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 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

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