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

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