know, if I ever met your dad, you know what I'd say? You're not my mom, and you're not my dad, you let me go!” I guess he got to this conclusion because we had been talking to him about “bad people.” But I've never said that his grandfather was horrendous or villainous or whatever, because I don’t think that's going to benefit anybody. When Adam asks me about specific things that happened, so far I have just said that his grandfather “hollered a lot.” Possibly, when he's older, I’ll tell him more. He's too young right now.

Forgiveness is a hard concept. I'm not sure it's the right word. By moving on, that's a “forgiveness” in some aspect. I'm not sure I'm the person to judge if I should forgive my father. I think in some ways I have forgiven. The divine has an answer for it. I don't think about him, except those little trigger times. Don't spend any energy on him. I don't hate, dislike, like...It took me a long time to get there. I hated him for a long time. But that just gave him more power. I did need to forgive myself for the things I did later because of the situation, the first marriage, the tubal, and those kinds of things.

I can't remember my OB ever asking me about my history. But I just love him. After going though fertility treatments, what could be more degrading? Post-coital tests? He said that this should be the most beautiful time of my life, and that he wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t ready to do. He told me I deserved respect, and dignity. He didn’t know me from Adam at that point. I had gone to him because I was a high-risk pregnancy. But I stayed with him, a male OB/GYN, because this man knew what women were about. He always had time for me. I was impressed with that. I was lucky. There's been some incredible guidance.

Having a child is the most amazing experience. You can't explain it to anybody who isn’t a mother. Having a child didn't make my life complete. I'm a complete person without having a child. But having a child made my life so incredible. It has been a joy seeing life through a healthy child's eyes. Watching his wonder of things. I guess that in some aspects I'm experiencing my childhood again in a healthy manner with my son. And that's amazing. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, when my 40+-year-old body is tired, and the dishes need to be done, but that’s ok. I've grown so much.

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nan's Story

I’m 43. Thirty-one years ago, in 1969, at age 12, my life changed forever. What came to pass would affect every aspect of my being. Yet it would be many long years until I realized the magnitude of the scaring and mutilations.

My experiences began as a direct result of racial prejudice.

I lived in a mixed ethnic neighborhood, Armenian, Irish, Italian, Chinese and Hispanic. There were rich, middle class and poor blocks. From 1960 until about 1966, we lived on a poor block.

In school, each grade was separated into four classes. I didn’t realize then that the divisions were due to intelligence. By 5th grade, I understood. I was in the “1” classes, and had the highest IQ in the school (I found out later.)

My reports, drawings, projects, were always on the bulletin board in the common hallways. I was in most of the plays in the assembly. I was a soloist in the school choir. I was a school monitor, complete with a white and metal belt and sash. I was often a “teacher’s pet” and a very “goody-goody.”

My grandmother was very strict, in the “Old World” Middle Eastern Christian Orthodox way. That meant that even while seated, no appendages were moving. You sat at attention. I would never think of being rude or ill mannered, and find most people today horribly uncultured.

In the 1960’s, even in midtown Manhattan, most people, rich or poor, had good manners. Most, not all.

When I was in the 5th grade, the Hispanic fifth grade girls started the gang-horror treatment. (The school is still there. I have never been able to even walk by, ever since.) They began following me, calling me names, pushing me, spitting on me, taunting me, hitting me, always 10 or more to my one. I never called them names back. I kept a “stiff upper lip,” not even any tears. They would never make me cry. They never did. I acted so stoic, I didn’t even cry at home, alone. I thought that that would make me a weak, helpless female, like my mother.

I had two best friends, both tomboys with older brothers. Penny lived nearest to me, so every morning on our way to school for two years, we had to try and sidestep the Latino gang of girls. You may wonder why I didn’t go to the school authorities. I did! My mother and I went to the school nurse, who said, “You have to go to the guidance teacher.” We went to her. She called for my records. She looked them over very carefully, complimenting me on all my high marks, excellent grades, very high test scores and glowing personal character remarks from my teachers and the vice principal. Very sweetly she stated, “Nan, these girls are obviously very jealous of you. Why don’t you give them less to be jealous of, fail some tests, don’t be so smart, and they will become your friends.”

I was only 11, but I couldn’t believe my ears. An adult telling me to be dumb! Someone who was supposed to be on my side, to help me!!! To fail on purpose, to appease my torturers? It was too complicated for me to understand. I came to understand it many years later. It was because of the top three children in the school, I was the poorest, and the only Christian. That was her religious prejudice. We were horrified!

We went to the police. They said they couldn’t do anything until there was blood. I wasn’t going to stand for that. My mother went to the parents of the girls, who all pretended to not speak any English, in spite of the fact that they were often high on the street, yelling and singing in English. We only got the doors slammed in our faces.

I endured all through 5th grade, 6th grade, and into 7th grade, in a new school. I never went to school authorities there, because I no longer trusted any adults working in schools. By the end of the 7th grade, at 12 years of age in 1969, I was tired of being afraid all the time. I didn’t even know the words for racial prejudice. I had never been taught to hate people at home, because they looked different or had a different religion. On the contrary, that was how my real grandparents came to Ellis Island in 1921, with my mother as an infant, barely escaping the Turks, who had killed my grandmother’s family in front of her, savagely, in their own family compound of 800 years. Issues of hate never came up at our home. I would have been considered a sin. My mother didn’t understand anything about basic human rights. She was afraid of her own shadow. She couldn’t fight for herself. How could she fight for me?

There was a gang of boys, multi-racial, who called themselves the “Devil’s Angels.” They were patterned after the Hell’s Angels, but were young, teenaged boys with bicycles instead of motorcycles.

Robbie was an African American boy of 15, in the gang. He was nice to me. He was cute. He became my boyfriend. I thought that now the girls would leave me alone. I was right. They did. Many years later I realized it was the “race card” that made them back off. At the time, I believed it was because the boys were tougher, which of course they were. My education was to begin soon.

I was a big girl of 12 now, so I could come home a little later, 5:00 or 5:30. My mom didn’t insist on being right there, as she always was when we were playing up until that year. I later was glad that she never let us out of her sight when I was younger, unless I was with friends that she knew well and we were at their house.

One day after school, I went with Robbie to his home, which was out of our neighborhood. But my mom didn’t know. She trusted me, and I had no idea that there was real danger in the world. Danger to me was on TV or the movies. I had no imagination of any real horrors, except the Spanish girls, who were history now. They still called me names, but didn’t hit, spit, pull my hair, or follow me any longer.

Under the guise of “doing homework,” Robbie put on rock music. We had tongue kissed before, and that was nice. We had some beer. How much, I don’t know, but being 12 and perhaps 90 pounds, it didn’t need to be much. I passed out. Sometime later, when I came to, my clothes were messed up. I had culottes on, and they were off to one side, as were my underpants. I had pain between my legs. Robbie didn’t say anything, and I didn’t know to ask. I was puzzled.

The next morning, on my way to school with my best friend, Penny, I told her the strange stuff of yesterday at Robbie’s house, falling asleep, waking up, my clothes a mess and “hurting down there.” I still had no idea what was “down there,” on my own body, even though I had been menstruating for over a year. No adult had told me more than how to use a Kotex pad.

Penny said, “Nan, I think you had sex!”

“Sex?” I asked. “What do you mean, sex?”

“Don’t you remember I once told you that when a boy gets excited, he gets hard?”

“Yes,” I said, but again asked, “But what, what gets hard?” I had never seen male private parts.

She gave up trying to explain it to me, not having enough words and understanding at 11, I suppose.

Now Penny said, “I think you better ask Robbie what he did to you.” I think that she thought he would explain it to me.

The next day, I did confront Robbie. We were back at his house, and I asked him, “When I fell asleep the other day, did you do something to me?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because I thought that if you were awake, you would say no.”

“You’re right, but let’s try it again. This time I want to know what it is.”

We got undressed, and for the first time in my young life, I saw a male’s private parts. He was long, large, and not circumcised (I didn’t know that at the time.). It was ugly!

I asked him, “What are you going to do with that?” pointing to him.

He said, “Put it inside of you.”

I said, “How?”

“I’ll show you.” He got on top of me and tried to penetrate me.

It hurt. It hurt a lot, and I yelled for him to stop. He stopped. I told him that I didn’t like it, and we got dressed. A few days later, he told me that he didn’t want to go out with me anymore, and we broke up. He started seeing a girl his age, 15.

Perhaps six or seven weeks later, one of the other gang members told me that Robbie wanted to get back with me. I was told to go down by the river that evening, where he would be waiting for me. Being rather innocent, I went. Robbie wasn’t there, but five of the gang were. They took me to a coal storage warehouse along the East River, and all of them raped me!

I still remember bits and pieces of that experience, as if they happened to someone else. My skin and clothes were covered with dark coal dust. I’m quite fair, so my skin looked bruised from all the black dust.

I remember going home in a fog. My mind and body were numb. A few days later, I went to the only person in the world who I thought loved me, my adopted grandfather. He had been my only father figure from the age of three. He was the only source of affection in my life. His name was Danny. We were at his house almost every day. His wife was the only real grandmother that I had loved all my life. Lisa had gone to Christian boarding school with my maternal grandmother in the old country. My real grandmother was already dead.

Danny took care of the foreign language library in his wife’s Christian Orthodox Church. The church was across from their building. I went to him there after school, perhaps one or two days later, because I needed help. I didn’t go to my mother because I hated her. She had told me nothing about boys. I knew nothing about my own body, sex, or anything. I realized that I didn’t know how to protect myself against something that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t think that she would help me. She hadn’t helped me stop the Spanish girls, and this was worse. I thought that she would throw me out on the street. I was ashamed and very afraid. I had nowhere to go.

So, I went to Danny. He was a tall, skinny, old man of 80 years. He listened. He comforted me. He told me to come back the next day. When I got there, he had hard-core pornographic articles for me to read. They were disgusting. They scared me. He told me, “This is what young men will do to you. They have diseases. They will get you pregnant. They will hurt you, like they already did. I won’t hurt you. I won’t get you pregnant. I won’t give you diseases. I am safe.” He had me sit on his lap. He started touching my body as if it was his.

“You are my queen. If Elizabeth Taylor would come to me, I would tell her to go away because I had my Nan.” (I looked like Elizabeth Taylor, except with brown eyes, before I was 30.)

This was in 1969, at the age of 12, between March and June; date rape, gang rape, and then molestation from the one person who I loved completely and trusted. Danny would continue his “love” until December 1976, when at age 20 I left home to live with my boyfriend from college.

In 1969, I started using drugs to deal with the emotional pain and confusion. I drank, I smoked cigarettes, and I ran away from home several times. I was an ‘A’ student all through school. I was popular and had lots of friends. I was invited to every party. I had sex all the time. I’d have sex at the drop of a feather, but these were “Hippie” days, so it all fit in. By age 18, I knew I had serious problems, but didn’t know what they were. I still loved Danny, even though I didn’t like the things we did together. I would leave him and run to one of the young men I liked, and would fuck all the bad feelings away.

I was 22 when Danny died in 1979. Only when my sister asked me a question one day, after his death, did I finally break my silence. It couldn’t hurt my grandmother then. I never told her. I never wanted to ruin her life. I protected her as long as she lived. She was married to him for 56 years when he died.

It wouldn’t be until I was in my late 20’s, with a child of my own, that I finally discussed these experiences with a female therapist. It was after more than one year of therapy when, quite by accident, she asked me a question. I don’t remember what. I told her that I was sexually abused for over seven years while growing up. I remember that she was so startled that she almost fell off her chair. I said it so matter of factly, so coldly, without any emotion or change in expression, as if I was giving a weather report. I often hear and do things as if someone else is saying them or doing them. It’s like I’m outside myself, watching someone else. It makes me feel strange, but I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve been like that so long.

Only at the end of 11 years of therapy, as an adult (27 through 38), would I finally realize the magnitude of the damage that was done to me. It is like having an arm and a leg, on opposite side of the body, amputated. You can have therapy, have prosthetics, to replace the missing limbs, but it is never the same as never having the real ones removed. The scaring is permanent and the handicap is forever! There is no going back to what you were before the experience. There is only trying to heal and going on with whatever you have become. Some days are good; some years are bad. If I could prevent these things from happening to everyone else, I would spend my life doing it. That’s why I’m part of this book. Knowledge is the only protection!
I would like to share my advice with the reader. I will not sugar coat this for anyone. It is too important and too deadly.

If you are not yet pregnant with your first child, read very carefully. If you are already pregnant, and/or already have children, it is never too late to get smarter, and to make your children smarter and safer. Don’t leave it to someone else to do. They might teach your babies like I was taught! Do not help anyone make your babies victims! It was way too late to take it back after it happens, way too late, and there is never any going back. It is forever. We all survive somehow, but none without horrible pain. Some of us cannot live with the pain. Some can only die with it.

1. Always arm your children with the truth. When they ask where babies come from, and they will, go to the public library and pick up some books for parents and children to help explain “the facts of life.” Please get the books with true explanations and diagrams, usually illustrated, of the two human sexes. Go over the books together, like a regular book. Do not put your hang-ups into your babies. They are worth more than that.

2. Factually and honestly answer all your children’s questions. Don’t answer their questions with fairy tales, cabbage patch nonsense, and cute words. Use the correct words, even if they make you comfortable. Use no baby language. For example, this is your penis. It belongs to you. Nobody can touch it, except you. It is for making urine and one day being a daddy. Mommy doesn’t have a penis. Mommy cannot be a daddy. Mommy has a vagina. Mommy can make babies inside her uterus. Men and boys have penises. Women and girls have vaginas and a uterus. We are different, but we are all necessary. You can have this talk any way you want, just for your kids’ sake don’t lie or tell half-truths. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

3. You have nine months before the birth of your child. That is plenty of time to think about how to raise your child. Be prepared. You have no valid excuse, not my house needs to be cleaned, not buying a new purse, and not my husband is . . . . .. Don’t wait for him to do anything or everything. He could be gone tomorrow. Plan ahead. Be reliable to yourself and for your child.

4. All babies and children are innocent. They will always need you to protect them, for many years. They cannot protect you. Do not use them to hold onto a man. Don’t have them to give you love and support. They need those things from you, first and last. One day they will love you, however, those are no reasons to have a baby. Neither is being married. Many married people should never be parents. A dog or a cat will always be like a baby, and can be cared for badly, with less dire consequences. Think long and hard before becoming pregnant.

5. Children always come first. Babies and young children cannot feed themselves. They cannot wash themselves. They cannot even talk. They cannot walk or make their own bottles. This may sound silly, but often people think of babies as dolls or “things to have”, like having their hair done. Selfish people make very rotten parents. Selfish people like to come first. Good parents realize that children are hard work. They are the best work that you can ever do. If you take it seriously, they are also fun. But the work always comes first!

6. Do not make or ask your children to touch or kiss someone. Children should never kiss anyone on the mouth, not you, daddy, grandma, the mailman or the dog. Kissing on the mouth is for adults only. Good boundaries are very important. Things can never go too far, if they don’t start at all. Children get confused easily. If they are asked to touch and kiss too many people, in too many different ways, the line between “good and bad touch” becomes blurred. That’s when trouble can happen. Don’t put your baby/child at risk to spare an adult’s feelings. Let people know, “We don’t allow Bobby to kiss anyone on the lips.” In private, you can tell them why. If they are quality people, they will understand. If not, you can be sure that they will undermine you in other ways, due to their own willfulness. That kind of person is not a good person to ever trust your young child with. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and there are no cures for child abuse. It is forever. There is no going back. It will forever be too late.

7. You are the best! Not a babysitter, in-law, sister, brother, friend. If your baby is important to you, take care of them yourself. If you will give your child under age four to someone else, whom are you having the child for? Mommy is the best. No job is worth more. Save money, if need be, to stay home with your child until kindergarten. By then, if they are armed with the truth, they will have the words and knowledge to make them safe. Always remember, even with words, their bodies are small and weak. If any adult really wants to use them, they may be too weak to stop them. If you have armed them with the truth, hopefully, they will tell you if something unnatural has happened.

A few years ago, I heard a man say, “If someone tries to touch you in a bathing suit place, scream loudly, run away, and get help. If the person you go to for help doesn’t help, keep going to other adults that you trust until someone helps you in the right way, and makes it stop.” If I had been told that, my abuse would have stopped at 12, instead of 20. I might have had a more normal life, instead of being a person with scars that can’t be seen. I have even been discriminated against as an adult, in a trade school, because I had been in therapy for child sexual abuse. When I went to the female director of the school to complain, she said, “You are a certifiable mental case. You’ve been in therapy, who will believe you?”

Today I am 43, now disabled in my body with fibromyalgia, two other kinds of arthritis, and chronic fatigue. I am a Sagittarius with an 18-year-old son and two gerbils. I was a surrogate mother when my son was three years old, for the money to get away from my son’s father. That son is now 14. He has a normal, loving family.

My son has only me. But he has been very lucky! I armed him with the truth. At 18, he is graduating from high school. He doesn’t smoke, drink or take drugs. He is a virgin and hasn’t been sexually abused, or abused anyone else. He has never been arrested or had any trouble with the law or with police. We have watched “America’s Most Wanted” for over 10 years, and still do. I never even let my son play with toy guns, for I believe that to a child playing with guns sets a bad pattern for violence with a real gun.

My son is the single best thing in my life!

Following the advice that I have written here, I helped mold my own child into the good, caring person that he is, without putting him at risk, like I was, by a selfish, helpless, uptight, ignorant parent, who never bothered to learn how to be a good parent.

I still take care of my mother, at 79. I’ve been doing that, one way or another, for 40 years. My mother had a nervous breakdown in 1960 and never got help. She put my younger sister and myself at risk, and all the worst happened to me. Don’t let your pain or ignorance place your babies at risk. They are too beautiful!

Namu –Amida – Butsu. Nam – Myoko – Renge – Kyo. Buddhism has saved my life since 1972. Without this light to guide me, I would have been forever lost in darkness, pain and suffering.

Live well; live safe!

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

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gwen's Story

Hello, my name is Gwen and I am an incest survivor. From the age of 5-15, I was sexually abused by my father. I still cannot remember a lot of it and I may never, but when I can remember day-to-day I am 13, and for 3 years every morning I would be sexually abused before I went to school.

To me, school was my safe haven. I believed if school was fine, I was fine, and so did everyone else. By the time the abuse ended I was a sophomore in high school. I was an A/B student, yet I had low self- esteem and was very promiscuous, confusing sex with any type of affection. At fifteen I also had a miscarriage and it was my father’s child. I had no regard for my life outside of school. I felt if no one else cared about me then why should I. Needless to say I graduated from high school with honors and was accepted into the university I wanted.

Finally, I was about to leave home and start a new life. Everything that had happened to me I had buried deeply away forever or so I thought. So, I started college, no problem, and actually had a boyfriend that treated me pretty nice. Things were for once looking up for me. Then one day, my roommate Michelle, out of the blue tells me she is an incest survivor and wants to know if I would like to volunteer with her at a place called rape crisis services. At that very moment the wall I had built over the years came crashing down in a matter of seconds. Very nonchalantly, I told her I could not volunteer due to my schedule and I tried to forget what she had told me.

But as days passed, I could not study or concentrate on anything except that I too had been sexually abused. Finally I broke down and the first thing to come out of my mouth was “ I killed it, I killed it.” I told Michelle everything and for the very first time in a very long time I cried and cried and she just held me. It was the first time I had grieved for my loss, not only for the baby but also my childhood. I kept asking her why did he do this to me, why? Soon afterwards I started group therapy at the place were she had asked me to volunteer. Thus, began my journey. I began learning about myself, the different pieces of myself and how in crisis one would take over, the child who wanted to be good, the teenager who didn’t give a fuck about anybody and the adult me who worked hard not to let anyone see how screwed up I really was. Group therapy made me realize I wasn’t alone. That the miscarriage wasn’t my fault, that responding physically didn’t mean you wanted it, and it is still ok to like sex. I began slowly putting the pieces together, making myself whole.

As I continued in group therapy, I was also falling in love with that nice boyfriend I had mentioned earlier. I decided to tell him about the abuse before I got married. I was sure he was going to leave me after hearing it. Instead we ended up crying together. Now, we have been together 10 years. Also, in group therapy, I was pregnant with our first child. I was so caught up dealing with telling my mother and calling social services to make sure my brother and sister were safe, that the pregnancy seemed to take a back seat. I wasn’t connecting it with anything that was happening. My Ob/Gyn did not know I was an incest survivor and I had no problems with the pregnancy or labor. I had a boy. Sadly, my family was not involved, due to them wanting to stay in denial, but I had my husband and my group.

The first time I had issues with my abuse and raising my son was when he was five. This was the same age when I remembered my abuse beginning. I freaked out the whole entire year. I was afraid to give him a bath or touch him in anyway. I would have thoughts about abusing him. At this time, I was individual therapy, and there I learned that all this was normal as long as I did not act on it. I believe if I ever get to that point I will commit myself somewhere for help.

With the second child, I actually paid attention to the pregnancy and there were no problems with pregnancy and labor. Again, I had a boy and no one knew I was an incest survivor. He has not turned five yet so I do not how that will go. But, this time around I have noticed that I don’t know how to play with my children. It takes me a lot of effort to play and I continue to work really hard at it to overcome it. I realize I did not have a normal childhood. It was stolen from me and now I must re-learn how to be a kid and use my imagination as a kid. When I was in the 5th grade, I would imagine I had an evil twin sister, who had 2 men who would make me masturbate for them. I don’t even remember being abused during this period of my life. Finally, I stopped imagining them but then I also stopped using my imagination. With my children, I am beginning again.

Now, I am pregnant for the 3rd time. This time they tell me it is a girl. And, for the first time my nurse-midwife knows I am an incest survivor. A part of me feels this may be my greatest challenge yet. I believe I am up to the task. I will love her and give of myself. I will try to instill in her independence, self -esteem and the knowledge that she is loved: all the things that had been warped for me. I hope I continue to do that for all my children.

So here I am. I have done therapy on and off since I began dealing with my abuse. I have done group and individual. I know my journey is far from over. When I first started to recover, when I spoke about my abuse I was very nonchalant, totally disconnected from my feeling. As I grew and healed, I cried each time I talked about it. Now, I am at a place where I feel whole with all the pieces: the child, teenage, and adult together. Believe me this did not happen over night, and I am not saying the road to this point wasn’t bumpy. During this ride, my father has died, and I am building a relationship with my mother, brother and sister. Fortunately, everywhere I have lived I have had a counselor. Sometimes I just needed to talk to someone to know I was still sane. Plus, I still keep in contact with friends from my very first group, for times when I just need to know I am not alone. When I was in group therapy, I went every week. And now, the last time I did individual therapy I went once a month and this was the first time I was going and I was not in crisis. Yet this therapy session seemed the hardest and the most healing because I was not learning how to function in crisis mood but how to be me, the whole me in everyday life. Since I have moved again, I have not found a counselor nor am I looking. I know my journey has not ended. It is a never-ending spiral. When the time comes for me to go find someone I will. Until then, I will continue to grow and heal, building on my last therapy. The abuse is a part of me and it shapes who I am today, and I am very proud of who I am. I am not only an incest survivor: I am a mother, a friend, a wife, a certified nurse-midwife, and a strong, beautiful woman. I hope my story helps women to see that they are not alone and regardless of what is happening in their lives that they too are strong, beautiful, and survivors.

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trixie's Story

You can call me Trixie. I am a writer, born in the south, where I lived until the age of four years old. Dad was offered a better job with better wages, so off to the north we went, Michigan, so I really don’t remember those times in the south. I was told that Dad was more than happy to be moving from the south. That’s what my grandmother used to always say, it was more for me ‘cause I was born sickly and needed medical care.’

From the time of age four until the age of 13, my dad was molesting me. From the age of 15 to the age of 21, I was molested by my mother-aunt’s lovers, who were also very secretly involved in ritual abuse in the town where we lived. From the time of infancy to the time I left home, I was sexually abused, subject to tortuous ritual abuse.

I was just 12 years old and got pregnant by my dad. Being so young and not all that educated on sexuality at all, I didn’t even know that I was carrying my dad’s child, and if I did I wasn’t connected to myself. All I knew was that my stomach was growing bigger and bigger, my period ceased, and I had no one to turn to. Terrified and wanting my period to come, not wanting my mother-aunt to be angry with me, I tried very hard to give myself my own abortion. I got the idea from seeing a movie about women trying the same thing. I don’t remember the name; I just know that it made an impact on me. Not knowing that this was TV and people need to go to a doctor to have something like this done, all I knew was that I was terrified, and had to do something. I went into the bathroom with a coat hanger and stuck it up and down inside my vagina until I started to see blood. Thinking that I had gotten rid of what was growing inside of me, I felt scared, but I also felt a big relief, or so I thought. I really had not gotten rid of the baby at all. In a couple of months, I gave birth to my daughter. My mother-aunt had her delivered at home, she being a certified nurse.

I never had a chance to bond with the daughter I gave birth to. She was taken away from me right away. She was raised to believe that I was her sister. My mother-aunt raised her as if she gave birth to her. I wish she really had given birth to her because of the way she was conceived. I hated her. Raped by my dad, she had no chance of ever getting any love from me. She was born in 1967; I was only 12, just a child myself. I can say that she was a beautiful child, and I was so scared of her that every time she cried, I would disconnect from myself and it would be a new day.

By 1970, I was pregnant again. This one did not live. It was aborted by cult members, so once again there wasn’t any bonding.

Two years later, I gave birth to a son. Once again I tried to give myself my own abortion, but I failed. This baby was conceived by one of my mother-aunt’s lovers, and the baby boy was taken right away from me. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him. This pattern continued.

I did have one mishap, and that was I did have a miscarriage. To this day, I believe that was from the abortions I had. That was in 1978. I do have to say that deep in my heart I felt that I wasn’t ever to have children of my own.

My abuse started when I was four years old, and it ended the day I left home at the age of 21, carrying my mother-aunt’s lover’s baby. But this time I didn’t care. I had finally found someone who truly loved me, loved me enough to ask me to marry him. I never told anyone that I was pregnant again; for fear that they would take this baby too. I think that because I was getting married, I truly wanted to keep this baby, but my biggest fear was that I couldn’t let my husband know I was pregnant, because it wasn’t his, and I feared that he wouldn’t marry me. That is something I have carried with me for all of these years.

My daughter was born in December. My husband and I married in July, six months after she was born. He fell in love with her right away. Me, on the other hand, I was so scared. I knew not one thing about taking care of a baby. Since all of the other babies were taken away from me, I felt this one would be too. I remember in the delivery room, I watched what everyone was doing, and made sure that my baby girl was very close by, and that no harm came to her, but my doctor said that everything was just fine.

Back then, you gave birth, and the baby was cleaned, and you were cleaned. You rested in your room and the baby was put in the nursery so that the mother could get some rest. So, once again the baby was taken away until it was time to feed the child. Other than that, they did the rest. They did ask if you were going to breast feed or do the bottle. I chose the bottle.

The doctors informed me that I was carrying a tumor about the size of a grapefruit, and that they would have to do surgery right away. They did, and that meant more time in the hospital. That was a relief for me; because I had no idea how I was to care for this tiny creature that God had blessed me with.

Two weeks later, we were to go home and start our happy family. For the first week, all I could do was cry and cry. I never felt so depressed and alone, even though I wasn’t alone, at least not in the sense I was feeling. I couldn’t explain to anyone what I was feeling. One minute I wanted my baby; the next I couldn’t stand the sight of her. Or, the fear would come over me that she would be taken from me. I made a promise to myself that if I was to ever have a child, a daughter, I would never let her out of my sight, and no harm would come to her. That promise I kept. Just because I was treated so horrible and knew that I was never to be touched or love, I felt this was how I was to treat my daughter. I also knew that this couldn’t be right either.

My daughter was getting older. I was growing to love her more and more each day. What went with that love were also no boundaries and an over-protective mother who would never let her out of my sight. She would never have a spanking by me, and that would include my husband, or family members on my husband’s side.

By this time I had no contact with the family that raised me, and they had none with me. Just as I am sitting here writing this and thinking, trying so hard to forget my own childhood, and the bonding that I never had with my real mother or father. It’s been in the last year that I learned that the woman that raised me wasn’t my real mother at all, but my aunt. What I have been told is that my real mother couldn’t keep me. Being raised in the south, young girls that got pregnant had to be married so as not to bring shame on the family name, so my real mother was sent away to have me, and the old sister that was married was to raise me.

They both got more than they could handle, for I was born with a very rare disability, which I was told was a curse on my real mother, for what she had done.

So, having my baby daughter, I would have to say, was very hard, and the bonding was almost too overbearing for me to deal with. I know deep down in my heart that if I had been loved, and touched the natural way that mothers are supposed to have when they bring life into the world . . . but sometimes that can be hard when you have no one in your life to show you or tell you that this is the way it is to be done.

I am not saying that I was a bad mother, because I wasn’t. But I do feel that I could have been a much better mother if I had not had the kind of abuse that I had to experience, and someone to show me what to do. My daughter and I have somewhat of a relationship. We are not as close as I wish we could be, but one thing I can say is that I did the best that I knew how, and that’s okay.

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

Friday, August 8, 2008

Schedule of book signings for Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering, and Healing after Sexual Abuse

August 14th, 2008: 7:00pm-9:00pm
722 Brooks St., Ann Arbor, MI
“Working with Survivor Moms” This workshop will provide an overview of post traumatic stress, trauma and the evidence-based studies of the effects of sexual abuse on childbearing. The presenters will discuss issues of confidentiality and the importance of boundaries, as well as outlining how maternity and mental health professionals can collaborate to facilitate healing and post traumatic growth. Onsite sales of the presenters new book, Survivor Moms will benefit the Doulas Care Program. Presenters are Mickey Sperlich MA, CPM and Julia Seng PhD CNM.
Part of quarterly educational series called “With Women: Emerging Issues in Care for the Childbearing Year” is offered each year. This forum is open to other professionals in the community for a fee, but is free for our volunteer doulas. It is approved for 1.5 nursing and doula CEUs. Fee $10; 1.5 Nursing and Doula CEUs approved; add $20 to fee for CEU processing; free to Doulas Care Volunteers. To register, call 734-332-8070 or doulascare@center4cby.com.

September 23rd, 2008: 4:00pm
Shaman Drum Bookshop: 311-315 South State St., Ann Arbor, MI
Academic reception and book signing. More information: 734.662.7407

October 7th, 2008: 12:00 - 1:00 PM
2239 Lane Hall, 204 S. State St, Ann Arbor, MI
Mickey Sperlich and Julia Seng read from their recently published book. This talk is part of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender’s Perspectives on Healing Series. This event is co-sponsored by School of Social Work. For more information: (734)764-9537, or irwg@umich.edu.

October 17th, 2008: Mickey Sperlich will be one of the authors featured at a book signing gala event at the 2008 Midwives Alliance of North America Conference, in Traverse City, Michigan. The historic State Theatre will be the venue for the event, in conjunction with the highlight evening of the MotherBaby Film Festival. For more info, contact http://mana.org/mana2008/

October 21st, 2008: 7:30 pm
Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room 114 S. Main St. Ann Arbor, MI Presentation and book signing. For more information: 734.665.2757 or rachel@crazywisdom.net